Government Cuts: A view from the inside

Earlier this week I was at St Pancras Station when another woman struck up a conversation with me.  By chance would have it, she was a senior HR professional working the civil service.  On our 25 minute journey home we covered a lot of topical issues including the subject matter I blogged about earlier this week: the fact that the Govenment is looking at making 40% cuts in their budgets.

These are some of the challenges that my colleague in the civil service is facing:

1. The demographic of the workforce:  45% of the staff are aged between 50 and 60, combined with a length of service of c.30 years.   The cuts will enable the organisation to shed some “dead-wood”, but there is also a risk of loss of organisational memory and technical expertise.

   2. Another impact of this demographic is the cost of redundancies.  Most will be entitled to the full-payout, and in this organistion that’s equivalent to three years pay!  The organisation has already taken considerable steps with the unions to negotiate a reduction, but I understand that goverment is frustrated by the delays in this process.  So, they have halted the negotiations and instead have announced that they are going to pass a piece of legislation to reduce the redundancy to the equivalent of a year’s pay.  But it will be some time before this will become a reality.

3.  A third impact relating to the demographic of this workforce is the lack of flexibility.  Many of these staff have been based in a local office, perhaps 10 – 20 minutes from their home for 20+ years.   Many of the local offices are being closed as part of the cost savings, and the organisation is now asking them to travel 30 – 40 minutes instead.  These staff will still have a job, but they are resistent to the change.  A considerable amount of time is being spent responding to staff’s queries and questions relating to the relocation (Will I have a car-parking space?).  Whilst on the face of it these are minor questions, they matter to every individual who is affected.

4.  The attitudes of the senior team:  they hold a belief that HR will find a job for everybody eventually.  But my HR colleague keeps telling them that this is highly unlikely.   The culture needs to shift from being a “welfare” workplace and until that happens the staff on the ground will hear mixed messages, causing greater anxiety and lower productivity.

5.  The organisation is already working to make 10% savings year-on-year for the next 5 years.   My concern is the approach to making 25% or 40% cuts is different to that when an organisation is looking to make 10% cuts.  There needs to be a firm decision about the level of cuts that need to be made, otherwise time could be wasted “tweaking” the edges instead of investing time and energy making significant cuts.

I’ve only touched on the top 5 challenges in this blog, and naturally there will be many, many more.  The lady on the train was energetic and spirited about the challenges that lay ahead and I admire this positive approach.   She’s got a rough ride ahead.

What are your chances of being disciplined?

These days there is a whole host of information that we can access about the NHS workforce. This comes from a variety of routes including the Trust’s staff survey results and data published in response to the equality legislative requirements.

A few weeks ago, I discovered that if you look carefully at the figures of the top Teaching Hospitals in London, you’ll see that you’re more likely to be disciplined if you are a BME member of staff, working in a lower-paid job.

But why should this be the case? And why is it happening in more than one NHS Trust?  So far, I’ve only focussed on the larger Inner-London Hospitals, and I wonder if this is a nation-wide issue?

And what are the links to Bullying?   In a number of these Trusts, more BME staff are likely to report that they are being bullied.  There’s no way of determining if these are the same staff that have been subject to disciplinary procedures…..but there question is still there to be answered.

Over the next few months I’ll be looking into why this is the case, and what Trusts can do about it.   In the meantime, I would be grateful for any comments or suggestions on this topic.

ETs are good for your HR Health

Last month I was working with a group of HR Managers.  In the middle of a workshop I made an observation about how they approach a particular element of their work: I have worked with a wide range of NHS organisations over the last decade and it was the first time that I had seen this practice.

Their response was interesting: they worked through all the risks associated with their current practice in comparision to that in other organisations, making reference to relevant legislation where appropriate. In the end they decided that although what they do is different to other Trusts, they saw no reason or benefit for changing their practice.  And I agreed with them.

But what impressed me most about this discussion was their approach:  their knowledge of legislation is current and embedded into their every day practice.  This group of managers regularly get involved in ETs and I began to wonder if this had an impact on their approach?

To give another example: sometime last year, I worked with a Trust which was very proud of the fact that they had not a single employee submit an ET claim for 10 years.  But when I worked with the HR Managers, I discovered that they had limited understanding of best practice, current legislation or national guidance.   These managers had not had their practice challenged in court and so they and their organisation had allowed the quality of their work to slip.

The comparisons are easy to make, but in an ideal world we (as HR professionals) shouldn’t have to go invest a disproportionate amount of time working on ETs to make us good practitioners.  There are ways to ensure that we are maintaining our understanding, embedding it in our every day conversations without having to defend our manager’s actions in court. The Trust with poor HR practice also demonstrated a lack of challenge and accountability with the HR Team, which no doubt contributed to their limited knowledge and understanding of their profession.

I’m not saying that regularly fighting ETs is the only way to stay sharp, but it certain helps.