Businesses need to do far more than merely pay lip service to good employment practices; they need to embed them into their operations and put them into practice.
Gone are the days when companies didn't need to think about these issues. We all need to think about the impact we're having on our employees and focus on creating companies that benefit society, rather than just generating profits.
I heard several business entrepreneurs speak at the recent Meaning Conference in Brighton, including Juliet Davenport — founder and CEO of renewable power company Good Energy — who rightly said that running a company involves "balancing the interests of money and shareholders with customers and staff".
But she added that "the shareholder part has taken over and companies have forgotten the customer and employee part."
This framed the conversation for the conference, with much discussion about the importance of companies reflecting on their purpose, values and culture, and the impact they have on their workforce.
Fair play to fair pay
The IT revolution has changed the game for economics, reduced the cost of goods and services to close to zero, wiped out millions of well-paid jobs and replaced them with low-wage roles.
Paul Mason, writer and broadcaster
The modern workforce is changing, with the growth of temporary employees. There has been a global shift among large-scale businesses to outsource and commission their manufacturing processes and other back office functions, from HR, data management and security to specialisms such as legal services, in an attempt to reduce their costs.
To achieve this, businesses are recruiting for short-term, temporary roles, rather than permanent members of staff.
Writer and broadcaster Paul Mason said that the "IT revolution has changed the game for economics, reduced the cost of goods and services to close to zero, wiped out millions of well-paid jobs and replaced them with low-wage roles."
We are seeing more organisations recruit for short-term, freelance positions, so they don't have to take on the costs and associated risks of employing permanent staff members. The danger of this working model is that it can remove the responsibility for employees from the organisations they are working for, with individuals no longer eligible to receive the living wage or other benefits such as holiday pay.
Core costs especially on the bottom line are always a fundamental consideration, and it takes a brave executive team to take a longer term view regarding any increase, especially against a backdrop of change and uncertainty.
But taking responsibility for employees and paying them a fair wage, with a commitment to continue doing so, can create opportunities, for a more engaged and enthused workforce, and, in turn, in time, increased productivity.
None of this just happens automatically. There has to be real commitment and support from the executive leadership to develop and nurture a strong organisational culture, as well as outcomes that people engage with and respond to.
The recent Uber ruling highlights the need for businesses to look after their employees. At the end of October 2016, a UK employment court ruled that a group of Uber drivers were company workers, rather than self-employed, and therefore entitled to the national living wage. Uber, as an employer, has a commitment and responsibility to its drivers.
As a result of the increased spotlight on employment practices, there is growing awareness among the public of the need for companies do to their best for their employees.
Members of the public are starting to ask questions beyond the customer service delivery expectations of the past, and now have greater potential to influence your brand, both positively and negatively. They can encourage or discourage other people to engage with or move away from your brand, product or service.
Technology has accentuated ‘word of mouth’ to be even more powerful, with tools such as social media providing an open platform for customers to talk about your business.
It comes back to the importance of having a healthy working culture and a strong narrative embedded into every aspect of your company that people, both internally and externally, recognise and buy into. We need to offer members of the public organisations that they feel comfortable with because they recognise the value it brings to them as individuals and to the community at large.
Positive impact on business and workforce
But it's not just about public opinion. Most importantly, it's about developing a healthy, positive working environment, where staff feel valued, supported, want to do well and succeed.
The message from the Meaning Conference was that if we want to respond to the changes taking place in the world, organisations – whether they are commercial businesses or charities – need to be accountable at every level, for every decision they make, from the suppliers they work with, to where their manufacturing takes place, to their carbon footprint, to their recruitment policy.
Bringing it back to the third sector
As we have witnessed, expectations from the public are even higher in the charity sector and scrutiny is often greater for organisations in this space. It's vital we think back to our purpose, values and culture.
In the third sector, sub-contracting and working with third-party providers is common practice. There is nothing wrong with this; we just need to ensure that the workforce is considered an integral part of the process when setting up these contracts.
Connecting the dots
At HOME, it’s about creating professional fundraisers and the organisation having total accountability for our people. That’s why we employ our fundraisers directly with each staff member supported by every department within the company. From payroll, to information and data, to legal services, there’s a collective understanding of the role we all play in supporting and motivating our 1,500 fundraisers.
We continually invest in the development of our culture. It’s what underpins every department in our business and supports our people, increasing our ability to recruit and retain donors.
What does the future hold?
We're entering into an age where workforces are changing. There are a growing number of industries that are currently either taking or considering strike action over concerns about cost cutting, benefits, workforce resourcing, and health and safety.
You only have to witness the large scale industrial action in the rail and wider travel sector towards the end of last year, which has continued into 2017, to know the tide is turning. Employees are standing up for their rights and having a say. Despite calls from the public for the government to look into legislation against strike action, as employers we can't ignore this.
Who knows what workforces and the jobs of today are going to look like in the future? Yes organisations need to move with the times and embrace positive change, but one thing is certain, this change can't be at the expense of obligations to our employees.