CIPD Annual Conference 2019: Highlights from day two

Four-day weeks and enhancing the employee journey, plus other key lessons from the second day in Manchester

The second day of the CIPD Annual Conference opened with a discussion on the future of the HR profession from senior HR leaders including Valerie Hughes-D’Aeth, HR director of the BBC.

Here are some of the other highlights:

‘Don’t inflict a four-day week on your staff’

HR professionals were urged not to put more stress on employees by “inflicting” a shorter working week on busy staff.

Jean-Christophe Fonfreyde, head of reward at the Wellcome Trust – which investigated introducing a four-day week – said the organisation scrapped the plan after it realised it risked becoming a “two-tier organisation”.

“We were worried about putting a five-day job into a four-day week,” Fonfreyde said, noting that while such a policy would enable some staff to work more flexibly, other departments struggled with the shorter week. It created “HR headaches”, he added.

Ffyona Dawber, CEO of communications firm Synergy Vision – which implemented a four-day week a year ago – acknowledged there were issues, including that “holidays were a nightmare to calculate”. But she said the change had brought more benefits than challenges, including improvements in staff wellbeing and much better recruitment and retention.

Enhance the employee journey to increase performance 

Employees need to be given a clear message about organisations’ culture and values when they are onboarded as new hires, said Scott D McArthur, former head of employee engagement solutions at Atos. He added that listening to new hires was vital to improving the employee journey, and said: “Check they understand what you’re saying, and check they understand what you need.” 

Steve Evison, HR director for manufacturing at Ford Europe, emphasised the importance of  investing time to understand differences in employee expectations. “Being more agile doesn’t always mean doing something new. It can mean improving on the past by bolting new ideas on top,” he said, adding that focusing on the past was beneficial to understanding where improvements could be made

But fellow panelist Alex Covey, director of culture and organisational design at Culture&, believed HR had a “blind faith in the value of the employee experience” and advised that performance improvement lay within the brand.

“If you are not clear on your brand then your employee performance may not increase,” said Covey. “Alignment of your vision, external brand and internal culture builds an effective performance culture. Employers must measure the impact of all three and keep it live.”

Culture is key in capturing talent

Creating a culture where employees can become their “authentic selves” is becoming more important in attracting candidates, said Sharon Hunt, HR lead for specialists and customer success at Microsoft UK.

Citing independent research, Hunt said that two-thirds (66 per cent) of CEOs now believed the scarcity of talent was reaching crisis level. “It sounds really scary, but it’s making us change the way we think about talent and skills,” she said. “If you have a clear mission, purpose and values then culture will be the differentiator and help you win the war.”

Environments where employees feel they can be their authentic self were increasingly creating greater pull in recruitment. Hunt said inclusion was cited as an important factor for 80 per cent of candidates when choosing an employer, while 72 per cent said they would leave an organisation for a more inclusive one.

Hunt added that when faced with a war for talent and the changing face of the technology landscape ahead of automation, culture was the key to attracting the best candidates. 

Ditch initiatives – change incrementally instead

HR leaders should look to incrementally improve their organisational culture to allow people from various backgrounds to thrive at work, instead of using diversity and inclusion initiatives to “fix” a cultural problem, said the broadcaster and equality campaigner Trevor Phillips (pictured).

Phillips, who is also chair of Green Park Executive Recruitment and former president of the Partnership Council of the John Lewis Partnership, said that whenever diversity and inclusion problems were raised, businesses often reverted to an unhelpful cycle of boardroom-led initiatives that got buy-in for two to three years, but failed to address the underlying problem.

He added that at every stage of an individual’s career and in every manager’s encounter with a direct report, HR leaders needed to think about how they could create a more open and inclusive culture through small, incremental changes.