Highlights from Festival of Work 2022 (part two)

From better marketing job vacancies to how different ways of working affect stress, People Management takes a look at the rest of the highlights from the hybrid conference

Peter Spinney/Rehmat Rayatt

Flexible working will reshape the world of work

Organisations can’t assume their line managers know what flexible and agile working means, Paul Hammer, CEO of Sir Robert McApline, told delegates. Instead, employers need to actively empower managers to be more flexible with their teams and be “honest about whether two-tier systems exist” between remote and in-office workers.

Culture was a big part of this, said Hammer, who emphasised that individuals shouldn’t hide the fact they need to leave the office early for home life reasons. “Leave early and leave loud,” he said, stressing that employers are not going to find talent that is willing to be chained to a desk for 40 hours a week.

And Alex Ritchie, co-CEO of GlobalGiving, added that sometimes, striving for success could harm work culture by making people feel they need to be perfect in terms of their jobs.

Equity needs to be intentional

Equity in the workplace “doesn’t happen by osmosis” and needs to be intentionally implemented, said Marcia Williams, director of diversity, inclusion and talent at Transport for London. Employers need “do the 360” to get a better understanding of where their organisation is for equity to become a reality, she said. “We are still waiting to see equity show up in the day job,” she added.

Speaking in the same session, Ricky Somal, deputy director of organisational development and inclusion at Isle of Wight NHS Trust, said people won’t feel confident raising concerns with management if they don’t see anyone who looks like them in senior leadership. As someone from a minority background himself, he said: “People need psychosocial safety at work so, if I feel I can raise it, my voice will be heard.”

ESG requires both ‘top down and bottom up’ support

HR can only meet environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals if it has both “bottom-up and top-down support”, Linda Kennedy, chief human resources officer at Klöckner Pentaplast, told delegates.

During a panel on how people strategy can drive ESG performance, Kennedy explained the “top-down” approach meant having clear targets and goals set by leadership and applied across the organisation. But, she said, the onus is not just on senior management, and firms also need an employee perspective though structures like workforce committees.

Speaking at the same session, Kevin Green, chief people officer at First Bus, said HR needed to “make ESG goals real” for employees. “You need to be able to convince people in the workforce that you are doing this for sustainability,” he explained, highlighting that employers needed to be ready to answer questions like ‘what does this policy mean for me?’ and ‘what is the impact?’.

Another recommendation from Green was for smaller firms to take a gentle approach to ESG: “Pick one simple thing and focus on that,” he advised, adding it should be “one [idea] that relates to your people [because] this is a marathon, not a sprint” and the strategy will take time.

“ESG will be around for a long time… and it will be a huge opportunity for the people profession to [create] sustainable organisations, where work is enjoyable and can help the environment,” said Green.

Different ways of working can lead to different experiences of stress and burnout

As part of the engagement session on digital wellbeing and overcoming burnout, Satnam Sagoo, associate chief people officer at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said during the initial stages of the pandemic, many workers started comparing levels of stress and burnout, and wearing them as a badge of honour. This also created a tension between frontline workers and everyone else working in the relative safety of home.

However, Sagoo also admitted being “envious” at times of her husband, a frontline worker, who unlike the majority of desk workers, was not bringing work back home. Reflecting on this experience, Sagoo highlighted the importance of redefining how our society sees burnout and exhaustion in a way that does not end up pitting employees against each other because of the various ways they work – be it flexible, hybrid, fully remote, always on site or compressed hours.

Echoing the idea that “one size does not fit all”, Vicky Walker, director of people at Westfield Health, said providing mental and wellbeing support to employees was “about making things specific for your organisation so it is inclusive and relatable”. She added that “glossy” webinars and workplace training sessions could go to waste if organisations failed to have the basics right, including setting clear expectations of work and time priorities.

“There is no point in asking people to come to a workshop on stress management if they're working 14-hour days to deliver the role that they're expected to. What you're going to do is create more stress and anxiety,” she said.

Hybrid models should focus on outcomes, not days of the week

Gary Cookson, founder of Epic HR author of HR for Hybrid Working, said businesses had a tendency to focus on days of the week when delivering a hybrid working strategy. But this was thinking “backwards”, he said, and urged people professionals to think first about the tasks that need fulfilling. Only then will they be able to establish truly successful hybrid policies, he said.

Tom Kegode, Work:Lab lead at Lloyds Banking Group, added that removing the focus on specific days of the week would open up talent pools. He suggested companies look at what their competitors are doing, and collaborate with each other to create a “global work ecosystem” that benefits all generations of the workforce.

HR needs to ‘think like marketers’ to fill roles

HR needs to “think like marketers” when it comes to advertising positions, said Dr Elouise Leonard Cross, head of people strategy and experience at Northumbrian Water Group. She also emphasises the importance of “being human, having connections and being part of something” for improving retention in organisation.

Speaking in the same session, Marlini Finney, managing director of Challs, said mentoring and developing existing employees needed to be a “key focus” for organisations, and said firms should look at how it can make every one of its roles more attractive and “aspirational” to employees.

And Margarita Echeverria Rengifo, global head of assessments resourcing at Vodafone, shared her insights from the hiring process at her company, and said that “quicker, data-driven hiring decisions” and “using technology to centralise assessment data” were crucial.

“Making sure that it is a journey, that everything is in one place and it is an experience” is also a good way to ensure an appealing recruitment process for candidates, she said.