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Duvet days and frippery?

My recent blogs have presented thoughts on dignity and respect in the workplace, but also discussion around socially responsible and value driven recruitment. Recent media stories relating to public sector recruitment challenges have raised a number of questions for me.

I see reports that schools in England are offering Duvet Days and “Golden Hellos” of £1000, gym membership, and shopping vouchers in a bid to attract staff in what appears to be a national staffing crisis. Reports suggest that teacher training targets have been missed in most subjects for 5 consecutive years creating, not surprisingly, a shortage of teachers. Staff are also reported to be leaving the profession in record numbers, so both the experienced and newly qualified labour market pools are diminished. Employers, recognising the increasingly competitive labour market, and the need to deliver a core public service. The reaction to this is the emergence of an upward spiral of recruitment sweeteners.

A primary school in Lincolnshire is offering duvet days – i.e. time off over, let’s be honest about it, generous school holidays in the first place. All staff from the head teacher to part time cleaning staff are entitled to an official annual “duvet day”. It’s not just in England either. Moray Council has offered six months’ rent free accommodation to teachers prepared to relocate there. Others offer interest free loans to pay off student debt, private healthcare insurance, £1000 per annum in savings with retailers like M&S or John Lewis, and interest free loans to staff of up to £5,000 to buy travel season tickets or a bicycle.

Do people make decisions about where they want to work because they get duvet days, gym membership or a £1,000 golden hello? After tax, NI, pension contributions etc. are deducted, £1000 this could see the take home value of the incentive of £60 per month for 12 months. Gym memberships might make more sense. At least there is an argument that a fitter workforce will have less time off on sick leave.

Is this as claimed a hardnosed business decision to combat zero applications for posts? Or, a sign that desperation has set in?

Of course, the answer is not about short termism. Employers just increasing their wage bill in an attempt to recruit from a dwindling resource, whilst understandable in the face of pressing operational pressures, cannot be the answer. Understanding what is at the core of the issue and why the roles are unattractive both to people at the start of their careers and experienced staff members. Stress at work, burn out, changes to pension legislation, ignoring inappropriate organisational culture all contribute. Different environments have different recruitment challenges, urban and rural environments can have both their attractions and disadvantages.

In the not so distant past, particularly in our rural communities public sector posts came with accommodation, the history of this remains in some areas with communities still referring to the 'nurses' house, the school house or the 'doctors house, even though they have long since fallen into private ownership. This accommodation helped attract people, and also offered students the chance to have exposure to different communities during training. I note that Fair Isle are looking to recruit a nurse to this remote island community of 60 people, will this include an accommodation package even in the short term?

If HR is to support organisations to be successful we need to be more committed to understanding concepts of attraction and human behaviour, to gather intelligence about why people are leaving organisations, and why they are reluctant to join them. If we understand than we can build genuine strategies that will start to stem the flow,. If we don’t understand the problem we cannot start to tackle it.

Some time ago I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Professor Ron Heifetz of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He left a lasting impression on me. One evening we had a conversation with him about the competency based training and development programme I was working on. Prof Heifetz’s view was that competency based training merely ensured consistent mediocrity and suggested what I really should be working on was a staff motivational policy. 'Get to know your key people Alan' he said, 'find out what they want and, so far as it is possible, give it to them and watch your organisational performance sail off into the stratosphere'. His view was that often it was not about money. It was about having a meaningful, rewarding job, time off to study or do research, flexibility to look after an older family member or a sick child. Job enrichment in a climate and spirit of managerial generosity was his message.

Just before I left the NHS last year to set up Dignity HRS, I overheard some brand new junior doctors talking about why they had come to work at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. The conversation was about Edinburgh being a cheaper place to live than London, good cycle tracks, and the Fringe festival, not the illustrious place Edinburgh was in the world of medicine. Perhaps we need different strategies for the different generations we are trying to employ, as I have mentioned in previous blogs we now have five different generations in our workplace.

So I leave you with this thought; rather than create an upwards spiral of salary and frippery benefits, what we need to do is create decent jobs with manageable workloads, get the training and development right, develop different recruitment strategies that are generationally competent, and ask our HR Directors to be drafting their Motivational Strategies, not HR Strategies that tell people that the organisation believes that ”staff are its most important asset”, but in some instances behaving in a manner which demonstrates to them the opposite is true?

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