Sunday, 27 May 2012

Easier hiring and firing?

It’s a while since I last blogged. Inspiration has been slow to come, but this week, I have been following closely the comments and thoughts around on Beecroft’s ideas for making in easier to hire and fire staff and Employment Tribunal (ET) reform. You would think that as a practicing HR Director whose role is quite ‘hands on’ a lot of the time, I would be over the moon that it is now going to be more difficult for an employee to bring an ET claim (and if Beecroft’s recommendations were implemented, even more so). My job and that of my team could become easier! Even better, we are in the public sector, where it is rarely possible to ‘pay someone off’ or compromise someone out without jumping through a lot of Treasury hoops to show value for the taxpayer! This means we have to follow process very carefully and closely whenever we are dealing with ‘employee relations’ cases. Things can get protracted…

But no, I am not filled with joy. Far from it. I tweeted early last week that there is a difference between making it easier to ‘hire and fire’ someone and making it easier to ‘fire’ someone.  A number of people far more eminent than me have already blogged or tweeted about this. My view comes from my day-to-day work and that of the teams I have led over the last few years and also from my observations of the culture and morale in various organisations.

Let’s start with hiring. Well, it’s not that difficult now (thanks to the economic climate) for many entry or mid level roles, and this has been the case for the last 3 years or so. Some delay and frustration comes from the length of time certain pre employment checks can take, such as CRB, but finding suitable staff is not otherwise hindered. How does easier firing help here?

Now onto what happens during employment.  This is the bit about organisational culture and the competence of line managers (one of my hobby horses). Notwithstanding the reams I could write about the critical nature of this, it is not rocket science to understand that creating a climate of fear and a ‘gung ho’ approach to dismissal is hardly going to motivate staff in a positive way! High performance can be achieved when staff are worried for their jobs, but not for a sustainable amount of time. Anyway, who wants their staff to perform just to spite them, or just until something better or more enjoyable comes along? Plus, if staff are easier to dispense with, what about high turnover and the inevitable impact on service quality? How does easier firing help here?

More on what happens during employment. I am concerned about the potential for situations where the employee and manager just don’t get on, or worse, where a poor/ underperforming/ stressed/ bullying/ misguided/ discriminatory/ inexperienced manager could use relaxed employment rights to dismiss staff too easily. See above about higher turnover and the effect on quality. Secondly, there is the Equality Act to consider – defending an ET case where there is a discrimination claim is not straightforward and losing could be costly! Ultimately there could be reputational damage as an employer and therefore as a provider of quality services. How does easier firing help here?

Finally, on to what happens when things aren’t going so well during the employment. Yes, I am talking about disciplinary, grievance or capability processes. This is where I really might be expected to get excited about easier firing. But no, I remain convinced that tackling any issue early and informally if possible and using simple, streamlined policies and procedures has to be the best option. It safeguards against the potential for dodgy line manager actions and gives a clear framework for all involved to follow. Substituting this with making it easier to fire staff could have the perverse result of destroying hard earned trust and co-operation with Trade Union colleagues, who could find themselves having to resort to delaying tactics, counter allegations or tenuous discrimination claims just to protect their member. How does easier firing help here?

To conclude, what I am supporting can mean that HR colleagues, management colleagues and I find ourselves gritting our teeth from time to time, but this is a small price to pay for fair and transparent processes that follow the principles of natural justice and protect the organisation.