I have noticed of late that two key initiatives, which I believed were brought in to benefit employees, have now been cited to be having a negatively impact! Why is this and do HR have a responsibility? 

The first is ‘zero-hour contracts’. For many years employees have been requesting flexibility in their working hours and in some cases zero-hour contracts have been implemented; this arrangement has also benefited employers allowing management of resources against demands. Whilst some employees continue to remain supportive of zero-hour contracts as it suits their lifestyle; on the back of the recession some employees’ are experiencing zero demand for their hours! It has also been insinuated that the increasingly high use of zero-hour contracts may have a negative impact on the economy due to reduced consumer spending. As reported by CIPD ‘14% fail to provide sufficient hours to enjoy basic standard of living’ which I am sure is not the intention of any employer. So why is this happening?

  • Are workforce plans unable to effectively predict the number of resources required and the number of zero hour contracts that should be agreed?

If this is the case then HR have a key role to play in ensuring that effective workforce planning processes are in place and are effective.

  • Are employees’ expectations set effectively to ensure they understand what a ‘zero hours contract’ actually means?

HR has a key role to play during the recruitment process to ensure that employees are clear about what their employment contract will mean for them, for example realistic expectations of hours and the impact on holiday, sickness, maternity pay.

The second initiative that set me thinking is an area that a colleague highlighted to me last week – ‘zero holidays’. This concept has been adopted in the US where there is no minimum requirement for annual leave. It seems the idea was implemented as an incentive for workers so that performance is measured by productivity rather than attendance.  Employees manage their own time and take as much annual leave as they require. However concerns have now been raised that the removal of mandatory leave has resulted in cultural pressure for employees to not take annual leave at all.

  • Is this an attempt by to change to a culture where leave is not encouraged?

HR has a role to play in challenging and enabling leadership to manage effectively. Also to monitor and address issues as they arise. HR should seek to demonstrate the negative impact on productivity when employees do not take annual leave.
Ed Miliband is expected to put forward the motion of outlawing zero-hours contracts in the UK as he and many others see them as ‘exploitative’ of employees. My view is that there are some benefits for both employers and employees in the use of zero-hour contracts and zero-holidays; however HR has a key role to play in ensuring:

  • The policies implemented are well thought through, well written, well communicated and are understood and applied
  • The policies are developed in line with the culture of an organisation to achieve their intended goals
  • Monitoring is in place so that policies can be adapted and issues addressed to ensure that the intention of the policy is realised

Although I am a firm believer in the value that HR brings to an organisation at a strategic level, it also has an important role to play in ensuring employees well being.