2014: HR Year in Review

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It’s time to say goodbye to 2014 and hello to 2015. This last year has certainly been an interesting one for Human Resources. After years of austerity, economic recovery finally seemed to slowly be making headway, leading to many employment issues being turned on their head.

When trying to explain the turn in year to my children they asked me, where does the old year go? I love their logic. Clearly we’ll never live another 2014, but it’s lessons are the forebears of what we will do in 2015. Yes, new year is a time for resolutions but also for reflection. I’ve outlined here my headline HR moments (and movements) of the past year, as 2014 was the year for HR (and me) that…

1. Real wages got the attention they deserve

The start of 2014 saw the Consumer Price Index fall below the Bank of England’s 2% target, and then continue to drop throughout the year. For the first time in five years the increase in the minimum wage exceeded inflation. It was also the year that saw a steep decline in pay freezes. So an improvement. But some distance from making up for a very long time of average pay awards being well below CPI. As for the year ahead, it looks like stability, rather than significant growth, will be the resounding theme.

2. Agility was shored up by flexibility

There’s been a dawning realisation throughout the recession that the old ways of rigidity and bureaucracy were key contributors to many a downfall. Agility was one of the buzz words of 2014, and thankfully HR’s role was recognised at an early stage. Alongside this the staged implementation of the Children and Families Act reinforced the fact that flexibility works both ways, and it’s desirability is not limited to parents. While, as predicted, HR wasn’t inundated with requests, it’s a step in right direction which will continue in 2015 when shared parental leave cones into effect.

3. The sickness balance was tipped

One key lasting legacy from the downturn is that we need to increase productivity to influence growth, and most of the time that means doing more with what we already have. With this in mind, sickness was widely dealt with via an iron fist, from business to benefit claimants. In 2014 the headline figure wasn’t the cost of sickness, but it’s relative decline, precipitating a shift in focus to wellbeing initiatives to maintain performance. It will be interesting to see how (and if) the introduction if the health and work assessment and advisory service impacts on this mix.

4. We saw two sides to holiday pay

In September, Virgin positioned itself as being at the forefront of employee benefits when it announced it’s unlimited vacation policy. Less than two months later the judgement in Bear provided a stark warning about dis incentivising staff taking leave. On the face of it, one is a caring, trusting employer while the other was out to squeeze every penny. Where the lines between the two become blurred is where pressures and presenteeism encourage workers to take less leave rather than more. With the case’s impact being limited by the deduction of overtime, the government’s cap on back pay and questions over the time limit to submit claims, it looks like the issue may just slip quietly away.

5. MOOCs came into their own

They’ve been criticised in the past for having extremely low completion rates. I doubt this is going to change – cue numerous learning based New Years resolutions that are never going to be fulfilled. But it’s free knowledge sharing – whats not to like? The 2014 CIPD conference wasn’t just a stand out career moment for me after I was invited to be on the blog squad, it also saw the CIPD launch it’s own MOOC. A ringing endorsement of this new learning format if ever there was one.

6. Social media truly became a business tool

2014 stands out as the year when organisations truly embraced social media. Dipping a toe in the water of such an uncontrollable outlet for employee opinion went out the window, as employers realised the power a bit of online personality can bring. Cue numerous retweets and shares that support the brand. Sure there’s been a few big mishaps (we’re well aware of) but on the whole it’s been a resounding success.

7. Talent was about the individual

The economic downturn forced us to look inward to fulfil organisational talent requirements. As the labour market began to pick up in 2014, we didn’t forget the leaps we made to unlocking those skills we never knew we had. The best employers have already turned the old notion of talent on it’s head by recognising that when they find a star performer the organisation needs to move around them, not the other way round. The answer to recruitment needs is rarely wrapped up in the neat little package of one person. Thankfully this notion fits precisely with the growing understanding of agility.

8. Apprenticeships became a real career choice

We were playing a dangerous game by perpetuating the myth that graduates equal good and apprentices equal bad, particularly with regards to intelligence and stereotypical ideas concerning achievement. Then rocketing youth unemployment forced us to open our eyes to the benefits of a grow your own mentality. The meteoric rise of the National Apprenticeship Awards is represented by their move from a dingy theatre in London to flashy national and regional events that give young aspiring talent the recognition they deserve.

9. An ageing workforce was redefined

It’s been a few years since the removal of the default retirement age, and as time went on HR has been ever more jittery about dealing with under performing older workers and how that sits with equality legislation. Thankfully this type of case is in the minority. With the state pension age increasing, particularly steeply for women, 2014 saw more of these types of workers re-enter or stay in the workforce. Perhaps with the rollout of pensions auto enrolment nearly complete, the majority of us have been forced to consider our retirement, and by extension that our talents (subject to health) aren’t constrained by a certain age.

10. Conciliation became a requirement

The impact of the controversial introduction of tribunal fees in 2013 has hopefully been counteracted somewhat by 2014’s requirement for early conciliation. Regardless of the outcome of the European appeal, the benefits of non-confrontational resolution with an expert as opposed to a fraught legal case cannot be under-estimated.

Well that was my 2014. I’m certain I’ve missed something- whistleblowing, zero hours contracts, equality…it’s been a busy year! This was my top 10, what was yours?

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