Wednesday, 2 September 2015

BBC Breakfast: Zero Hour Contracts

Did you catch me on BBC Breakfast?

I was there to talk about zero hour contracts, supporting the ONS's new figures showing the number of people on these contracts has increased from 2 to 2.4% of the working population over the last year.  See this BBC report on the data.

But actually that's fairly dull - what is more interesting is data on the quality of these contracts, for example the findings from Glassdoor's survey which I blogged on last month.  In this post I suggested that the growing popularity of ZHCs demonstrates a predominance of a low skill, low pay economy, rather than the higher productivity one we're trying to create.

So I thought it was a bit unfair that the tweets during my interview suggested I was gushing or talking 'twaddle' etc.

But actually even though I was asked to present a balanced view in the interview, the Glassdoor findings are pretty damning.

So OK, 40% of unemployed people would take a ZHC, and 25% of these see the flexibility it gives them as a positive.  But most of these would only take it because they need the money or for other reasons feel they have no choice.  Also 40% of respondents wouldn't take one, as they need more predictable income or a guaranteed amount to maintain access to benefits, or simply because the offer of ZHC reduces their overall trust in an employer, or because they're influenced by negative reporting in the press.  45% see them as exploitative.

It's not that ZHCs are inately negative.  I tried to make that point in the interview - if you compare Glassdoor feedback on McDonalds and their ZHC and Sports Direct and theirs, you get a very different kind of commentary.  So it's not the contracts themselves, it's the philosophy behind them, and the way they're implemented which counts.  Eg do ZHC staff get lower pay, less acccess to benefits or bonuses etc, in which case you're very likely to create a two tier workforce.  Or are staff given flexibility in choosing the dates that they want to work, in which case they're going to be perceived very differently.

But the reviews on Glassdoor*, the findings of this survey, the general commentary in the news as well as the more specific tweeting (with that one exception at the top) are very negative, and to me, that indicates that most employers using ZHCs are doing so simply to reduce costs, with very little thought about their staff.  That's the real problem here.

And it's why I think employers which are using ZHCs need to take notice of Glassdoor's employer reviews and these survey findings, and the impact that the perceptions of the contracts are likely to be having, and probably get rid of them, or at least limit them to specific areas of the employment population, and to time periods where they're truly necessary, and where possible to replace them with something like annualised hours etc.

* By the way, I do think the reviews on Glassdoor are the main things here.  The Glassdoor survey has come out with some very different conclusions to the CIPD one a few years back.  That might just be because perceptions have changed over that time.  But surveys are only ever an indication of a general mood and belief and will always be influenced by the specific questions which are being asked and many other things.  It's the real, anonymous and therefore authentic but specific feedback on Glassdoor's site which to me provides the most powerful insight into peoples' experiences and perspectives.

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