Monday 8 October 2012

The two speed workforce

conservative-baldemorts.jpg  So, finally, the party conferences come up with something interesting - George Osborne's "employee-owner" schemes allowing employees to forfeit employment rights in exchange for £2,000 to £50,000 capital gains tax free shares:
"Get shares and become owners of the company you work for. Owners, workers, and the taxman, all in it together. Workers of the world unite."

Interesting? - yes.  An improvement? - I'm not so sure.
Firstly, the upsides to the idea.  Well, I'm definitely in favour of employee involvement and part ownership.  Finding a new way to give employees a more meaningful involvement in their organisations has got to be a good thing.  I can also see that for a new start-up, where this scheme seems to be being focused,  a higher risk / higher reward relationship could be very appropriate.

But the idea comes with significant downsides too.  The main one for me is this 'all in  together' thing.  That simply doesn't fly.  It's certainly a positive move for workers and executives to have more similar types, if not levels, of rewards.  But there's not going to be much sense of this if employees have to ditch their employment protection to take on this new 'owner' status whilst their masters still face the prospect of golden goodbyes, whatever the reason for them leaving may be.
As well as this, there are a range of big questions which still need to be answered.  For example, will other organisations try to impose this new employment relationship on staff where there isn't this same business need?
And what happens in organisations where some employees give up their employment rights and others don't?  A two-speed Europe may well be the best solution to the current economic and political stalemate in the EU, but a two-speed workforce will come with a whole heap of issues I'll need more time to consider and I bet the government hasn't really started to think through either.

But my main worry about the scheme is its digital on / off nature - yes / no; in / out...
To me the employment environment is becoming so complicated that we need a more variable, analogue response - a range of options to suit different requirements, contexts and situations and spans across contingent, part-time and flexible workers.
And these options may well have to involve different types of employment protection, but to have to abandon everything for a little more reward seems to me to be overly harsh.
Still, in some ways at least, two options must be better than one.  And these two options may provide a good basis for the creation of a more diverse set of options. 
It's also good to see that there is some creative thinking going on, even if it hasn't been completely thought through.  And I'd certainly like to see much more of this.

Picture credit: Politicalscrapbook (see also Bald Men of HR)

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