Wednesday 6 November 2013

#CIPD13 A hundred years of change, engagement and the living wage


This is the CIPD's Centenary so it's great to see speakers here from a couple of organisations involved in setting up the institute.

Shaun Rafferty has been talking about the early involvement and current role of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and its support for the Living Wage - also particularly relevant as its Living Wage Week.

Joseph Rowntree started paying productivity wages, basically the same idea as today's living wage, back in the 1920.  However, apart from them, nothing much has changed in that most don't pay it.

Shaun shared some shocking data about the levels of underemployment and in-work poverty which hasn't changed over the last 100 years as much as you may think.

This has a profound impact on engagment as its hard to be engaged if you're purely focused on your pay.

Stephen Lehane then shared some information on Boots' journey over the last 100 years - from when the average lifespan was 41 years. So I suppose customers back then were probably less interested in today's Heath and beauty agenda, eg Boots products which help you keep your skin the same colour it already is.

We've now got the opportunity to engage them, and our employees too. But that doesn't come without commitment and effort eg Boots' championing colleagues so they can and will champion customers' right to feel good.

Oh, and after paying people appropriately too.

Shaun pointed people at Engage for Success' website for ideas on engagement and I'd echo that call. In fact I think I've agreed to host an E4S podcast on Monday - more on that soon.

But I'd also have a look at Goffee's and Jones' DREAMS - and other suggestions I've made here previously.

Two not particularly well thought out reflections before the Centenary dinner tonight:

Firstly - the founding Mssrs Rowntree and Boots' perspectives definitely help these two organisations to do what they do. But it's taken a lot of focus since then too (Boots is a recent client).

The same advantages are often seen in new and recent start-ups, especially Californian hi-tech companies. (Though just because a company is a startup it doesn't guarantee that it's going to be managed well.)

But it is more difficult in existing, traditional businesses. I'm planning in blogging about this tomorrow or at least early next week...

Secondly - I took up blogging and social media partly to be more transparent about my views. I therefore feel a need to note a slightly mixed and potentially reactionary view to the living wage which I’d like to feel I support but am not sure that I do (I generally focus more on executives than cleaners so it’s not something I’ve thought about as much as I probably should)...

I’m not objecting to anyone earning £7.65 / £8.80 an hour and I’m generally supportive of the living wage as long as it’s kept voluntary and there’s not too much focus on making it required.  So I think some of my reaction may be linked to the London living wage and other policies on London (having had to move out of London myself because I couldn't afford to live there I’m not overly positive about paying taxes for housing benefits to help others to live in places that I couldn't.)

However, I do think we need to be careful about potential distortions in pay strategy and the potential dysfunctional consequences of forcing more people out of jobs.  I want to see people at the bottom of the pyramid paid better because I think that’s the right thing to do and because I believe it’s appropriate - the pay differentials we have in place today are a disgrace.  But I’d rather tackle that by helping employers understand the differentials in peoples’ contribution simply aren’t as large as we tend to think, and that the differentials themselves reduce the opportunity for good business performance.

More importantly, given all of the changes in the world of work we've been discussing, I believe we need to make jobs and other forms of work more similar, not more differentiated, with jobs being more comfortable and protected. This just means other people with even harder lives pick up the strain elsewhere. There's a real risk of some major divisions between employed and un- or under- or alternatively- employed if we do.

Rowntrees' productive wages were a great idea 100 years ago but as the presentations pointed out we face different issues now.  Work doesn't come in discreet, 40 hour packages in the way it did then and we shouldn't design our organisations, or our approaches to reward or engagement, as if it does.



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