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HR Question Time: Discussion Overview

HR Question Time: Discussion Overview

Last week saw the third in our successful series of “HR Question Time” events.  It was the first hosted by the combined force of Burness Paull & Williamsons. With nearly 150 delegates signed up, the venue was moved at the last minute from our offices in Glasgow, to the Old Sheriff Court Building in the Merchant City, which is the home of the Scottish Youth Theatre.  A perfect venue, in fact, as the theatre had the look and feel of a TV studio.


The panel consisted of our own Sean Saluja, Jackie Anderson (Group HR Manager of Forth Ports), Alan Boyter (Director of HR and Organisational Development at Lothian NHS Board), Maidie Cahill (Director of Corporate Services at SQA), Ronnie Caddow (Lecturer in Employment Relations and HRM at Glasgow Caledonian University) and Ruari Mackenzie (Global Talent Leader at Howden).

As always, the discussion was lively and topical. The key questions put to the panel on the night were:-

1. Is deterring genuine claims a price worth paying in introducing Employment Tribunal Fees?

Interestingly, the consensus on the panel was that the introduction of fees was not a good idea. There was a real concern that the fee system would disproportionately affect those on lower salaries, and may act as a real deterrent to individuals who have recently lost their job. The sense seemed to be, however, that it was more about the level of the fees proposed (higher than most expected).  And the panel was in agreement that that more could be done to weed out vexatious litigants.

2. Does the threat of bullying allegations make effective performance management impossible?

It was noted by the panel that, in certain circumstances, performance management policies and procedures were not used correctly. However, it was questioned whether acts which constitute bullying now, would have been viewed as just “strong management” in the past. The panel had first-hand experience of disgruntled employees using bullying allegations as an excuse to draw out performance management proceedings. Nonetheless, the view was that such allegations should not be used by managers as an excuse to shy away from proper performance management.  As one member of the audience put it: “we all have policies on bullying and performance management...why don’t we have a policy on being a ‘good manager’!?”

3. Is the trade union movement still relevant to employee relations, or have trade unions had their day?

There were some interesting responses from the panel regarding this question. The general consensus was that there is still a place for responsible trade unionism, but that trade unions can, in certain circumstances, damage the cause. Often it’s the individual (shop steward say) that gives the union a bad name.  Interestingly, approximately one third of the audience at HRQT worked in unionised environments, the vast majority of which were in the public sector. Membership of unions may be on the decline, but the relevance is still there in some sectors of the economy.

4. HR are influenced by employees’ social media activities, drug checks and credit histories. Are employers prying too far into employees’ private lives?

The panel noted that background checks have been conducted for years - the only difference now is the way in which these checks are conducted. Many panel members noted that individuals nowadays don’t think about the impact of their social media activity on their future. The consensus was that – if employees choose to make their activity public on social media - employees should realise that they are exposing these communications to the world at large. The panel agreed that such monitoring should not be abused by employers. However, they shared the view that, if used properly and proportionately, such checks can be an effective technique for recruitment and disciplinary/ performance decisions alike.

5. Has the practice of HR become too politically correct?

Perhaps a bit of fun, this one, but the panel members agreed that there is a fine line to tread when it comes to political correctness in an HR/ workplace context. The majority view was that HR can sometimes fall on the side of succumbing to political correctness in assessing the risk of some workplace issues...

This is just a quick canter through some of the topics which we discussed. The hour passed very quickly and it felt like we only scratched the surface of each of these topics.  In true ‘Question Time’ fashion, we were live-tweeting the action on our twitter feed using hashtag #HRQT.  You can ‘catch-up’ by following @BurnessPaullEL on Twitter.

Thank you to everyone who attended the event and for making it such a good evening. Thanks especially to Jackie, Alan, Ronnie, Maidie and Ruari for agreeing to be on our panel and for sharing their perspectives on the world of HR. We look forward to seeing you at our next HR Question Time event. In the meantime, you can view more photos from the event at our Burness Paull Flikr site here - http://bit.ly/15kASpk

Nichola McKay