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Broster Buchanan event considers impact of flexible working on employees

Broster Buchanan, a consultancy that partners with employers to help attract and retain talent, is pioneering a series of events to better understand the challenges facing UK companies in light of a changing workplace. In attendance at its ‘The Future of the Workplace’ event in Birmingham on 7th March were senior representatives from some of the Midland’s employers including HSBC, The Economist, The Prince’s Trust, Npower, Housing & Care 21, Millennium Point and the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce.

Co-chairing the event along with Broster Buchanan was Rita Tappia who led the resourcing agenda for HS2 until the end of 2018. Recruiting for the UK’s largest infrastructure project gave her exposure to many of the challenges the UK are currently facing, “We needed archaeologists, engineers and more, all of which are in short supply. The only way to ensure we could meet our workforce requirements, was to position the business as an employer of choice and drive an innovative recruitment strategy with diversity at the heart.” The business grew to over 1600 employees over four years and despite its controversies Broster Buchanan says it is a hugely productive and dynamic place to work. The project is expected to recruit over 2000 apprentices in its lifetime and as the programme moves to construction, the number of roles supported by HS2 is forecast to reach 15,000 (

Attracting talent is fundamental to create a workplace fit for the future and defining and marketing a strong employee value proposition is pivotal to success. There are now five generations at work, so recruiting talent is not as simple as it once was. Where millennials and Generation Z may turn to social media and review sites to gain insight into potential employers, older generations may use more traditional methods such as recruitment agencies and personal networks. With the UK skills gap widening, especially in STEM careers, The Economist has found it a challenge at times to recruit IT talent into their newly created ‘Engineering Centre of Excellence’ in Birmingham. Dileep Marway, head of QA at the Economist, said, “We are now engaging with colleges and universities based in the Midlands to explore the market for future talent. This looks to be a good push but it comes with some challenges. We have limited apprenticeships to recruit for whereas other companies in the Midlands are recruiting successfully in masses. They have invested heavily attracting graduates, at times having whole departments dedicated to fine-tuning this aspect.”

And it is no wonder they are finding it hard when larger corporations such as HSBC have even created their own university to plug the skills gap. “The external market didn’t have the exact skills we needed to take on the challenges of a leading global bank,” commented Anita Rupal, head of recruitment for retail banking and wealth management at HSBC. “So we have created an environment where they can learn quickly before starting the job.” The university has a training facility which can accommodate up to 300 people at their new headquarters in Birmingham and they are creating additional training facilities in the UAE and Mexico.

With an increasing number of skills becoming harder to source, it is a real challenge for businesses to keep great talent. “Retention is only an issue if you aren’t expecting it” stated Kim Cleland, deputy director for people and learning at the Prince’s Trust. “There shouldn’t be any hidden surprises with employees if you have the right structure in place.” Communication and collaboration have never been more important; these attributes drive the culture of the business create loyalty and drive from employees. Cleland is currently heading up a pay and rewards project at The Prince’s Trust and is holding focus groups to understand why people leave the business. “We want to encourage our employees to talk so we can take the feedback onboard and integrate this into how we recognise our employees.” The project aims to enable fairness, rewards and recognition to drive retention.

One significant benefit which appears to be driving retention is flexibility and it’s hard to argue the benefits; employees can juggle the demands of modern work and life, and employers are seeing huge increases in productivity. Judith Armstrong who was recently CEO at Millennium Point in Birmingham implemented a company-wide flexible working policy. She shared, “I had never worked in a flexible working environment before but when I joined there were people working across different working patterns and we needed to simplify the process. The introduction of flexible working not only significantly reduced absenteeism but more importantly improved the team morale and supported the culture of work-life balance.”

But whilst there are benefits of flexibility for both employees and employers, what is the impact on our mental health? With advances in technology, many employees now have access to work 24/7 which gives no time to switch off. A study by Cardiff University found 44% of remote workers struggled to relax and unwind after work, compared to 38% of those in fixed locations. Unless employers ensure home workers are set up effectively so they can communicate and collaborate with their wider teams, they can feel isolated. Research by LogMeIn also found that almost half of employees feel pressured to prove that they are actually working when at home, which can lead to working more hours, work intensification and increased stress levels.

The individual needs of employees have never been more important and everyone needs to be managed and motivated differently. Work related stress and mental illness is now accounting for over half of work absences (HSE) so it is imperative that employers step up to the plate. “Keeping our people safe and well is always at the top of our priorities,” said Vicky Barrett, resourcing manager from npower. “28th March is Mental Well Health Day which will operate across our sites and will enable us to showcase the wide range of support we offer our employees. This includes access to trained onsite mental health first aiders, as well as 24/7 healthy minds line, a support service which can be accessed by employees and their family members.”

Unfortunately, there is still such a stigma attached to stress and mental health, especially for men. Almost a third (29%) of men who work full-time have suffered from a work-related mental health issue and 59% said they thought admitting to their condition would hinder their chances of a promotion (Personnel Today). Lenna Thompson, associate director from Broster Buchanan, commented, “Whilst society is taking positive steps in talking more about mental health, there is still a huge amount to be done to educate and support business leaders and their peers to be better equipped to deal with mental health problems in the workplace.

“Technological advances mean we can work anywhere, anytime, but we have to accept this comes at a price.” Whilst employers are currently reaping the benefits of a flexible workforce they also have a responsibility, and that is of the well-being and mental health of employees, after all they make the workplace go round.”

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