Digby Jones believes that if HR is to be taken seriously it needs to promotethe pivotal role it can play in boosting staff productivity. Paul NelsonreportsChief executives do not understand the vital role HR plays in running asuccessful business, according to the director-general of the Confederation ofBritish Industry. Digby Jones is in no doubt that HR deserves a place on organisations’ mainboards, and blames ill-informed chief executives for snubbing the profession.”Chief executives and finance directors have got to have a betterunderstanding of HR and the things it can and cannot change,” he said. “Not enough companies think creatively about the regulations they face.It is left to the last minute, the HR director is wheeled in and says: ‘you cando this, you can’t do that’, and wheeled out again – and I would think thechief executive throws something at the door as they leave.” Jones believes HR needs to promote the pivotal role it could play in helpingorganisations ensure their staff fulfil their potential and boost productivity.”It is important that more HR people are on the board, but even moreimportant that they are seen to earn their place. Senior HR professionals mustmove away from just dealing with regulation – which chief executives view asslowing business down – to becoming directors on main company boards, viewed asbusiness partners driving the organisation forward,” he said. “HR must change from telling the chief executive bad news every day, tosaying ‘we are in charge of your best asset – your people – and want to be onthe inside working with you’. HR directors ought to be in there at the startsaying: ‘involve me now’.” Suspicious Although he describes himself as a champion of HR, Jones is opposed toplanned regulation that will force employers to include HR measurements, suchas information on diversity and absenteeism, in company reports. Ministers are set to consider the proposals for HR reporting in Novemberfollowing a report by Denise Kingsmill, who is chairing a government taskforceset up to tackle the issue. Jones claims that his members would view the moveas more HR red tape. “Chief executives are very suspicious of it all. The red tape,regulatory environment of HR has got such a bad reputation. “I personally believe in it [HR], but CBI members would say: ‘Oh I seewhat you want, another regulation that we must comply with, tick some moreboxes and stick it in the annual report.’ “Before we know it, it will become an obligation to do what the reportsays, and suddenly, I am stuck with even more red tape that I will have toemploy another four people to deal with.” For the same reasons, Jones is also unhappy with the Health and SafetyExecutive’s (HSE) move to introduce stress management standards for employers.He is concerned they could be too prescriptive. Positive pressure He said the HSE and employers should focus on training managers in spottingthe fine line that exists between positive pressure on employees and stress. “There should be guidance, education and training for staff aboutstress as it is an important issue. I make it very clear that I expect my staffto work under pressure. You find me an employee who does not want to work underpressure, they enjoy it,” said Jones. “The signs of stress are quite easy to see and good managers should betrained to recognise, understand and take stress off employees.” The CBI leader has been unhappy with the Labour government’s record onemployment regulations because he believes it is too rigid. He wants theGovernment to adopt the same approach to legislation adopted by other EUcountries such as France and Germany, by introducing broad directions employersmust work within. “I would draw down some very wide parameters and say that we want ourbusinesses to comply with these, and then come back in five years and see howit is going,” Jones said. “This would not be a cop out. It is the way Europe does it instead of‘do this by a week on Friday or we will see you in court’ – and it [theGovernment] wonders why we are not competitive.” Jones cites the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) as an example of legislationwhere the Government has failed to take business needs into account. The Act,which outlines employers’ responsibilities when handling staff information,came into force in October 2001, but is so complex effective guidance forbusiness has still to be produced. The Information Commission, set up to aid compliance with the DPA, iscurrently redrawing its codes of practice on the legislation, after criticismthat its original guidance was unworkable. Jones said the Department for Trade and Industry now has an opportunity toprove it is concerned about employers’ needs as it drafts the forthcominglegislation on information and consultation due to be introduced from 2005.This will place a duty on employers to consult earlier and more fully withstaff on issues that affect their employment, such as redundancies andrestructuring. He urged the DTI not to include heavy financial penalties for firmsbreaching the new law. “If you penalise companies financially over this, you may as well makea big sign saying: ‘would you mind going to make these things in China please,and make the people redundant on the way out’, because that is exactly what willhappen.” Another piece of regulation that Jones is worried could damage UK firms’productivity and competitiveness is the Agency Workers Directive currentlybeing finalised by the EU’s Council of Ministers. As drafted, the directive would mean temporary staff have the right to thesame pay and conditions as permanent staff after six weeks in employment. Afterfive years, the directive would give agency staff equal rights from day one. The UK employs around 700,000 of Europe’s one million temps, and the CBIestimates that 160,000 agency jobs could be lost in the UK if the directiveremains in its current form. Flexibility Jones wants the qualifying period for temporary staff to gain the same payand rights as full-time workers to be nine months. The CBI’s leader is in no doubt that an unchanged directive would damage theunique flexibility of the UK’s employment market, which is vital if the UK isto compete against emerging global competition from Asia and Eastern Europe. “Agency working is a bit of ‘suck it and see’ on both sides, and awonderful way for a mother to get back her confidence and bring her talents tothe workplace after having a baby,” said Jones. “But if employershave to treat these people the same in every respect as full-time employees,then they will not employ them, and China will think it’s Christmas Dayagain.” www.cbi.org.ukDigby Jones’ CV2000 – Director-general, CBI1998 – Vice-chairman of corporate finance, KPMG1995 – Senior partner, Edge & Ellison1990 – Deputy senior partner, Edge & Ellison1984 – Partner (property and commercial law), Edge & Ellison Comments are closed. 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