Improving the quality of management to deliver better jobs

December 16, 2019

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by Tomás Sercovich, Business in the Community Ireland

The Carnegie UK Trust-TASC Ensuring Good Future Jobs essay collection describes many of the key challenges faced by workers in Ireland today, and proposes a series of policy and practice changes to ensure good future jobs. First published on 28 November, as a coordinated response to the Irish Government’s first Future Jobs Strategy, this blog series showcases the contributions by key social partners in Ireland to the collection.

The era of disruption is with us to stay. The pace of change in our economy, technology and society is relentless. The world of work is evolving and new models of work and workplace practices are taking shape. For this reason, the Future Jobs Ireland initiative is a welcome development.

The transformation of the workplace comes with significant challenges. The new skills that the workplace of the future will require, the displacement of jobs due to automation and artificial intelligence, new working practices (for example gig economy and contract workers) or the multi-generational workplace (Baby boomers, Millennials and Gen Z working together with different styles and priorities) are some of the issues that need to be understood, assessed and managed. The change taking place is systemic and will require leadership and a coordinated approach from government and regulators, businesses, and civil society to help us navigate the transition and be better equipped with the vision, policies and mind-set required.

Management will play a key role in facilitating or hindering this process of change. Management is much about policies, processes and procedures put in place to drive workplace transformations as it is about the people implementing this change. What is the role of the manager in this new era? We have always known the importance of good management, how more people leave jobs because of their manager than for other reasons for instance, but what can or should managers do to deliver a better work experience for the worker – and ultimately benefit the business and society?   How can national policy help deliver this -and what else needs to happen? In our view, it is important that the Future Jobs Ireland initiative highlights the role of high-quality management for building good employment relations and strategic vision for businesses of the future. This is work Business in the Community Ireland has been engaged in for many years, working in partnership with business leaders in Ireland.’

Over a decade ago, Business in the Community Ireland developed the Business Working Responsibly Mark, based on ISO 26000 and audited by the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI), which assesses responsible and sustainable business practices. Environmental practices, community engagement, customer and supplier relationships and corporate governance are all covered by the assessment but underpinning all of these is how the business behaves towards a critical stakeholder: the employee. Whether the employee is a contract worker or permanently employed, their behaviour and performance are central to how that business acts towards all its stakeholders – the essence of corporate social responsibility. The Mark is an inventory of management practices that support “good work” including:

  • Clear, accessible and understandable policies that show the company’s commitment to its employees (permanent and non-permanent), namely what they can expect in terms of having a voice, developing their skills, supporting their physical and mental well-being, receiving fair rewards, and feeling a sense of belonging and flexibility to manage work and life.
  • A workplace culture that is set at the top with senior leaders as role models providing a sense of purpose to the organisation and supporting and rewarding good, consistent management across the business. The company values are visible in how it behaves internally and externally, in who gets rewarded and how problems are resolved.
  • Strong focus on continuous learning and development, focused on skills requirements as well as the need to facilitate the employability of staff at all levels of companies and organisations. Training on resilience and managing change in uncertain times has to be the norm.
  • Recognition that change is endemic in every sector and that, while hard decisions may have to be taken to sustain the business, how those decisions are implemented and how fairly and openly change is managed are factors driving employee engagement and employer reputation.       Resilient managers who can cope with change and support employees through change can deliver business results and reduce the impact on mental health.

While these practices are good, they are not sufficient from a societal viewpoint. Through our Employment programmes, we hear real-life experiences of migrants and marginalised job-seekers who wish to participate actively in the labour market but who cannot get past the application phase or who are routinely under-employed. Inequality and the exclusion of segments of society from new opportunities will potentially be exacerbated by workforce transformations already mentioned.

Business in the Community Ireland recognises that business has a role to play in helping people thrive in our society. “Better business for a better Ireland” is how we express our purpose. Together with a cohort of our member companies, which have achieved the Business Working Responsibly Mark, we are exploring issues that are important for society and for employment in the future:

  1. Worker of the Future
  2. Social Inclusion[1]
  3. Transition to a Low-carbon Economy

The learning from these CEO-led collaborative initiatives will inform how we support businesses to be responsible in society and will be codified in the Business Working Responsibly Mark so that the assessment process evolves to meet society’s needs and expectations of responsible business.

We don’t have all the answers to how to sustain good work in an uncertain future but we recognise that the scale of the challenge ahead, with climate change and workplace disruption, is beyond what one business alone can tackle. Partnership and collaboration including business, government and civil society will facilitate the sharing of best practice and provide a forum for jointly raising the bar on what responsible business means in our society.

 

[1] Earlier this year, Business in the Community Ireland published the Inclusive Employer – A blueprint for companies to understand how their approach towards employment and retention links to diversity and inclusion from a broad perspective, including interactions with local communities and marginalised groups in society.