Peter Harte, group vice president, enterprise at UKG EMEA
The UK government’s Budget statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer this October has set out a fiscal roadmap towards economic recovery. Understandably the Budget plan is dominated by the need to protect and support businesses, jobs, and livelihoods as the country comes out of the pandemic.
The clarion call of the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak MP, was clear – the need for what he termed a “high wage, high skilled, high productivity economy.” Over the past 18 months, the aim of government was to rescue jobs and businesses throughout the economy. Now, as we come out of the emergency measures introduced during the pandemic, the government is clearly recognising the vital importance of broad-based productivity growth as the key to creating the foundations for sustained growth.
The Budget clearly aims to scale up efforts to address the decades-long underinvestment in human, organisation, and knowledge capital, while tackling some of the largest economic and skills disparities across the country. It also aims to strengthen the institutions and policies that safeguard a long-term commitment to improving productivity.
There is no doubt that the announcements unveiled in the Budget, which saw major investment in skills, infrastructure, and better access to finance, will be key drivers for economic recovery. Such recovery, in turn, will be built on productivity, delivering longer-term benefits and opportunities for businesses across the country. But organisations throughout the UK have had a tough 18 months as a result of the pandemic and now they are facing problems of increases in supply chain costs, labour shortages, and inflation, as well as increases in energy bills and employment taxes.
Arguably this is a perfect storm. But there are positives. The Office of Budget Responsibility is predicting rapid rowth of 6%, and unemployment is expected to peak at 5.9%. However, in this model it is hard to see how businesses and organisations can improve productivity.
That being said, tthere is hope and there is a solution. The vision of the Chancellor is driven by high wages, skills, and productivity. Businesses, especially SMEs, must therefore leverage productivity boosting technologies and give staff the skills to use them.
More than ever before, leaders in organisations of all sizes are expecting HR departments to support their business even further as they look to reinvent themselves and to boost their productivity. Being agents of change, HR teams innovatively look to improve processes for talent development programmes, performance management, coaching, training, recruiting, organisation design, succession planning, and more. Never before have we been focusing so much on employee engagement, mental health, collaboration, and workforce fluidity.
So, with these new demands on HR teams, how can practitioners find new ways in which to boost their organisation’s productivity?
Last year saw HR teams needing to focus on reactive projects to cope with redistributed workforces, new legislation, and a renewed focus on the overall wellbeing of employees; physically, mentally, and financially.
The global pandemic created an opportunity to challenge antiquated processes and roles such as in-person working. However, as employees remained productive despite distance, provided the right technology was in place, these changes also added invaluable levels of trust and empathy, as well as a strengthened sense of community.
As industries move out of the pandemic, a return to the ‘old normal’ looks increasingly unlikely, as businesses have successfully embraced ‘new normals’ such as digital transformation projects and hybrid working. The past 18 months has seen traditional workplace practices permanently altered, and HR teams risk being left behind if they are not able to adapt with modern technology and services.
Hybrid working is now the norm for white-collar workers, and blue-collar workers are also seeing more flexibility introduced into their work life. HR teams need to understand what this ‘new normal’ looks like for each and every one of their employees, and understand the new expectations that comes with this. Only then can they work towards implementing initiatives, projects, and technologies that solve the productivity puzzle. After all, more engaged, motivated, happy, and healthy employees are more productive employees.
Technology has played a pivotal role in maintaining productivity, as well as keeping employees safe throughout the pandemic. But, in order to boost productivity for the years ahead, business leaders, people managesr, and HR teams must look leverage modern workforce management and HR service delivery (HRSD) tools that will support their plans for growth, accuracy, efficiency, speed, and scalable utility.
Today’s HR tools are pre-built with on-demand analytics to equip HR with meaningful operational and workforce data providing unmatched insight translating into business-critical decisions. These tools provide strong analytics with the ability to measure and monitor KPIs essential for understanding the impact and success of teams. A powerful solution with built-in analytics should show a drastic reduction in the time to fulfil requests, even as the number of requests steadily increase in volume.
Not only does this benefit the HR team through enabling better organisation of HR operations, but it also helps to identify what is most important to an organisations most important asset – its people.
Through workforce management scheduling and forecasting insight, you can better staff stores and factory floors with the right people with the right skills at the right times. HRSD solutions can also provide deeper insights on the demographics of which employees are seeking additional support and if there are a high frequency of queries from a particular location, there may be a specific issue there to address.
In addition, AI-enabled digital assistants or chatbots provide the ability to automate first level query management, freeing up more time for value creating activities instead. Again, these also help to improve the employee experience through providing a 24/7 HR service in a way that people want to interact in today’s world. For example, people are increasingly wanting mobile-first services, so they can easily and efficiently access information.
Ultimately, with HR now firmly having a seat at the executive table, teams have a unique opportunity to reimagine their organisation with a culture that taps into the best of humans, but is supported by technology and the rise of clever, workplace tools that meet the needs of both HR and employees.
Only by doing this will UK plc be able to reach the goal as laid out by the Chancellor, a UK that is high wage, high skill, and high productivity.