Anarchy In The HR

How likely is it that we will return to the rotten days of employer/employee conflict?

The past 40 years have been positive for HR, but that hasn’t always been the case. What if the business climate returned to that of the mid 1970’s?

A generation of business leaders and HR professionals, two whole generations, have been fortunate to work in an environment where the focus on people management has been hugely positive, forward-thinking and in many ways visionary.

The focus has been on recruitment, retention, engagement, organisational learning and development, people development, appraisal’s in their various formats, empowerment, coaching and wellbeing.

But it wasn’t always that way. Forty years ago, terms such as these pretty much didn’t exist in the HR vocabulary. Instead terms such as industrial action, wildcat strikes, walkouts, work to rule, unofficial action, scabs, conflict and industrial relations, were prevalent.

How equipped would your business be to manage situations of industrial unrest if you were facing them today? The answer is likely to be somewhere between “we’re not” and “I haven’t thought about it”.

Fortunately, today's leaders have never had to face the challenges of the 70’s, but that makes them vulnerable to a change in the employment landscape.

How likely is it these “bad old days” will return? For several reasons, I think that the employer/employee relationship could change quite dramatically over the next twelve to eighteen months. Here’s why.

  • Pay and remuneration aren’t keeping pace with inflation, living standards are barely at pre-2008 levels.
  • Uncertainty over Brexit.
  • Employees are now more empowered and therefore more confident to challenge.
  • The gig economy, for all its positive benefits has created a large group of unorganised and in some cases disenfranchised workers.
  • Trade Union membership has fallen from 13.2 million members in 1979 to 6.2 million members in 2016, a period during which the number of UK workers has increased. This provides scope for new members to be recruited.
  • Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign vehicle have shown themselves to be very good at organising. What if they change their focus from politics to the workplace?
  • And finally, these things tend to be cyclical – what goes around comes around.

"We've moved on" I hear you say; "we're never going back to the bad old days".

Perhaps you are right, I would be delighted to be proved wrong.

But at the very least the possibility, and how you would manage this, should be on the agenda of every HR Professionals and Business Leader in 2018.


Colin Lock, Managing Director UK

Mdina International