Steve Herbert, Head of Benefits Strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, discusses the changes ahead in the light of yesterday’s General Election

“You say buck rabbits don’t dig.  Nor they do.  But they could if they wanted to. 

But buck rabbits won’t’ dig, not can’t -won’t”

Blackberry, Watership Down

2019 has been an extraordinary political year, and frankly not one that many of us would care to repeat.  Yet the General Election result – coming as it does in the last few working days of the decade – does at least represent some much-needed stability and certainty for businesses, if only until the end of the transition period in 12 months’ time.

Yet it would be a mistake to think that the UK’s changing relationship with the EU was the only issue of importance to employers and/or their Human Resources (HR) teams right now.  Yes, Brexit has dominated all other topics for the last four years, but there are many, many more challenges to be faced in the decade ahead, some of which may have been overlooked during the recent political and business hiatus.

The Changes Ahead

So what are the other important issues for HR professionals?

I recently sought to capture many of those major headwinds in just one 25 minute presentation.  The list included (but is not limited to) the following topics:

  • Environmental concerns (including global warming and plastics pollution)
  • Company culture change (particularly in the wake of the #MeToo movement)
  • Pay gaps (gender/ ethnicity/ disability/ executive to worker)
  • Pensions (including ESG investments, Auto-Enrolment, and possible changes to tax reliefs)
  • Improving workplace mental health & stress
  • The UK’s ageing workforce
  • Employee financial wellbeing and/or worker poverty
  • A slowing economy & low productivity
  • The war for talent & the impact of technology/ artificial intelligence

Ordinarily any one of these issues would pose a major challenge for employers, and when taken together they represent an almost frightening tableau of change.  Yet every one of these topics needs to be understood and mastered if UK business it to thrive and survive in the new world order.

And, fundamentally, all these challenges have one key thing in common; they require the input, engagement, and motivation of employees before they can really improve.  And if the workforce is involved, then Human Resources must be too.

From won’t do to can-do

So what’s stopping HR professionals from getting much more involved in these issues?

It may be partly a historical issue.  Very often Human Resources departments struggle to shrug-off the now dated perception of being merely a back-office function.  As a result some in HR may still find it slightly alien to promote their services as a solution to these and other challenges.  But here people management professionals can perhaps learn an important lesson from their sales colleagues.  After all, it’s a truism in sales that:

Change = Opportunity

And the reality is that with so much change – and so much of it focused in the area of people management – there is now a very tangible opportunity for HR to advance the importance of their function.  It’s a question of adopting a more positive mind-set combined with the willingness to help the employer meet and best every challenge presented.

A 20:20 vision

So I firmly believe that the decade ahead represents a great opportunity for those HR professionals who wish to embrace it.

Of course part of this process will involve real engagement and understanding of the issues being faced, and the willingness to deploy and utilise the ever-increasing range of tools being provided within the Employee Benefits space too.  In doing so Human Resources professionals will find that they can play an ever more dominant and positive role in UK corporate culture, whilst also helping their organisations face the challenges of the 2020s and beyond.

Yes there are some frankly scary problems out there for UK businesses, but it’s time to look at the issues with an entirely fresh pair of eyes, and see the problems for what they are: an opportunity for Human Resources departments to shine.

Steve Herbert is Head of Benefits Strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing