Brexit Extension Is No Relief for UK Employers

Brexit Extension Is No Relief for UK Employers

Business leaders in the UK may have breathed a sigh of relief last month when the country’s deadline for leaving the EU, originally scheduled for March 29, was pushed back until October 31. The extension is good news insofar as it gives the UK government more time to finalize an agreeable Brexit plan and avoid crashing out of the union, with potentially devastating economic consequences. Likewise, it gives British organizations more time to shore up their own Brexit plans, if they had not done so already. For these organizations, however, and particularly for their HR functions, the extended Brexit deadline is a decidedly mixed blessing, and it would be a mistake to treat it as a reprieve.

One of the most disruptive effects Brexit has had on the UK for nearly three years now has been to introduce major uncertainty into the business environment. Not knowing whether, or when, or how Brexit would finally happen has made it difficult for organizations to make long-term plans that depend on the outcome of this process. It would be one thing if the UK and the EU had decided that Brexit would definitely take place at the end of October, under a finalized deal and with a specified transition plan. The extension agreed upon in April did none of that; instead, it gave the UK government another six months to try and accomplish what it has been unable to do thus far and rally majority support in Parliament around either the deal Prime Minister Theresa May made with her European counterparts last year, or some alternative arrangement that the EU would also accept.

In other words, the uncertain environment that has prevailed since 2016 remains in place: Organizations still don’t know when Brexit will happen and whether it will be orderly or chaotic. As Steve Hawkes, deputy political editor at the Sun, remarked when the extension was announced, another six months of unpredictability “is possibly the worst outcome for business.”

If the UK ratifies the Brexit deal before October, the UK may leave the EU at the start of the following month. If the country fails to hold elections to the European Parliament at the end of this month, it will crash out with no deal on June 1. If Parliament still can’t pass a deal by the new deadline, the country faces the prospect of a no-deal Brexit in November or an additional extension, assuming the EU is willing to grant one. The delay has even amplified uncertainty around whether it will ultimately happen at all, though the government remains committed to achieving Brexit — and organizations must continue preparing for it.

To that end, businesses in the UK cannot afford to slow down their contingency planning for the various Brexit scenarios that may come in the next six months. This is especially true for HR, as Brexit’s impact on workforce planning, retention, and employee engagement are some of its most significant consequences for organizations. While the overall picture of the future remains cloudy, there are a few things of which HR leaders can be sure, at least in terms of what risks they need to plan against. Here are some things UK businesses should be thinking about as they move ahead with their post-Brexit talent strategies:

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We’re Already Living in the Future of Talent Analytics

We’re Already Living in the Future of Talent Analytics

Recently at the Harvard Business Review, management professor Thomas H. Davenport asserted that HR “is right up there with the most analytical functions in business—and even a bit ahead of a quantitatively-oriented function like finance.” Davenport backs this claim with findings from a global survey of senior managers, directors, and VPs at large companies by Oracle, on which he collaborated. The survey found that many HR leaders are well-versed in using data and predictive analytics to make talent management decisions:

  • 51% of HR respondents said that they could perform predictive or prescriptive analytics, whereas only 37% of Finance respondents could undertake these more advanced forms of analytics.
  • 89% agreed or agreed strongly that “My HR function is highly skilled at using data to determine future workforce plans currently (e.g. talent needed),” and only 1% disagreed.
  • 94% agreed that “We are able to predict the likelihood of turnover in critical roles with a high degree of confidence currently.”
  • 94% also agreed that, “We have accurate, real-time insight into our employees’ career development goals currently.”
  • When asked “Which of the following analytics are you using?” “artificial intelligence” received the highest response, with 31%. When asked for further detail on how respondents were using AI, the most common responses were “identifying at-risk talent through attrition modeling,” “predicting high-performing recruits,” and “sourcing best-fit candidates with resume analysis.”
  • These findings suggest that the analytics transformation in HR is farther along than you might have thought, with the caveat that the survey respondents were from companies with $100 million in revenue or more, and are thus more likely to have the capacity to deploy new techniques and technologies that may be out of reach for smaller organizations. It should come as no surprise that more and more companies are adopting AI and analytics into their HR functions; what’s new in this survey data is that HR functions are becoming increasingly confident in the maturity and capability of their analytics programs.

    In terms of where companies are deploying talent analytics, Oracle’s findings track with what we have seen elsewhere: The lowest-hanging fruit is in predicting turnover, while there’s also a lot of promise in AI-powered recruiting, predicting performance, and career pathing. The focus on attrition makes sense, as employees who quit often time that decision to leave around predictable life and career events and drop lots of hints about their plans beforehand.

    If you can use data to detect these warning signs and head off unwanted departures, that can save your organization considerable amounts of money. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty made headlines earlier this month when she told attendees at CNBC’s @Work Talent + HR Summit that IBM’s AI technology was able to predict which workers were planning to quit with 95 percent accuracy:

    IBM HR has a patent for its “predictive attrition program” which was developed with Watson to predict employee flight risk and prescribe actions for managers to engage employees. Rometty would not explain “the secret sauce” that allowed the AI to work so effectively in identifying workers about to jump (officially, IBM said the predictions are now in the 95 percent accuracy “range”). Rometty would only say that its success comes through analyzing many data points.

    “It took time to convince company management it was accurate,” Rometty said, but the AI has so far saved IBM nearly $300 million in retention costs, she claimed.

    But predicting turnover with enough accuracy to add value may not require IBM-level AI capabilities. A new study from Peakon finds that employees begin showing clear signs of wanting to quit a full nine months before they pull the trigger on their resignation. A big-data study drawn from over 32 million employee survey responses in 125 countries, the Peakon report points to several key indicators of attrition that show up months in advance: declining engagement and loyalty, as well as dissatisfaction based on unchallenging work, an inability to discuss pay, an unsupportive manager, and the lack of a clear path to advancement in the organization.

    In a recent interview with David McCann at CFO, data scientist Jon Christiansen notes that it’s much easier to predict who will stay than who will leave, but highlights a few indicators that consistently point toward a greater likelihood that an employee will quit, such as whether the employee feels that their performance is evaluated fairly or that they have control over their workday. Other signs include an employee avoiding conflict, siloing themselves, focusing excessively on rewards over the common goal of the organization, and facing either too much or too little pressure at work.

    The advantage for a company like IBM, which continues to invest heavily in AI, is that it can delegate the detection of these patterns to an algorithm. Predicting quits was the first area the tech giant’s HR function focused on when deploying AI, IBM’s chief human resources officer Diane Gherson explained to Jena McGregor at the Washington Post:

    IBM had already been using algorithms and testing hypotheses about who would leave and why. Simple factors, such as the length of an employee’s commute, were helpful but only so telling. “You can’t possibly come up with every case,” Gherson said. “The value you get from AI is it doesn’t rely on hypotheses being developed in advance; it actually finds the patterns.”

    For instance, the system spotted one software engineer who hadn’t been promoted at the same rate as three female peers who all came from the same top university computer science program. The women had all been at IBM for four years but worked in different parts of the sprawling company. While her manager didn’t know she was comparing herself to these women, the engineer was all too aware her former classmates had been promoted and she hadn’t, Gherson said. After the risk was flagged, she was given more mentoring and stretch assignments, and she remains at IBM.

    IBM is also using its Watson AI for other talent-related purposes, such as learning and development or career pathing, Carrie Altieri, IBM’s vice president of communications for people and culture, noted in a recent interview with Riia O’Donnell at HR Dive:

    AI has been a driving force of innovation for IBM’s HR team. Cognitive talent alerts mine for patterns; it searches for employees who’ve been in a job longer than usual (which could signal flight risk) and can determine whether they need more training to move up. …

    AI also can personalize learning and development for each job role and lead the way in making learning a central aspect of a company’s culture. Altieri said that more than 45,000 learners are visiting IBM’s learning platform every day and 98% of employees access it each quarter. While the company requires 40 hours of learning per year, staff average around 50 hours, regardless of tenure. Learning is a huge part of the culture at IBM, she explained, and the new system gives managers the tools to have more intentional discussions with staff.

    And like other tech companies experimenting with these technologies, IBM is not only deploying its AI capabilities internally, but also selling them as a service to other organizations. Last November, the company announced the launch of IBM Talent & Transformation, a new business venture offering AI skills training in addition to services that “harness the power of AI personalization to guide employees in developing skills and pursuing opportunities to grow within the company.”

    Two Studies Suggest Incentives May Not Drive Participation in Wellness Programs

    Two Studies Suggest Incentives May Not Drive Participation in Wellness Programs

    A new study by researchers at the University of Chicago and Harvard, recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, sheds new light on the impact on increasingly popular workplace wellness programs on employees’ actual health outcomes. The effectiveness of these programs has not been extensively researched, as they are relatively new and rely on an evolving set of strategies and technologies, and studies so far have drawn mixed conclusions. The new research, Kaiser Health News senior correspondent Julie Appleby explains, had a more sophisticated design than many past studies in this area: The researchers randomly chose 20 BJ’s Wholesale Club outlets to offer a wellness program to all their employees, then compared their results with 140 other stores with no program, covering a total study group of almost 33,000 employees.

    Unfortunately, the researchers found no significant correlation between the introduction of the wellness program and a strong improvement in employee health:

    After 18 months, it turned out that yes, workers participating in the wellness programs self-reported healthier behavior, such as exercising more or managing their weight better than those not enrolled. But the efforts did not result in differences in health measures, such as improved blood sugar or glucose levels; how much employers spent on health care; or how often employees missed work, their job performance or how long they stuck around in their jobs.

    The BJ’s wellness program offered small incentives for participation: Employees could receive about $250 in small-dollar gift cards for taking courses on nutrition, exercise, and other wellness topics. Around 35 percent of eligible employees completed at least one course throughout the duration of the study. One wellness program vendor commented to KHN that the limited impact of the program may have come down to the incentives being too small:

    Jim Pshock, founder and CEO of Bravo Wellness, said the incentives offered to BJ’s workers might not have been large enough to spur the kinds of big changes needed to affect health outcomes. Amounts of “of less than $400 generally incentivize things people were going to do anyway. It’s simply too small to get them to do things they weren’t already excited about,” he said.

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    Google Will Require Full Benefits for its Contractor Workforce by 2022

    Google Will Require Full Benefits for its Contractor Workforce by 2022

    Google revealed on Tuesday that it was phasing in a policy that will require its outside suppliers to provide health insurance, paid parental leave benefits, and a $15 minimum wage to employees working for the tech giant on a temporary or contract basis. The announcement was made in an internal memo issued to all employees and shared with the Hill:

    Google will now require that the outside companies employing the workers provide them with comprehensive health care, a minimum wage of $15 per hour, 12 weeks of parental leave and a minimum of eight days of sick leave.

    Google is beginning the efforts in the U.S., where there are not specific regulations around paid parental leave or comprehensive health care. Other countries in which the company operates have specific legislation around paid parental leave and other benefits. The company said it made sense to start in the U.S. because Google is setting a standard.

    Google is giving the “suppliers” — companies that employ the temporary workers and contractors — until January to institute the minimum wage requirements. A Google spokesperson said it will give suppliers until 2022 to institute comprehensive health care benefits.

    Google has faced increasing pressure from its “TVC” (temporary, vendor, and contractor) workers, as well as an activist community of its full-time employees, to improve the conditions under which TVCs work for the company. A day before the memo was issued, the Guardian reported on a letter signed by more than 900 Google workers calling for significant changes in the way the company deals with its contingent workforce. The letter originated from TVCs working on the global “personality team” responsible for crafting the voice for Google Assistant, most of whom had their contracts abruptly and unexpectedly shortened in early March:

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    Staying Off the ‘Naughty List’ Is a Growing Concern for HR Leaders

    Staying Off the ‘Naughty List’ Is a Growing Concern for HR Leaders

    For many years, business publications and research organizations have put out “best employer” lists, ranking organizations based on their employees’ reported job satisfaction, the quantity and quality of their benefits, learning opportunities, and other selling points of the employee experience. These lists offer employers an opportunity to earn some good press and burnish their employer brand, and can be particularly valuable in helping lesser-known companies get their names out there and compete for talent with their higher-profile peers. These lists are typically opt-in: Employers that have good stories to tell submit their information, the top ten or 20 of them get a brand boost, and the rest don’t need to tell anyone they didn’t make the cut.

    With more information about organizations’ talent policies becoming publicly available, these lists have evolved to draw on new sources of information and to focus on issues of increasing importance to employees today, like diversity and inclusion or corporate social responsibility. Glassdoor, for example, puts out an annual list of best places to work based on employee ratings and reviews, while Forbes and the activist investment firm Just Capital have begun publishing a “Just 100” ranking of the most socially responsible publicly-traded companies in the US and Bloomberg’s Gender Equality Index highlights companies that are investing in gender equality. The proliferation of best-of lists, however, has led to diminishing returns in their reputational value: Our research at Gartner has found that only 7 percent of candidates say being on one of these lists was an important factor for them in deciding whether to accept an offer from an employer.

    The Lists Organizations Don’t Want to Be On

    At the same time as the value of a spot on the nice list is waning, a growing trove of publicly available data has led to the emergence of new lists on which employers didn’t ask to be included. Some of these are extensive indices that identify both the best and the worst, like FertilityIQ’s Family Builder Workplace Index, which ranks employers based on the generosity of their fertility benefits. In some rankings, even the best-scoring companies are not great: Equileap recently published a special report on gender equality in the S&P 100, in which the highest grade was a B+. Furthermore, investors, governments, and media outlets have begun to compile what we might call “naughty lists” of companies that are not living up to expectations in terms of fairness, inclusion, transparency, or social responsibility — and you really don’t want to see your organization’s name on one of those.

    These naughty lists tend to focus on gender pay equity, executive compensation, handling of sexual harassment claims, and the experiences of diverse employees. One recent, prominent example was a BuzzFeed report in November that pressed leading US tech companies on whether they required employees to resolve sexual harassment claims in private arbitration and called out those that did have such policies or declined to answer (Ironically, the reporters also discovered that BuzzFeed had a mandatory arbitration policy itself). The publication of this report prompted several companies to announce changes in their policies.

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    Changes Are Coming: How to Stay Ahead of Workplace Disruptions

    Changes Are Coming: How to Stay Ahead of Workplace Disruptions

    When we think about the future of work, we often picture robots taking our jobs and a permanent end to the decreasingly popular 9-to-5. While changes as extreme as these may be coming at some point in the future, ongoing technological innovations are changing the future of work today, while subsequent disruptions will continue to shape our working lives tomorrow. Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, machine learning, and other emerging technologies are already promising to fundamentally change how we work and what we need from our HR functions. The ongoing and upcoming waves of technological change will fundamentally disrupt the way work is done and who does it.

    HR functions are starting to engage with these changes: Gartner research shows that one in four HR teams are already using or piloting AI in some form. However, only 10% of Chief HR Officers feel that they have an operational strategy to address the risks of automation. In order for HR to evolve, its leaders need to better understand the technology trends that affect the future of work. HR executives are now expected to evaluate the impact of these trends on their organization, both to leverage them in growing the business and to prepare the organization for the risks they pose.

    So how do you proactively prepare for workplace disruptions instead of reactively lagging behind them? We reviewed how some of the most progressive organizations and HR leaders are tracking, assessing, and managing the implications of upcoming technology trends on their employees and the work they do. From our research, we determined that HR leaders must focus on two key areas: identifying and anticipating business disruptions, and preparing for workforce transformation.

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    With Brexit Uncertainty Looming, UK Businesses and Employees Lose Confidence in Economy

    With Brexit Uncertainty Looming, UK Businesses and Employees Lose Confidence in Economy

    The deadline for the UK to withdraw from the European Union is coming up in just two weeks, on March 29. This week, the UK Parliament voted against a deal negotiated between Prime Minister Theresa May’s government and EU leaders, against a no-deal Brexit, and in favor of delaying the Brexit date in order to buy additional time to figure out a solution. Any delay will require the consent of the 27 remaining EU countries, which is not guaranteed, and even with more time, legislators will still face the same tough choices.

    As the clock counts down to the deadline, Brexit has created a lot of uncertainty for UK organizations and their employees, especially workers from other EU countries whose future status is up in the air. This uncertainty has done significant damage to UK employees’ confidence in the business environment, Gartner’s latest Global Talent Monitor report indicates:

    Employee confidence in the UK business environment has slumped, according to Gartner, Inc. The latest data in Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor report for 4Q18 shows employee confidence in near-term business conditions and long-term economic prospects reaching an index score of 55.6, a decline of 7.5 per cent from an index score of 60.09 in 3Q18. These results follow a worldwide trend that has seen global business confidence sink to its lowest point since the fourth quarter of 2017.

    This lapse in confidence was paired with a sharp decline in employees’ active job seeking behavior, which fell by 7.2 per cent from 3Q18. Amid declining perceptions of the job market, coupled with the highly uncertain Brexit outlook, employees’ intent to stay in their current jobs in 4Q18 increased for the first time in 2018, as did their willingness to go above and beyond in their present roles.

    UK employers are staring down the uncertainty of Brexit in the context of a tight talent market in which it has become exceptionally challenging to fill critical skills gaps. The Global Talent Monitor data from the final quarter of last year suggests that talent attraction will be a major challenge for employers this year, regardless of what happens with Brexit, as employees take a more pessimistic view of the job market and become more averse to the risks inherent in changing jobs. (Gartner for HR Leaders clients can see all the latest data from our Global Talent Monitor here.)

    Uncertainty is a key factor — perhaps the key factor — driving the Brexit panic, as illustrated by the Decision Maker Panel, a survey of 7,500 UK business executives that researchers from the Bank of England, University of Nottingham, and Stanford University have been running regularly to gauge the impact of Brexit on companies. Writing at the Harvard Business Review, the researchers ascribe declines in investment, employment, and productivity to Brexit-related uncertainty:

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