HR Blog | 26 July 2016

Meet the Family

Businessmen and sales schedules

Welcome to the family

We had a family party not so long ago. It was to celebrate an engagement and we were all really keen to be there. It was really difficult to organise because about half the people invited couldn’t say a month ahead whether they could come. So we had 20 out of 40 who didn’t know.  We had another 20 who said yes, but 10 of them got rostered to work at the last minute and couldn’t come.

Our family are used to working weekends and holidays. My husband worked 35 straight Christmas days in a row.  His cousins work for the NHS and other vital services – they know what it is to be on call and to work varying shifts. But this is different. The family used to know in advance who was on which shift and it was possible sometimes to move shifts around so they could attend engagement parties, weddings, funerals and other important dates.

Things have changed now. It’s not just the emergency services who can call on people at no notice – the lowliest shop assistant or warehouse worker cannot know even 24 hours in advance when they will be required to work.  Van and delivery drivers – the new ‘self-employed’ of the flexible age – have to sit by a phone in case work comes in.  And there’s a feeling – and not just a feeling – that refusing a booking even at the last moment will mean no more work coming in.

Zero hours workers have some limited rights. But several pregnant nieces working for global companies have found themselves rostered with no work.  Their qualifying earnings for statutory maternity pay are nil. No-one complains for fear of not being booked again.  Maternity returners find themselves replaced by younger models with less distracting family commitments.  Anyone older, particularly with disabled or elderly relatives to take care of is always on a knife edge, never knowing if they will be able to juggle their infinitely flexible working with their family needs.  And whatever happens they must not get ill as statutory sick pay is not enough to pay the rent.


Meanwhile, the war for talent rages.  We compete for the ‘talent’ leaving the contingent workers (the zero hours, the temps, the agency workers) to fend for themselves. They are not part of ‘the talent’.   We are not fighting a war for them.  Employee engagement surveys come and go.  I ask family members when I know one is going round and they say – “I don’t have access to a computer – they send a lot of stuff round by email and online but I never get to see it”.  They also say “If I am on a computer at work as it’s not part of my job, they count that as break time and I don’t get paid”.  If you’re on minimum wage or the living wage it’s a big deal how much you get paid for 15 minutes.  They are the non-responders – showing up in your ‘big data’ sets only as deletions from your payroll. Sometimes they don’t even show up as that as they work for agencies or sub-contractors and you never even know their names.

They don’t figure very largely in exit interviews either.  I ask them “Why did you leave that job?” and they tell me.  Sometimes they are being difficult or unrealistic but other times they tell me troubling stories of mismanagement, poor communication, underuse of talent and knowledge – even bullying.

I ask “Why didn’t you tell HR or the company – at least when you left if not before?”.  They say – “There’s no point, is there….?”

But they talk to each other, to their friends, to their family –  their stories are out there.  They are not to be found on social media – one or two got sacked for saying what they thought of their boss on social media – so now it is all done in the pub and in person.  They are just staying out of trouble.

This conversation can have a surprising effect on your talent acquisition and retention.  We have so much great data available now in HR, but I’d like to share some of these stories with you so you can look not only at the ‘big data’ of your organisation –  which is obviously important, but also at where some of the ‘little data’ might be.

These stories are drawn from those conversations.  The family names and organisation names are changed but the essence of the stories is true.  The stories have been merged a little to avoid identifying individuals or organisations but this is how it is being told to me.


annabelcruiseWe heard Annabel Kaye speak at London HR Vision in 2016 and invited her to do a series of guest blogs for us. She is an experienced employment law and HR specialists whose speciality is “Creating Flexibility that doesn’t hurt”.

Annabel Kaye is an employment law and HR specialist who co-founded Irenicon in 1980. Her fascination is the space where relationships and law combine. She works with teams who want to create an engaging and flexible work space that takes on board the real legal situation but it not confined by a compliance mind set. Through these stories she is inviting you to look deeper and dig deeper into the parts of your organisation you don’t always see. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter (AnnabelKaye). Irenicon can be found at

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