Key UK HR trends for 2018

Professor Chris Rowley of Kellogg College, University of Oxford, assesses five key areas HR professionals need to watch out for in the coming months


Future of Work HR transformation


Professor Chris Rowley of Kellogg College, University of Oxford, assesses five key areas HR professionals need to watch out for in the coming months

It is important to note there are HR trends of both HR policy and practice, and the profession. In term of the latter, too many are forgetting one of their key roles is actually ‘employee champion’, in the words of leading guru Dave Ulrich in his seminal and influential book Human Resource Champions. The below factors will drive and impact the main key trends in both areas.

1. Brexit

This has two aspects:

a) Migrant workers

What might happen to numbers and the different sectoral implications of that (as below on productivity)? If there are shortages, perhaps it will then encourage management to actually pay more and/or invest in labour and training.

b) Relocation of financial services jobs

To what extent is some bank rhetoric about jobs losses in the UK close to reality? What is likely to happen, and what will be the impact on London’s position as the world’s leading financial centre, is a moot point. London’s long-term position as a global financial centre and agglomeration is so much more dominant than any EU city.

financial sectorThere are 2,215,000 financial and related professional service jobs in the UK, with 751,000 of them in London, of which 363,000 are in financial services (148,000 in banking, 76,000 in insurance, 31,000 in fund management, 108,000 in other roles) and 388,00 in related professional services (107,000 in accountancy, 181,000 management consultants, 100,000 in legal services). More than 250 foreign banks have an office in London.

No EU city will replicate the City easily, speedily or freely. There are just 35,000 people in financial services in Dublin; Frankfurt’s total city population is just 730,000; and Paris, like the other cities, has its own costs and issues – from language, tax rates and regimes, to capacity and infrastructure. ‘Rewiring’ financial services will be expensive and any fragmentation of them costly. Also, there has been backtracking by some banks on job numbers and recent offers from the Bank of England.

Actually, the over-arching threats may be a move to New York as the main place that can replicate London’s depth of markets and expertise, or a pivot to powerful Asian global financial centres in the dynamic and growing areas of the world, such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

2. Pay

 a) Gender pay gaps

Following the BBC scandal and the need for companies to produce gender pay gap reports and explain them, these will continue to be crucial. Already some employers have altered their submitted gender pay data due to mistakes.

b) Levels

This is at both the top – such as the recent furore over university vice-chancellors with some ‘tin ear’ attempts to defend them – and bottom, such as policing and enforcing the national minimum/living wage, especially as the number of workers being paid these minimum wages is set to soar.

3. The gig economy and zero-hour contracts

The legal case about whether or not people are ‘contractors’ or ‘dependent contractors’ or actually ‘employees’ of businesses, such as Uber, will continue.

The blight of zero-hour contracts, which are more prevalent in certain sectors such as retailing, restaurants, leisure and hotels, will also remain. This is despite the number of people on such contracts falling slightly in 2017 (according to the Office for National Statistics) to 883,000 from 903,000 in 2016, which followed their phenomenal rise from 168,000 in 2010, 252,000 in 2012 and 585,000 in 2013.

4. Technology

Driving the above is technology, which is creating more pressure on fixed jobs and increasing the numbers of remote workforces and telecommuters. It will also have impacts in terms of how firms find and recruit, such as ‘blind hiring’ and ‘bots’ for resumes and HR documents.

There are also fears about automation and robots that may reduce jobs and exacerbate inequalities by eroding poorer workers’ wages, while boosting the incomes of creative and highly skilled people.

5. Productivity

Linked to all of the above, this is the most important area for HR: productivity needs to be improved. UK plc needs to try to develop the nirvana of high employment and high productivity and GDP per head, a la Germany. This requires the trio of better basic standards of literacy and numeracy, quality vocational routes into career, and investment in workplace training, infrastructure and… technology.