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An extraordinary year in the workplace

John Ryan, Great Place to Work chief executive, looks back at the key issues of 2017

John Ryan: “As a country and economy, we are almost reaching full employment – with particular pressure zones in cities creating real headaches for organisations trying to keep and attract talent.”

John Ryan: “As a country and economy, we are almost reaching full employment – with particular pressure zones in cities creating real headaches for organisations trying to keep and attract talent.”

 

It’s been an extraordinary year in workplaces across Ireland. Most businesses have been experiencing good trading growth, many still unsure how Brexit will affect them. As a country and economy, we are almost reaching full employment – with particular pressure zones in cities creating real headaches for organisations trying to keep and attract talent. A lack of housing solutions and insufficient infrastructure are curbing further planned expansions of many organisations and making those thinking of relocating to Ireland think twice.

The employment rate in Ireland is also a real concern, standing at 67.4 per cent compared to our EU neighbours Germany at 74.8 per cent, the UK’s 74.1 per cent, Sweden’s 77.1 per cent and the Netherlands at 75.7 per cent. In the year ahead, we will need to be creative in ways to make it easier for more people to make themselves available for work. A real focus on improving childcare affordability, supporting women and older workers in training and upskilling and a general reform of the tax system would help. Work needs to work for people and the rewards need to match their efforts.

Culture was the Merriam-Webster word of the year in 2014 but in Ireland it made the headlines in 2017. Culture was blamed for the gardaí falsifying breath-test numbers, and the international #MeToo campaign came to Ireland – with Irish workplace culture accused of accepting an environment that allowed people exploit their powerful positions to allow sexual harassment.

Gender pay gap

It was also a year when the gender pay gap was highlighted in RTÉ, following the release of similar figures from the BBC. We were delighted to welcome the HR director of the BBC, Valerie Hughes-d’Aeth, to our conference in September to discuss their experience of this complex issue. In the commentary surrounding this issue, there seems to be confusion about pay equality and the gender pay gap, which are two significantly different issues – the first is already covered by legislation, however, the second is a partly structural and partly societally embedded culture issue that can only be tackled by women being supported to achieve higher positions in organisations and society in general.

Employee power came to the fore again this year, with a significant number of strikes hitting the education sector and particularly the transport sector, with problems at Bus Éireann and Irish Rail, while a dispute with its pilots forced the grounding of sections of the Ryanair fleet, resulting in the historic decision by the company to agree to negotiate with unions, a day many never believed would arrive.

Last year, 2017, was also the year where the issue of the treatment of whistleblowers came to the fore, a number of organisations, particularly in the retail sector, decided to introduce the living wage, and the Minister of Finance Paschal Donohoe announced his decision to increase the mandatory retirement age for civil servants from 65 to 70.

The year ahead will continue to see the corporate brand collapse into the employer brand and with increased transparency through technology, organisations need to invest time, energy and commitment to defining and supporting positive corporate cultures.

I’d like to congratulate each of the listed organisations this year, who have achieved something very special which will undoubtedly support their ability to achieve their organisation’s objectives. These organisations have a firm commitment to creating and sustaining high-trust cultures, which are the basis of creating a Great Place to Work. 2018 will put employee health to the fore and from there organisational performance will follow.