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Great Place to Work survey 2019 reveals few surprises but offers hope

Survey highlighted housing shortages, gender imbalance and stress as key issues

A need to pay more attention to executive stress was one of the findings. Photograph: iStock

A need to pay more attention to executive stress was one of the findings. Photograph: iStock

 

The housing crisis is causing a significant problem with talent recruitment and retention, reports the latest Great Place to Work HR trend survey. The survey, which was carried out by Dr Na Fu of Trinity College Dublin and Prof Patrick Flood of Dublin City University, also indicates that gender imbalance remains a problem at senior levels. Further findings of the report include the lack of attention to executive stress and a shortage of support mechanisms for whistleblowers. The report involved 105 HR professionals, who represented organisations across both the public and private sectors.

Housing

The effect of the housing shortage on attracting talent has worsened, the research found: 64 per cent of respondents agreed that it will hinder talent recruitment – an increase of 20 per cent above the 2018 level. Furthermore, 75 per cent of respondents said the problem was likely to worsen in future.

“People really don’t want to work in Dublin,” says Dr Fu. “This shows how a social problem can have a big impact on the economy.”

Interestingly, employers do not appear to be willing to take direct action to address the issue with 80 per cent saying they have no plans to adopt a university model and provide accommodation for staff.

This leads to the problem of talent acquisition; 74 per cent of respondents agree that job vacancy rates are rising. Emigration continues to impact on attracting talent in Ireland, a factor discussed by 47 per cent of those surveyed. A significant majority (62 per cent) believe that the State should loosen visa rules to help with this problem.

“Unemployment is really low, and we are near full employment,” says Dr Fu. “This is making it hard to fill roles. It is very difficult for SMEs who have to compete with multinationals for talent. Multinationals have proven recruitment processes. On the other hand, they lack the personal touch. SMEs can accentuate the advantage they have: the personal element. I teach a class of human resource managers and I tell them recruitment isn’t only about science and IT processes; it’s about how you treat people as human beings.”

Gender

People really don’t want to work in Dublin,” says Dr Fu. “This shows how a social problem can have a big impact on the economy.”
People really don’t want to work in Dublin,” says Dr Fu. “This shows how a social problem can have a big impact on the economy.”

The gender imbalance aspect of the survey offers few surprises, with women failing to be represented in top managerial roles.

At senior management level the average amount of women was a mere 29 per cent, with 13 per cent of organisations reporting no women members at all. In 60 per cent of surveyed companies, female representation was below 30 per cent.

At management board level the figures dipped, with the average of women at 22 per cent , and a staggering 19 per cent reporting a total absence of female representation.

“The gender balance issue is recognised but there is a debate about how it should be tackled”, says Dr Fu.

She believes part of the issue comes down to attitude and psychology. “When a man sees a role requiring 10 things, he will probably go for it if he can meet five or six of the requirements. A woman, on the other hand, will probably not go for it unless she can tick all of the boxes. In many cases the woman will try to upskill before applying for a similar role.”

Interestingly, at lower levels of the organisations the gender balance was almost even with 49 per cent female representation. “The balance at the bottom levels of organisations is good, but at management board level quite a few of the organisations reported having no women at all,” Dr Fu adds. “The management board plays an important role in setting company strategy, making diversity even more important at that level. A lot of companies are working hard to promote gender balance at management board level, but the focus should not be confined to that level. There has to be a pipeline of female talent coming through at middle and senior-management levels. If you don’t have a pipeline, how can you promote?”

Treating people consistently and equitably is probably more important than gender quotas

Gender quotas provided a mixed range of answers. While 31 per cent agreed with this idea – 12 per cent among men and 35 per cent among women – 47 per cent disagreed with it. Forty per cent of organisations were reported to have a gender diversity training programme in place.

There is some optimism within the survey: exactly half of surveyed organisations were in favour of pay transparency, and 46 per cent of the respondents indicated that their organisations are aware of the gender pay gap. However, there was a swift backlash to the incoming Government rules on salary transparency, with only one third of the organisations believing that they are fair.

Dr Fu is unsure if pay transparency will offer a solution. “Treating people consistently and equitably is probably more important. A lot of organisations are using HR software to address the challenge. It’s a question of how to use that data once it is collected.”

She points to a study of 150 organisations where many of them didn’t have up- to- date staff turnover data. “They didn’t even have turnover broken down by department. I don’t think organisations have ready-to-go data on pay and performance levels. Transparency will not necessarily help if people don’t have the capability to analyse the data.”

Executive stress

The research was carried out by Dr Na Fu of Trinity College Dublin and Professor Patrick Flood of Dublin City University
The research was carried out by Dr Na Fu of Trinity College Dublin and Professor Patrick Flood of Dublin City University

In many organisations executive stress has been overlooked, the survey found, with only 32 per cent of surveyed organisations having mechanisms in place to identify it.

Given that the over half (56 per cent) of the respondents listed it as a key issue in their organisations, this is something organisations will have to seek to improve. “There are a number of issues to think about,” says Prof Flood. “Executives don’t like to project an image of being stressed as it can be career limiting. They try to internalise it and find their own mechanisms for dealing with it. Sometimes the pressures placed on them are really fierce. When they do look outside, they tend to be shy about talking to counsellors. There are executive coaches who can help them with the Alexander technique or mindfulness, but this tends to happen outside the workplace and at the individual’s own expense. It can also lead to substance abuse such as excessive drinking or indeed hard drug use.”

The difficulty with trying to hide stress in the workplace is that the behaviours and mood swings have a big impact on the staff around them. “While trying to keep it to themselves they don’t realise how obvious their behaviour makes it to others.”

A lot of bullying is associated with stressed managers but it’s covert

However, there are ways to detect executive stress even when the people suffering from it are doing their best to keep it hidden. “A lot of organisations now do employee surveys,” Prof Flood explains. “When you drill down into these you can find out why pockets of staff in different areas are not engaging with workplace initiatives and so on. That’s one way of trying to find out what’s going on. Line and HR managers need to be out and about and talking to people in the organisation. That way they can hear what’s going on. A lot of bullying is associated with stressed managers but it’s covert. This is one way of uncovering it.”

Whistleblowing

Another issue which produced interesting findings was whistleblowing. Some 85 per cent of respondents claimed that their organisation had a whistleblowing policy, and a further 92 per cent said whistleblowers are protected. However, only 44 per cent of respondents answered that there is a whistleblowing mechanism, such as a hotline.

“This is a fairly typical situation,” says Prof Flood. “The organisation may have thought about a policy, talked about it, and written it down but when it comes to doing something about it the mechanism is not there. My experience is that when people raise whistleblowing issues or have been bullied, they tend to end up at the wrong end of the situation. Rather than being protected the people being bullied are facilitated out of the organisation. If you have spineless leaders – and they do exist – you can have a policy in place, but they don’t do anything about it. They may regard the perpetrator of the poor behaviour as extremely valuable to the company in terms of generating sales or whatever. They might have a talk with them, but they rarely go further than that when addressing the issue.”