Continuity and Change in Work and Employment

What we can learn from the past?

The recent special edition of Employee Relations provides a fascinating insight into the current HR landscape and its changing nature over the past 50 years whilst highlighting potential future challenges and opportunities for the HR profession.

This issue places the contemporary workplace within a historical context alongside contributions from academics and senior practitioners from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) support an academia and practical implementation.

As Paul Nowak (TUC) writes: “…Although the social, economic and industrial environment in which unions operate has changed out of recognition, in some respects the concerns and aspirations of the labour movement remain remarkably similar”. It is not only the aspirations of the trade unions that remain similar, however, as employers and HR professionals continue to aspire to create workplaces with engaged and satisfied employees to drive organisational success. The difference is the context in which these endeavours occur.

Undeniably, HR professionals are at the sharp end of changes over the past 50 years including globalisation, the shift from manufacturing to a service economy, 24 hour work cycle and the increased feminisation of the labour force. By seeking to create appropriate policies, further changes are likely to happen. Many HR issues are covered in the diagnostic tool developed by ACAS which allows organisations to assess if they are a ‘model workplace’. Gill Dix and Sir Brendan Barber from ACAS note in their article that employer take- up of this tool is disappointingly low – perhaps organisations are unwillingness to shine a critical light on their practices?

Mike Emmott (CIPD) suggests there is a lack of conversation around measuring employee engagement, and argues for a Government sponsored national forum, such as a Workplace Commission, to bring together a wide range of stakeholders to improve the workplace. In the present climate this seems unlikely but what the special issue shows us is that many stakeholders, with different ideologies, are investigating how best to establish and maintain high trust workplaces.

Surely then it is time to have a grown up conversation about how we engage employees, sensibly manage conflict in the workplace and give employees’ an appropriate voice in organisational decision making to create in Emmott’s words: “…An effective employment relationship built on trust, fairness and respect”. After all, we’ve only been trying to do this for at least the last 50 years as the special issue, rather depressingly, reminds us.

For free access to the  special issue journal, (available until 31st October) visit:

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