It is official: Boris Johnson is set to become the UK’s next Prime Minister (and its 77th).
Whilst the result was announced this morning, it is not until tomorrow that Johnson will take office; after Theresa May has presided over her final Prime Minster’s questions and travelled to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen and nominate her successor.
Then Johnson will travel to the Palace, meet with The Queen for himself and make his first speech as Prime Minister before entering 10 Downing Street.
Then for the hard part. It is undeniable that Johnson’s first weeks and months in office will be dominated by the demands of, and the form of, Brexit. There will be scrutiny on the vision he has previously laid out and how he plans to get it through Parliament as well as comments on whether he will renegotiate with Brussels.
What will be less covered – at least in the national and global press – is what Boris Johnson might mean for HR.
As an MP, columnist and spokesperson Boris has commented on, and voted for, issues that every earnest HR practitioner will be aware of: mental health; income tax; sexism; soft skills, and routes into employment.
Whilst it is unlikely that Johnson will spend his time in office focusing on the nitty-gritty of the people function – or even impacting it; Brexit is the bigger fish he has to fry and the mandate with which he will have been elected by his party on – it is possible to assess how in-tune he is with contemporary HR thought.
To understand how - hypothetically, of course - Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s tenure might impact the people function, HR Grapevine has looked over his voting record and commentary to adjudicate on whether Johnson is in step with the HR vogues of 2019.
Read on to find out more:
Routes into work
Back in 2014, when Johnson was the Mayor of London, he argued that volunteering was an essential route into employment.
The, then, capital’s leader said that it gave young people the essential skills needed to succeed in the workplace.
However, whilst internships and volunteer opportunities were widespread five years ago – and fairly uncriticised too – there has been a step change in HR.
Muffin Break, BBC and an MP have all been lambasted for advertising unpaid positions or asking younger employees to work for free.
One charity even commissioned a study which found that unpaid work placements make work experience unachievable for families on low and middle incomes – locking out those without informal connections.
One Conservative party peer, Chris Holmes, even argued that unpaid internships should be banned – arguing that they can stimmy workplace efforts which aid improving diversity and inclusion.
Whilst it is not known if Johnson stands by these comments, there has been a move towards paid positions rather than volunteer opportunities.
‘Soft skills key for employment’
In the same 2014 speech, Johnson emphasised the importance of ‘soft skills’ in the employment market.
“It is absolutely essential that we give our young kids the confidence that they can so easily get through volunteering and to use volunteering as a route to employment,” Johnson said at the time.
He added that many businesses felt that young people didn’t have the “gumption” and “can-do” spirit needed to succeed.
Whilst the language might have changed, HR departments would probably align with Johnson on this subject. Many are now making noises about hiring for ‘mindset’ and ‘the ability to continue growing’ rather than skills an employee might have on a piece of paper.
With a recent study finding that over 40% of employers believe the youngest recruits aren’t prepared for work it seems Johnson’s comments tally with contemporary HR thought.
In fact, he could be keyed into the mindset of business leaders: 57% say that soft skills are more important than anything else. It seems Johnson is in step with employers on this one.
Diversity and Inclusion
This one is up for contention. Johnson, as Mayor of London, keen to position himself as a socially liberal mayor – backing gay marriage and leading the city’s Pride parade several times.
Indeed, as an MP he was progressive on issues such as LGBT despite early career anti-gay slurs – rebelling against his own government about the teaching of LGBT issues in schools.
However, with D&I in all areas – sexuality, ethnicity, gender, identity and class – a key point on the HR agenda, Johnson does have some fairly unignorable blemishes.
He has described the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo as having “watermelon smiles” and has refenced Barack Obama, when he was President of the United States of America, as being the “part-Kenyan president.”
This comment alludes to the ‘birtherism’ row surrounding the president which denied that Obama was a natural-born US citizen and has widely been condemned as racist. He even penned anti-gay slurs during his time as a journalist and has been rebuked for using sexist language in the workplace.
What will also interest HR departments is his voting record around EU citizens. He has consistently voted against their right to remain.
With many businesses struggling to find the right talent, as well wanting to brand themselves as inclusive, Johnson’s record is patch at best. Whilst he is undeniably a champion of LGBT+ peoples, his record suggests that he is less interested in ensuring that businesses get the best talent they can get – regardless of nationality.
A hot topic for all HR departments. With almost a quarter of employees saying they would rather take unexplained time off than discuss their mental health, it is undeniable this is causing a problem with a £15billion hole in the economy attributed to poor mental health.
Yet recent comments by Johnson in his Telegraph column suggest some of his ideas on mental health aren’t in-step with HR thought leadership in 2019.
Although he promised financial assistance to employers who work to counsel and support employees who struggle with their mental health he holds the belief that an individual can shock themselves out of mental health problems by working harder.
It was only just over a month ago that work-caused burnout was identified as an illness – with symptoms including chronic workplace stress, mental distance from one’s job and negative feelings.
One of Johnson’s colleagues at The Telegraph even added that hers and Johnson’s bosses suggested that employees take time off if they are struggling with mental health rather than struggling and putting their head down.
Ergo: his comments don’t quite tally with HR praxis. Many workplaces are now creating policies which allow employees to take time off for poor mental health; rather than encouraging employees to struggle on in silence.
In-work wage differences
Whilst Johnson has voted for raising the threshold at which people start to pay income tax he recently stumbled over knowing the minimum wage – despite making claims he will help those worse off.
On June 30 he was asked by a Sky Presenter what the minimum wage was, and his guess was a lot higher than the actual £8.21.
With many businesses now having to list their executive-worker pay ratios, HR departments are starting to get savvier to reward – with many working to decrease pay ratios in order to keep staff lower down the hierarchy on side and depress bumper executive pay packets when they are not in-step with performance.
If Johnson’s claims are to be believed, he would do well to understand the experience of working life by the majority of employees – rather than solely focusing on those at the top.
For HR departments working in highly-unionised environments – such as retail and aerospace – Johnson might be considered an ally.
He has generally voted for more restrictive regulation of trade union activity.
It is clear that New York-born Prime Minister won’t be looking too closely at the ways in which HR works – but he could try and change the ways legislation, and the country’s mindset, works around some the issues that HR has to digest every single day.
With skills, inclusivity, mental health, reward and immigration some of the areas that Boris has previously shown interest in, he has the ability to truly impact how the people function operates.
What do you think? Is Boris in-step with contemporary HR thought? Tell us in the comments…