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Matching people and skills to business needs: over-employment and under-employment in post-COVID19 organisations

By Colin Lindsay - Posted on 13 May 2020

Professor Colin Lindsay blogs on the challenges HR faces in matching people and skills to jobs as part of the workforce planning, and how this can feed into problems of over-employment and under-employment. 

Businesses in Scotland and the South of England share an aspiration to bounce back after the COVID19 crisis and get back to delivering value for customers and good jobs for employees. It has been suggested that the crisis offers the opportunity to reflect on our HR practices and create a ‘new normal’ that overcomes some of the challenges that have previously affected performance in many UK workplaces.

One recurring problem in many UK workplaces is that of over- and under-employment. Jobseekers and employees want hours and shifts that are flexible to their needs. Employers need the right people in the right place at the right time. Where there are difficulties matching employees to hours, shifts and job roles, there can be problems of over-employment (some employees being asked to take on more hours than they would ideally like to do) or under-employment (part-time employees not being able to get as many hours of work as they would like). The latest available data for 2020 suggest that more than 10 million workers are over-employed (about one third of the UK employees), while more than 3 million are under-employed (more than 10 per cent of all employees). These mis-matches can impact negatively on business performance and employees' commitment, job satisfaction and wellbeing.

The consistently high numbers of people under-employed is a particular problem. New international research by Jason Heyes and Mark Tomlinson at the University of Sheffield demonstrates that the UK is far from alone in facing this issue, indeed we are similar to many EU countries, but also that under-employment predicts lower levels of wellbeing among workers. Another recent analysis of EU and US data by David Bell and David Blanchflower suggests that under-employment contributes to limited pay and career progression for some workers. The point here is that while it is understandable that some employers struggle to match their labour demands and shift patterns with employees’ preferences, if there is a significant mismatch there can be negative impacts for businesses and their people.

The Universities of Strathclyde and Portsmouth are carrying out research with employers in the retail and hospitality sectors, as well as the public sector, to understand the challenges of matching employees with hours and roles. What features of these sectors make it more challenging to address problems of over- and under-employment? What sort of HR and workforce planning strategies have been adopted to solve these problems? Will re-starting the economy require new approaches to HR and workforce planning? What can central and local government, business support services, employment agencies and others do to help?

We want to speak to employers who face challenges in matching people to hours, shifts and job roles, as well as those who can share good practice on these issues. We will share a report on good practice and provide tailored feedback for your organisation. The project is supported by the Productivity Insights Network, which funds research into overcoming challenges for business productivity.

Of course, these are uniquely challenging times for HR practitioners and business leaders, and in the immediate term the emphasis is likely to be on business survival and retaining or exiting people from the organisation as necessary. But we will get though this together, and on the other side, businesses might have the opportunity to reboot their HR and workforce planning strategies rather than just reverting to business as usual. So, despite the very real challenges, it's also an interesting moment to reflect on 'what works' in HR and workforce planning and how we can overcome some of the persistent people management challenges of the pre-COVID19 era.

Our team at the Scottish Centre for Employment Research at the University of Strathclyde Business School will be taking forward research with employers and key stakeholders in the coming weeks on these issues, while our colleagues at the University of Portsmouth undertake comparative research in the South of England. We look forward to sharing our findings.

If you would like to share insights about how your business has grappled with these challenges, and how HR and workforce planning is gearing up for a world after COVID-19, we would like to hear from you: colin.lindsay@strath.ac.uk To find out more about the research, contact Professor Colin Lindsay or Dr Robert Stewart at the University of Strathclyde - colin.lindsay@strath.ac.uk or robert.stewart.100@strath.ac.uk

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