• Cyril McAree

Over A Quarter Of Irish Employers Experience Workplace Disputes


More than a quarter (26%) of Irish employers experienced a workplace dispute in 2016 while almost one in five (17%) organisations experienced a personal injury claim. In addition, one in five Irish employers are noting performance management as a HR priority in 2018 alongside retention and employee engagement.

These are among the key findings of the Adare Human Resource Management HR Barometer which has been produced following a survey of over 250 organisations representing more than 50,000 employees from across the private and public sectors. The research was carried out during June and July of 2017.

Established in 2003, Adare Human Resource Management is one of Ireland’s best-known and respected providers of employment law, industrial relations, and human resource management services.

The HR Barometer covers three main areas: Conflicts & Disputes, HR Metrics, and HR Trends.

Conflicts & Disputes

The HR Barometer survey found that just over a quarter (26%) of organisations had experienced a dispute in 2016. Also noteworthy were the findings that almost 1 in 5 (17%) organisations had experienced a personal injury claim in 2016 whilst 9 per cent of them attended the Workplace Relations Commission or Labour Court during the year.

Disciplinary issues account for the single greatest cause of disputes at 37 per cent, followed by grievances at 32 per cent. This highlights the need for effective processes from both the employer’s and employee’s perspectives. Communicating clear guidelines for disciplinary and grievance procedures help to emphasise when their deployment is necessary and helps to manage employee expectations of outcomes. From an employer perspective, the development of such policies, assists in the consistency of approach as well as helping to mitigate the risk of claims taken for unfair procedure.

Thirty-five per cent of organisations who experienced a dispute in 2016 have been referred to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) or the Labour Court. Of these, the majority have been invited on more than one occasion, with 30 per cent attending on more than three occasions. This underlines the additional burden that workplace disputes place on HR resources with the vast majority of organisations saying they believe that time spent by HR dealing with these issues has either increased (37%) or stayed the same (49%).

On a more positive note, one in five organisations reported that their HR teams are taking a more proactive approach in resolving disputes. This is of long term benefit as it would be expected that issues will be tackled and resolved prior to them escalating into a formal dispute.

HR Metrics

The HR Metrics area dealt principally with absenteeism, employee retention, HR employees to the number of full-time employee ratios and learning and development. The reported average absence rate was 4 per cent amongst organisations recording absences, a very significant proportion of payroll costs, yet 42 per cent of organisations have no initiatives in place to reduce it.

For those organisations who are not recording absence, this means that they cannot monitor employee absence effectively or identify patterns of poor attendance. This in turn prohibits them from being proactive with appropriate supports or addressing potential misuse or any problem areas.

Of the organisations which did record their sick leave, “minor illness” (95%) is the most likely reason for short term absence. Home, family, and caring responsibilities were noted as the second most likely reason provided.

“Without putting in place measures to monitor and record absence, organisations will find it difficult to understand if a problem exists and if it does, to determine the extent and cost of the problem”, said Derek McKay, Managing Director, Adare Human Resource Management. “Organisations who measure and analyse the level, frequency and reasons for employee absence will be equipped with the information to support employees who are genuinely absent as well as address absence, poor attendance or misuse of this policy should it occur.”

Employee retention

A clear disconnect emerged between the perception of the causes of the employee retention issue and the measures being put in place to address it. For example, the number one reason for employees to move on was career progression with remuneration and benefits being a much lower priority. However, the main incentive in place to boost retention is improved remuneration and benefits.

A further cause for concern is the low level of recording of turnover rates. Despite acknowledging it as an issue, more than half of the organisations surveyed for the Adare HR Barometer are not recording the extent of their employee turnover. In those organisations that are recording turnover, average rates of 11 per cent are being experienced.

Of the organisations recording the reasons for employees leaving, career progression was cited as a factor by two thirds of their departing employees, just 22 per cent were leaving due to an enhanced remuneration and benefits package being offered by a new employer, and 20 per cent were changing career path.

Increased remuneration and enhanced benefits account for 35 per cent of initiatives taken to improve retention. Increased investment in learning and development are also prevalent (19%), with increased social events (17%) and internal promotions also playing a role (15%). Worryingly, almost a third of organisations say they have not introduced any initiatives to improve employee retention in 2017.

“Retention initiatives should be aligned to the reasons why employees are leaving the organisation and robust enough to adapt to the changing needs of employees as we navigate within a much tighter labour market”, commented Derek McKay. “We have seen from our national HR survey that this is currently not the case in practice.”

Learning and development too, could benefit from additional attention. Almost half of the organisations surveyed do not know what their expenditure figure is in this area and 37 per cent are unaware of how many training days their employees had in 2016.

“Learning and development is one of the key elements impacting employee retention and engagement”, Mr McKay added. “Employees want to know what investment their employer will make in their development. Employees also tend to perform much better when they have a clear understanding of their development needs and potential future opportunities within their organisation.”

HR Trends

Retention (40%) is the main priority for organisations in 2018, with recruiting and resourcing (32%), along with talent management (22%) making up the top three priorities, closely followed by performance management cited by nearly 1 in 5 organisations as being a priority.

“Retention, recruitment and talent management being top priorities for the year ahead is hardly surprising as we are now in a tightening labour market”, Mr McKay concluded. “Competition for top talent is intensifying and it is becoming increasingly important for organisations to retain their key employees and have effective recruitment processes to ensure the right candidates are attracted and selected in the first place.”

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