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The changing role of the employer

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Rebecca Kincade on February 27, 2014 - 6:45 am in In Depth

As we move from the recession into a period of growing business confidence and, hopefully, further once more on to a full economic recovery, the roles that we adopt within the workplace are set to change. Rebecca Kincade investigates what is to come. 

During the last five years, the onus has very much been on the employee to demonstrate their value and prove their own worth to their organisations. This has been a time characterised by low staff turnover, by hard work, commitment and motivation, by loyalty and pressure. Employers have, in a sense, held the upper hand in the job market, dictating the rules that the rest of us have to play by.

With fewer opportunities to choose from and more uncertainty over job security, everyone has been forced to knuckle down, work hard and focus on the job at hand.

Around the corner

However, that is all potentially about to change as the economy picks up and the job market gains pace once more. Power is set to move from the employer back to the employee and this is something that Steph Wilson, Executive Vice President, Firstsource Solutions, believes companies need to be prepared for.

As one of Northern Ireland’s largest private sector employers, Firstsource Solutions has been recognised on numerous occasions for its outstanding commitment to its employees. The global provider of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) services employs over 2,500 people in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry.

Ms Wilson told me: “Many employers will have noticed that during the recession people wanted to keep their jobs, so absenteeism may have fallen, there may have been renewed flexibility towards awkward shift patterns, staff retention will have been higher and attitudes may have changed. As we return to a fuller and more mobile job market, the decision making will be back in the hands of our employees.”

Culture change

In the midst of the recession, many companies cut staff incentive packages, reduced salary increases and scrapped perks which may have sold the job in the first place. While employees will remember these perks, employers may have a hard time erasing the memory of the harder days just past. So are we likely to see a change in culture that produces a less financially-orientated, more flexible approach that will suit both parties?

Ms Wilson said: “Belfast is certainly a much more buoyant economy now compared to a few years ago. We as employers have to be more flexible with our approach to our staff. We offer back to work programmes, accommodate the needs of working parents and students and support alternative shift patterns through the school holidays and exam periods. As we return to a better economy, people are more likely to tell you what they want from a job rather than settle for having shifts dictated to them. Employers will need to consider these things more carefully and consult with their employees to see how they can make their lives easier, rather than the onus falling in the other direction.”

Ms Wilson recognised that it is harder for SMEs to offer the same opportunities for flexibility within the workplace than for large global companies, but there are still other techniques that can be employed to hold staff retention.

She said: “What is most important is opening up the lines of communication between employer and employee to establish a work life balance that suits everyone involved. We listen to our staff and set out manageable working patterns. From a personal perspective, during the time when I worked for an SME, the perks came from having the opportunity to try new things, to be a part of helping and growing the company. This is a powerful tool for smaller companies and one that they should use to help increase on the job training and personal development for their staff.”

Development and training

For Ms Wilson, having strong internal programmes that offer set career paths for their employees is an incentive that benefits both the employee and employer. She concluded: “Firstsource place a lot of value on the learning and development of our staff and always try to promote within our company rather than hire from outside. The knowledge that your staff have of your organisation is very important, and bringing that up through the levels works well for us and them.”

“My view is that the economy will hopefully continue to pick up and, with this, more emphasis will need to be placed on training and development. Employers want to keep the staff that they have and realise their potential for career growth. We are proud of our strong people practices which help to make our workplace a welcoming environment that genuinely provides ongoing investment in our people.”


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