Author: Staff blogger


Planning for Success(ion)

Thursday 23rd March marked the first seminar to be hosted at Gravitate HR’s Glasgow office in Blythswood Square – Planning for Success(ion). Our Head of Client Services in Glasgow Neil Ferguson was joined by James Kennedy of Two Factor Solutions to discuss a range of issues surrounding Succession Planning with regard to the initial recruitment stages, discovering employee values, in addition to the benefits and perceived difficulties of succession planning. Read more


Can Gender Pay Reporting Finally Close the Pay Gap?

Wednesday the 8th March marked International Women’s Day, which helps to promote the formation of an equal and gender inclusive working world. I was reminded of my ‘Equal Pay Day: How far have we come?’ blog in November 2016 about the historical fight for pay equality between men and women. Of course, the introduction of Gender Pay Gap Reporting in 2017 will be quite a significant legislative change and these regulations will come into force on the 31st of March 2017 for public sector employers, and the 7th of April 2017 for private and voluntary sector employers. Read more


2016 and the Implications for Globalisation

2016 is likely to go down in history as one of the most unpredictable years in decades, particularly from a business and political perspective.

The year marked two of the most historic political events in a generation. Britain’s decision to leave the European Union on the 23rd of June sent shockwaves throughout Europe and indeed the rest of the world, and resulted in the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron followed by the appointment of Teresa May as our new Prime Minister. A few months later, Donald Trump defied pre-election polls by defeating Hilary Clinton to become the US President-elect.

The end of Globalisation?

In the last couple of decades, many academics, business leaders, and politicians have been commenting on Globalisation and the concept of the ‘borderless world’ that we are living in today. This is the idea that capital, goods, services, and people can move freely between different nation states, as well as the enhanced power of multinational companies who are able to operate in several different countries. Many academics were arguing as recently as ten years ago that globalisation was unanimously viewed as a good thing by states and the people that lived in them. If this statement was true ten years ago, it is hard to argue that this view remains the same on the back of the ‘Brexit’ vote and Trump’s victory.

The free movement of people to the UK from Eastern European countries was arguably the most important issue during the EU Referendum. Nigel Farage had frequently argued that this “globalised world” meant that the UK could not control the number of people coming into the country and that British nationals were being deprived of employment because of this. Meanwhile, in the US, Donald Trump was a harsh critic of America’s trade deals and even indicated that he would take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal on his first day of office.

What effect could these events have on UK businesses?

I think the most interesting question surrounds the possible restrictions on the movement of labour and the effect that it might have on the skill levels of UK workforces. I am aware of one example of a prominent specialist engineering company that requires manual machinists to carry out their work. When you consider that the UK is dominated by automatic machinery, the pool in the UK for manual machinists has become so narrow that such talent comes at a high price, and the company decided it would be more sensible to recruit talent from Poland where manual machinery is a common trade. Therefore, if the freedom of movement is restricted to such an extent that Polish nationals find it difficult to move to the UK or are even forced to return to their homeland, this company could be faced with high recruitment costs or the need to upskill a significant proportion of their workforce.

This is just speculation at this moment in time as Article 50 has not yet been triggered, but hopefully 2017 will provide a clearer picture of what changes we can expect.

What does 2017 have in store?

It will be interesting to see if this assault on Globalisation continues in 2017. Aside from the ‘Brexit’ vote and a Trump Presidency, there are elections in the EU’s two main players. Angela Merkel will be running to be re-elected as Chancellor of Germany and Marine Le Pen of the National Front seems to be in a two-horse race with Francois Fillon to become the President of France. A Merkel defeat or a Le Pen victory would certainly be a significant blow to the EU.

If a similar trend continues in 2017, we could well see radical changes to the environment that businesses operate in with significant implications for the way in which they recruit talent as well as possibly ‘upskilling’ or ‘deskilling’ their workforce.

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Camping Out Just To Make Ends Meet – Working At Amazon

The festive period is the busiest time of the year for most businesses, particularly for those that operate within the retail sector. A perfect example of this is Amazon. Amazon was founded in 1994 by American entrepreneur Jeff Bezos and is the largest Internet-based retailer in the world in both total sales and market share. As of December 2016, Bezos is worth an estimated $65.7 billion.

Responding to the Christmas rush

Leading up to Christmas, consumer demand for products from Amazon reaches an extremely high level and the operational logistics function of the business is placed under massive pressure as a result. Like many other retail organisations during this period, Amazon will normally recruit temporary warehouse staff or indeed offer an increase in seasonal hours for their existing warehouse employees in order to respond to this increased demand. In Scotland, Amazon has two ‘Fulfilment Centres’ – one in Dunfermline and another in Gourock in the West of Scotland. In fact, Amazon’s warehouse in Dunfermline is the biggest in the UK at 1,000,000 square feet – the size of 14 football pitches – and employs approximately 1,500 permanent staff.

However, Amazon has frequently received criticism for their treatment of workers and this trend seems to be continuing after it emerged in the media that some warehouse staff were camping out in freezing temperatures next to the Dunfermline warehouse because they could not afford the costs of travelling to work from their homes in Perth, which is roughly 30 miles away.

Amazon: A history of bad practices?

As mentioned earlier, criticism of Amazon over their treatment of workers in the UK is not a new phenomenon. In 2013, a BBC Panorama documentary revealed the tough working conditions for their employees at one of their warehouses. Amazon employees were subjected to intense working practices as well as strict performance measures. Indeed, one of the experts in the documentary remarked that such conditions could “increase the likelihood of mental illness as well as physical illness”, with trade unions also describing worker conditions as among the “worst in Britain”. These recent developments are likely to attract even more criticism and perhaps convince people that the company does not take worker wellbeing seriously, despite making public statements that it was their “number one priority”.

Given the fact that the main reason for these individuals deciding to camp outside in freezing temperatures was that they could not afford to travel to work, there have been calls for Amazon to start paying their staff members the voluntary Living Wage. The company has responded by stating that they pay their associates £7.35 an hour with an £11 an hour overtime rate.

Labour Costs Versus Profit Maximisation

This situation once again highlights the perceived conflict between the cost of labour and a company’s bottom line, and the relatively new concept of a Living Wage has added another dimension to the debate.

A recent survey of over 150 accredited Living Wage Employers in Scotland produced some interesting statistics: 67% of employers found Living Wage accreditation had a positive impact on staff retention; 66% thought it had a positive impact on recruitment; 78% felt it had a positive impact on staff morale/motivation; and 55% thought it had a positive impact on productivity.

On this basis, companies (particularly ones as large as Amazon) should have no qualms with increasing their basic wage rate for staff. However, one could perhaps argue that, when considering the popular service that Amazon offers, are consumers really going to be put off by stories like this to the extent that they stop purchasing goods from the company? So, is there any real incentive for Amazon to make effective changes apart from improving their reputation as an employer?

Whatever solution Amazon produces, we can only hope that having to camp in freezing temperatures is no longer viewed as a necessity by workers in order to make work pay.

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The Autumn Statement 2016

The Autumn Statement 2016 and Non-Financial Rewards

This year’s Autumn Statement was Phillip Hammond’s first as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Ironically, however, it will also be his last as he announced that from Autumn 2017, there will be an Autumn Budget followed by a Spring statement. Therefore, next year’s Spring budget will be the last of its kind before the UK reverts to having a Spring statement in 2018.

As always, the Chancellor’s words were closely monitored by many business leaders to see how the Government’s plans would affect them.

“Salary Sacrifice” Schemes

A “Salary Sacrifice” scheme is a term used to describe a situation when an employee will “sacrifice” part of their salary for a non-cash benefit (such as gym memberships or mobile phone deals) with the business and the employee also benefitting from having to pay less tax.

The Chancellor remarked that such schemes are “unfair” and will abolish many of them from Spring next year. However, some schemes such as child care, cycling to work, and pensions will not be affected by the decision.

However, the measure announced in the Statement was not met with the widespread approval from business associations and lobby groups. The CBI, for example, argued that the measure would “send the wrong signal to companies wanting to invest more in employee health and wellbeing”. Furthermore, the Reward and Employee Benefits Association argued that the changes would affect lower paid workers the most, remarking that “essential employee benefits have been caught up in the change”.

‘Non-financial’ or ‘Non-cash’ rewards

I think this move prompts another debate over how valuable or beneficial these ‘non-financial’ rewards are to businesses and employees alike. Perhaps ‘non-cash’ is a more appropriate term given that traditional non-financial rewards such as gym memberships or supermarket vouchers can still have monetary value. There is no doubt that money is the most significant factor in whether an individual supplies their labour to an organisation; however, ‘non-cash’ rewards can still be an effective way of motivating employees.

A key factor in the effectiveness of any reward is that the nature of it must match the needs or desires of the recipient. If a company is offering a discount on gym membership to a workforce which comprises of people who are not regular gym users, then there is less of a chance that it will yield any significant benefits. Many critics argue that although such schemes are great for regular gym users, non-gym users are likely to view it as something they have to pay money for, albeit at a lower price than usual. Indeed, it can be common for businesses to assume that, by offering gym memberships to their staff, they will automatically have a healthier workforce and benefit from lower levels of staff absence. According to the annual Absence Management Report by the CIPD, the average number of days lost per employee per year in 2016 was 6.3 days, which is down from 6.9 days in 2015.

Final Thoughts

There is unlikely to be a widespread elimination of these schemes by businesses as a result of the Autumn Statement, however they will be less financially sustainable than they were previously. It is hard to tell whether or not these changes will have a negative effect on employee health and wellbeing, as suggested by the Reward and Employee Benefits Association. On one hand, you could argue that these benefits are only used people who use these schemes to save money on a product or service that they regularly use anyway. On the other hand, these schemes could provide individuals, such as the lower paid workers mentioned by REBA, with an incentive or indeed the opportunity to go to the gym for example, which they could otherwise not afford. Only time will tell from April 2017 when the changes are made.

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Equal Pay Day: How far have we come?

Thursday the 10th November marked Equal Pay Day – a day that acknowledges the long struggle for women to receive the same amount of pay as men. Equal pay is an interesting and sometimes quite complex issue that still holds relevance today. This blog will attempt to understand the ‘big picture’ around equal pay and why it remains an ambition rather than a reality.

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Building a culture to improve productivity and employee engagement

On Thursday September 22nd, we were delighted to invite guests to a seminar at our Edinburgh offices. Our Managing Director Margery McBain and Douglas Nicholson – Counsellor, Psychotherapist, and Chair of Health in Mind – presented at the seminar which looked at how businesses can help employees who have mental health issues. The seminar created a good discussion between everyone that was there and it was great to catch up with people as well as meeting some new faces. Read more

‘Great Change Creates Great Opportunity’ – The Business Journey

I recently attended the Business Journey networking event with Neil in Glasgow, an event that I thoroughly enjoyed and gave me a chance to meet business specialists throughout Scotland. The title of the event was ‘Great Change Creates Great Opportunity’, which considered why businesses need to stay flexible to take advantage of the opportunities and shifts in market conditions. Read more

Sexual Harassment: It’s no joke

The TUC Report: some worrying statistics

I’m sure most of you heard either on social media or even the radio or television about the recent TUC report in collaboration with the Everyday Sexism Project into Sexual harassment in the workplace in 2016.

Based on a survey of 1,500 women, the report found that a shocking 52% of all women polled had experienced some sort of sexual harassment, while around 80% of these women did not report the sexual harassment to their employer. Furthermore, the report also found that 35% of women have heard comments of a sexual nature being made about other woman in the workplace; 32% of women have been subject to unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature; 28% of women have been subject to comments of a sexual nature about their body or clothes; and just under 25% of women have experienced unwanted touching (such as a hand on the knee or lower back).

“It’s only banter”

The report stated that in nine out of ten cases, the perpetrator was male and 17% of women said it was their line manager or someone with direct authority over them. Indeed, one can imagine a male perpetrator passing this behaviour off as “just banter” and that the victim “should learn how to take a joke”.

I’ve been following this story on the news and reading about the experiences of some women on various websites. On the BBC website, a female lifeguard described her experience where a male colleague would constantly grope her in front of swimmers and other members of staff and there was even an instance where he followed her into a stockroom and aggressively began to touch her. There were also numerous examples where females were the subject of unwanted personal comments of a sexual nature.

Can this sort of behaviour really be considered as banter? I don’t think so, which makes me think what can be done to eliminate this.

What can be done?

Based on what I’ve read, victims seemed reluctant to report that they were being harassed by a colleague, and the ones that did report harassment were either ignored or the scenario was shrugged off by management or whoever was dealing with the complaint. Indeed, the TUC report suggested that around 79% of female victims did not tell their employer. From that number, 28% said they were afraid that their relationships at work would be badly affected; 15% felt their career prospects would be negatively affected; 24% felt too embarrassed to report sexual harassment or they wouldn’t be believed; while 20% of victims were just too embarrassed to report it.

What I would take from that is that we (whether it’s the government, employers, or even just ourselves as individuals) aren’t attaching enough importance on sexual harassment and the negative impact it has on victims and indeed businesses.

As Frances O’Grady said herself: “The Government needs to send a clear signal that this kind of behaviour is unlawful”. I agree that this is a suitable starting point in order to change attitudes towards sexual harassment from the point of view that victims should feel comfortable in reporting the harassment and all individuals are aware that this kind of behaviour is unlawful and not “just a bit of banter”.

It will be interesting to see what the reaction will be to this report so let’s all hope that when another report like this comes around in the future, the numbers aren’t as shocking as they are in this report.

My First Week at Gravitate

Well that’s my first week at Gravitate done and what a week it has been. First of all, I would like to take the opportunity in this blog to thank the Gravitate team for making me feel so welcome and I look forward to working closely with you all in the future.

During my time as a business student at Strathclyde University, I developed a keen interest in human resources and business law – the way work and organisation impacts on our society, the psychology involved in managing people in an organisation, employee relations, and the employment laws that are involved.

After graduating from Strathclyde with an honours degree in Human Resources last year I was lucky enough to get into a graduate area manager scheme with Lidl. It’s a great scheme which I learned a lot from and the people at the company are great but with Lidl being in the sector they are in; it was more of a retail management role rather than an HR position.

A New Beginning

In my new position as an HR assistant at Gravitate I’ll be returning to Strathclyde to complete my Masters’ degree in HR so it should be really interesting to see how the academic theory applies in real life. I feel I have a great opportunity to gain the full-on HR experience that I was looking for to start my career. I’ve already received exposure to different areas of human resources and this variety ensures that there is never a dull day in the office.

The Gravitate approach

Even in my first week I can see that Gravitate takes a very personal approach to how they deal with clients and it’s not just a cliché on their website to look good to potential clients. They build close relationships with their clients and attempt to establish a clear understanding of how each of their client operates as a business and I look forward to establishing good relationships of my own with Gravitate’s respective clients.

The whole team at Gravitate have such great knowledge and experience so I’m sure I’ll learn just as much from them as I will from carrying out tasks on an independent basis, as well as enhancing my own coffee-making skills of course! My colleague Neil in the Glasgow office is already turning out to be a good role model for myself so I feel I can learn a lot from him in particular.

Looking forward

So this is the end of my first blog (the first of many I’m sure!), my first week at Gravitate is one that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and I’m eagerly anticipating what the future may hold during my time here.