HR round-up: from women’s career progression to publishing interview questions

This week’s news round-up covers everything from new reports on women’s health and women’s career progression to John Lewis’ decision to publish interview questions on its career website.

women working at her latop


Report shows impact of back-to-office policies on women

Nearly half of working women (47%) in the UK say that their stress levels are higher than a year ago, partly due to return-to-office policies and long hours, according to a new Deloitte Global report.

The annual ‘Women @ Work: A global outlook’ report surveyed 5,000 women in different sectors in ten countries, including 500 working women in the UK and found that hybrid work experiences have improved in the past months. Fewer women feel excluded from workplace meetings or decisions in hybrid work environments compared to last year (35% compared to 43% in 2023).

However, flexibility remains a challenge and some women have needed to make adjustments to their work and personal lives following return-to-office policies. New data for this year found that more women in the UK (50%), compared to the overall figure globally (47%), have been asked by their employer to return on-site either full time or on certain days. Of these women, 32% are required to be on-site full time.

Among the women in the UK asked to return to the office full time, a quarter (27%) said that it has negatively impacted their mental health and a similar proportion (24%) say it has made them less productive.

Furthermore, 44% have asked to reduce their hours, 35% think less of their employer as a result and 30% have needed to move house to be nearer the office.

More than a third of women (39%) surveyed said they have taken time off work in the past year for mental health reasons, a slight increase since 2023 and higher compared to the overall figure globally (33%). However, two-thirds (65%) of women do not feel comfortable discussing mental health at work or disclosing mental health as the reason for taking time off.

Read more here.

Report highlights rise in flexible contracts

Nearly half of employers using flexible contracts say they will increase the percentage of their employees using them in the next five years, compared to 14 per cent who will reduce them, according to a Resolution Foundation report.

Flexible contracts range from variable-hours and zero-hours contracts to temporary work such as casual, seasonal or short-term employment. The report says a quarter of employers using flexible arrangements report that doing so allows them to reduce their wage bill directly; 13 per cent say it enables them to lower their responsibilities with respect to auto-enrolment and employer National Insurance Contributions; and a similar share report they use such contracts to offset a higher minimum wage.

The report says three quarters of firms used some form of flexible contract at some point in 2023, on average for less than 10 per cent of their workforce. However, many use such contracts for at least one-quarter of their workforce. A third of employers who use flexible contracts say that their staff prefer these types of working arrangements.

The most common factor driving use of these contracts was demand variability. Fluctuating demand for firms’ product or services were cited by half (51 per cent) of firms using flexible arrangements, and one-quarter (24 per cent) reported this was the most important reason (that rose to one-third (32 per cent) for ‘low-use’ firms). The report says flexible contracts tend to be seen as either good or bad, while the reality is more nuanced. It calls on policy makers to ensure that employment regulations strike a balance between reducing the precarity that flexible contracts can bring with them, without unduly restricting the choices that workers who benefit from them currently enjoy.

Women’s health gap impact on work highlighted

Nearly two thirds (60%) of women in the UK believe their health issues are not taken seriously and 42% women have heard derogatory comments about a female employee’s health in the workplace, according to new data from a Benenden Health survey.

The research showed more than half (57%) of women have had a negative experience with a healthcare professional and calculates that the UK is losing 150 million working days each year due to women’s poor health and a lack of suitable support.

The data, based on research with 10,000 women in the UK, as well as 5,000 female employees and 1,000 business owners, finds 60% of women think their health issues are not taken seriously and 35% avoid going to the doctors for fear of being dismissed and past negative experiences. The UK has the largest women’s health gap across all G20 countries and has the 12th largest gap for women globally.

The survey results come as Benenden Health and the Fawcett Society publish The Gender Health Gap: Our Stories, six real-life stories of women’s experiences in the health system and the impact on work and life. The report catalogues late and incorrect diagnoses, exacerbated symptoms and outright dismissal and says this is often made worse by workplaces that let down their women employees by a lack of understanding and support.

Retention the number one challenge for employers

Employee retention is the top challenge facing employers this year, according to new research by HR software provider Ciphr.

The survey of 300 UK HR decision-makers found that organisations are facing around 11 different workplace challenges or HR pain points, on average.

Over half (51%) of respondents reported employee retention as their top worry for the year ahead. Many (46%) also think that their organisation could struggle to meet employees’ expectations around wages, work-life balance and mental health and wellbeing support.

Over four in ten (45%) organisations also expect to find recruitment, employee engagement and managing remote and hybrid working expectations challenging.

Other key concerns include providing a good employee experience (42%), closing skills gaps (42%), reducing absenteeism (41%), and ensuring a positive workplace culture (41%).

Barristers’ gender pay gap starts from first year of practice

The earnings gap opens up in the first few years of practice at the Bar and is not explained by caring responsibilities, choice of practice area or amount of legally aided work undertaken by barristers, according to new research from the Bar Council

Its report, New practitioner earnings differentials at the self-employed Bar, shows women’s median earnings are 13% behind men’s median earnings in the first years of practice [0-3 Post Qualification Experience band], with some difference between each year (ranging from 5% at under one year PQE to 19% at two years PQE).

Analysis by practice area also shows some variation, with the gap at 0-3 PQE ranging from 4% in family law to 17% in crime and personal injury/professional negligence (PI PN).

The key recommendations for barristers and chambers involve actively managing practice and career development through earnings data analysis, having policies in place to monitor led work and undertaking regular practice reviews.

Report highlights childcare challenges

The Government’s ambitious timetable on rolling out extensions to free childcare could result in lower quality childcare and less childcare for vulnerable children, according to a new National Audit Office report.

It says the plans – the gradual two-year roll-out of 30 hours a week [during term time] of ‘free’ childcare to children from nine months – are challenging, given they were set amid significant uncertainty around feasibility, costs and benefits and consultation with the sector was hampered by the restrictions that apply when developing budget proposals. Moreover, the Department for Education then cancelled early testing plans, exacerbating the significant uncertainty about the sector’s capacity and financial sustainability. It is calling for careful monitoring of progress.

Read more here.

More full-time workers in debt

More people in full-time employment are seeking debt advice, with women worse hit than men, according to the latest data from debt change charity StepChange.

It shows that 44% of those seeking debt advice in 2023 were full-time employed, compared to 2021 figures showing 38% were in full-time employment. Over one in five (21%) full-time employed clients were in a negative budget where their outgoings outstripped their income. Also, one in 10 (9%) full-time employed clients received Universal Credit payments.

The report says women in full-time employment earn on average £133 less per month than men. Women in full-time employment are more likely to have children and a lower income when compared to men in full-time employment.

The ‘cost of living increase’ is the main reason for debt among clients in full-time employment. The report says rising costs, particularly housing and utilities, pose significant challenges for those in full-time employment, as their income does not stretch as far as it used to and there’s a need to bridge this financial gap.

Read more here.

Increasing pensions contribution rate could address savings problems

Increasing the minimum auto enrolment pension contribution rate from 8% to 12% could result in total additional pension contributions of £10 billion a year in the UK, according to new research.

A report from Phoenix Group and WPI Economics models how an increase in the rate could benefit people’s future retirement pot and investment in the UK economy, and also highlights the impact of delaying a rise. For a typical 18 year old, for instance, it says that delaying the increase by 15 years will lead to a potential £35k loss in retirement savings at state pension age.

It comes after increasing discussion of pensions reforms. Another survey this week by Professional Pensions found that 48% of respondents were in favour of allowing employees to pause their auto-enrolment contributions, while 46% disagreed. One respondent suggested that pauses should only be allowed for those above a minimum threshold, while another argued that pauses should be made with limitations. However, some respondents believed that allowing pauses would defeat the purpose of auto-enrolment and that the amounts being saved are minimal.

Meanwhile, the Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed its commitment to expanding auto-enrolment, but will not consult on reforms until at least the mid-2020s.

John Lewis publishes interview questions on careers website

John Lewis Partnership has published the range of job interview questions candidates might be asked on its careers site.

The aim is to help potential recruits prepare examples that back up some of the key criteria it is looking for. It says this has specific benefits for neurodivergent people, but could help a broad range of candidates.

The example questions vary according to seniority and cover a range of different areas.

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