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Paul Devoy, Chief Executive of Investors in People, presented our March London speaker event.

Founded in 1991 Investors in People (IIP) leads the drive for better leadership and better workplaces. Having started out as a community interest company for UK Government projects, it is now an independent, not-for-profit company that helps thousands of organisations to lead, support and manage people well for sustainable results.  Paul Devoy, CEO at IIP believes that adhering to the IIP’s philosophy can help improve productivity across organisations which can make for a strong and healthier workplace.

How has working life changed?

Working lives have changed.  People expect to change jobs: they demand purpose and autonomy and have an expectation that they will be well managed and do work they enjoy and find fulfilling.

A 2007 Gallup poll indicated that organisations surveyed felt that simple changes in workforce wellbeing could result in 21% increase in profitability and 17% increase in productivity.  These estimates could be easily exceeded with good engagement.

UK companies are bedevilled by low productivity   These estimates could be easily exceeded with good engagement.   Improving this would be good for employees and employers and result in a happier and healthier society.

Reviewing workplaces from 3 decades ago there was a different social contract.  There was a:

  • Job for life
  • Final Salary Pension
  • Hierarchy and status in organisations
  • Unionised with collective bargaining
  • Regime of fixed working hours
  • Command and control leadership culture

Three decades later people are now more confident as to what their social contract should be:  criticism of people belonging to a snowflake generation is misleading. However this masks the real problem. The real problem is that there are 2m “accidental” managers who are promoted without having the necessary training or experience to be equipped to cope with their new roles.  The problem is actually worse than this because some people receive some training but in many cases this is not relevant to the job.  A glaring example of how misguided Government support can be dangerous is the fact that it is possible to earn a MBA paid for by an apprenticeship through the apprenticeship levy.

Purpose in work and mental health

A key to what needs to be done can be found by looking at the areas of the country with the lowest level of mental health.   These are in NI and North East where there is a higher proportion of low skilled and highly controlled working environments and in these situations there is little sense of purpose in work.    This shows that employers need to recognise that people are crying out to be better managed and that the sole aim of profit for the organisation should not be the only objective in work.

Mental health is worst in pressurised controlled environments, as exemplified by the suicide statistics in the NHS which has the highest rates of suicides as a percentage of the workforce of any organisation.  The shocking conclusion is that death rates are the highest where employee engagement is at its lowest.  The tragedy is that most people enjoy their work, admitting it to be a “vocation” but the work context is stressful and the working environment is lacking in leadership, relegating what should be fulfilling work to the status of a job to be completed in a day’s work.

The “Tour of Duty”, written by Reid Hoffman, Chairman of LinkedIn, in his conclusion suggest that what is needed is an employee compact with a four year “tour of duty”.  Drilling down, what he means is that organisations should:

  •  Be clear on their purpose
  • Give people autonomy to deliver this purpose
  • Invest in managers and place more emphasis on the design of jobs.
  • Allow people to fail –  but then make sure that they learn from the experience. Employees must always know that there is an open door to return without having to contend with a permanent label of blame for failure.

This requires a different paradigm of employer employee relationships.  An example is 2 years of challenging projects where an employee is allowed to learn.  Such a culture has been introduced inside the organisation itself at IIP, which now has a clear and transparent compact and which allows for a “reunion” of employees where they can learn and share experiences.

Despite mounting evidence, cynics still ask, why should anyone care about people buying into a business purpose agenda.   Quite simply, because buying into a message with a purpose is motivating and good for business.  An excellent example is a business culture developed at Goodnight Inns which has a strapline “Good Night Inn Guarantee”.  Not only is this a value proposition to customers but it covers the culture of the entire organisation, from quality of mattresses to booking and check in.   All employees can relate to it and understand why they are there and what is being done.

The ‘anywheres’ and the ‘somewheres’ also has a mission which is to transform the lives of the 4.4 million people in jobs that don’t properly utilise their skills and experience.  The problem is that there is a mismatch between jobs and skills: there is an oversupply of people who have undergone certain types of training but not enough, for example, engineers with specialist training in demand.  This is compounded by the fact that there are insufficient numbers of companies offering graduate level jobs, resulting a complete mismatch between supply and demand.  Supply always follows demand eventually but what is worrying is that there is a form of conditioning or behaviour which means that people are channelled into what people choose to study but with insufficient guidance.  A better balance of relevant skills would permit the capacity growth in the economy, along with better management in work so that people are equipped to manage properly and deal with responsibility when equipped to do it.


This has important implications for employees.  At the risk of oversimplification there are two categories.

  • The “Anywheres” which are always in high demand and
  • The “Somewheres” which are fixed in a community, poorly paid and undertaking low skills work.

The result is a hollowing out and polarisation of employees.  Even well paid technical jobs are being automated and taken out at a rapid rate.  This results in uncertainty and growing inequality.

Urgent action is needed to remedy attitudes and help people to adapt to become “Anywheres” and not stuck in the “Somewhere” category where the uncertainty of the compact is disproportionately disadvantageous.  The “Somewheres” need help and guidance to broaden horizons and attitudes.

The message from IIP is that organisations should invest more proactively in employee contribution: degree level apprenticeships help, but a proactive approach to recognition in terms of success and job design is required.

IIP contributions

IIP contribution is to

  • Help people speak truth to enhance the power and capacity of organisations
  • Help to develop a framework to help employers make incremental changes
  • Explore employee relations and skills within the context of good work
  • Act as a facilitator and moderator for continuous improvement in skills development in the 65,000 major employers in UK.  Much work needs to be done here: For example, in Germany vocational qualifications carry the same status as academic qualifications and the result is pride in excellence in work and higher productivity. It would be good to introduce this into the UK.
  • Share good work ideas and how that changes employee relations
  • Share what we can identify as good work.  This impacts on leadership and the development of organisational.

Although we don’t have a means of measuring training and development on the bottom line and overall business performance. In practical terms we should therefore :

  • Use the apprenticeship levy appropriately
  • Aim to constantly improve the organisation and view this through the lens of employee improvement and wellbeing.  IIP can help in this area.

In summary

Going forward aiming to implement these ideas into best practice should provide rewards.

  • Identify purpose (be clear on the mission of the company, team and individual’s purpose)
  • Allow autonomy
  • Manage with decency and respect
  • Procreate feedback then allow employees to develop solutions and implement them.
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