There is an important role for government in protecting people from exploitation and abuse. But there is also a point at which these protections become so conservative in nature that they do more harm than good. With the rapid acceleration of change in the 4th Industrial Revolution we need to find ways to move beyond maintaining an increasingly unhappy (and unproductive) status quo.
We have probably all seen people who have mentally ‘checked out’ of their job. They are often people in the bottom two thirds of a traditional hierarchy and very often people who feel that their age both goes against them in terms of finding a new role and who are focused on their pension and retirement. Sometimes they are younger people who, although only having been in work for a few years, feel that they have nowhere else to go or increasing commitments outside work which means that any career ‘gamble’ is a risk not worth taking. These people are trapped and we need to release them.
On the other side, we have seen employers and managers who have lost all confidence in somebody but struggle to get through often complex and unrealistically evidence heavy requirements of capability procedures. This can mean that unhappy and unproductive relationships persist, often over many years. These employers are operating with one arm tied behind their backs and we need to release them.
If we are going to prepare ourselves for a future in which we can be more productive, flexible and with longer working lives we need to find a way of regulating employment relationships that move us beyond this.
For sensible reasons, our employment laws and trade union approaches have been based on keeping people in work by resisting job loss. There is still a place for this, but it is becoming clearer that relying on employment law to prevent an organisation from doing what it wants to is holding us back and simply storing up problems for the future. Instead, we should be focusing not an obligation for employers to avoid putting people out of work, but on an obligation for employers to support people into their next role through contributions to a training and skills development provision.
It is rarely the case that when one side of an employment relationship starts to wish it could be separate from the other, that the situation ends well. It usually ends with an unhappy split at the point of retirement, resignation or dismissal following unhappy periods of low productivity, high anxiety and misery.
I am not proposing here that employers should have less of an obligation to people they no longer want to employ, but a greater obligation. This obligation would be made up of two elements: a compensation payment and a retraining allowance. The illustration here is an attempt to set out my thinking.
A restrictive model that both traps an employee in a job they don’t want to do, and traps an employer into trying to deliver with a workforce not of its choosing will hold us back. If what I am setting out here isn’t the right model then what is? I’m not certain of the details yet, but feel sure it has something to do with absolute freedom for employers and serious, financial and skills support for employees.