Diane Coolican: A region of many talents needs to nurture the best

Have your say

IF there is one region outside of London that can boast a rich pool of talent, it is Yorkshire.

Home to some of the country’s best universities as well as a large population of promising young executives, the region has much to offer, leaving no reason why it cannot achieve an educated, diverse and dynamic workforce.

Yet, businesses in Yorkshire could find themselves fighting “a war for talent” with other major commercial centres.

Indeed, there are a number of talent management challenges facing Yorkshire that keep the region on its toes and could ultimately take a toll on business growth.

Employee burnout is one such obstacle – and it could be one of the most real and dangerous threats to the region in terms of building a sustainable workforce.

A recent study conducted by global professional services recruiter Morgan McKinley discovered that more than four out of five (81 per cent) UK professionals work beyond their contracted hours, while a third (34 per cent) – the majority of whom are millennials – do not take a lunch break. In addition, a quarter (25 per cent) of employees stated that they feel obliged to work longer hours, while only one in eight (13 per cent) stated that they are rewarded for their extra work.

It is no secret that many of us today spend more time with our colleagues than we do with friends or family. Still, these figures are nothing short of alarming.

Not only can this phenomenon have a lasting negative impact on employees’ health and wellbeing, it can make them susceptible to making errors and not actually being at their productive best.

Needless to say, this presents a significant talent management issue – affecting staff retention in particular – which will take little time to evolve into a full-blown talent crisis.

The group of workers that seems to be hit most prominently by the ‘epidemic’ is millennials – a segment of the population which will form the majority of our workforce in a decade’s time.

If the research is any indication, it is highly likely that in the near future, businesses will face a shortage of quality workers who will have simply refused to be on-call when out of the office or compromise on the lack of flexibility in working hours and locations.

As a learning and development professional who works with businesses to help them effectively manage and develop their teams, I do wonder why people are expected to work more than we did, say, 10 years ago, in spite of advances in technology that should (in theory) mean that less human capital would be required.

Ironically, while technology has kept its side of the bargain in making certain work processes more efficient, it has also created an environment where both employers and employees find themselves switched on 24-7.

Both are more accessible to each other outside of working hours and often do not see the harm in dropping the other a “quick text” to follow up on a work-related issue, which is often not urgent.

Also, we currently operate in a very fluid economy. In the past, businesses benefitted from a growth in divisions, leading to work being more evenly distributed amongst the workforce, whereas today, any one individual in an organisation wears several hats.

Hence, experiencing a higher sense of responsibility and the need to manage different areas of the business at once is inevitable. More is expected of less and that has a natural impact on how long people work to tick items off a to-do list.

In order to defeat this burnout epidemic and retain top talent in this region, businesses will have to act sooner rather than later.

With increasing competition and pressure on companies to be commercially successful, many businesses often forget the importance of talent management. Retaining talent is one of the most critical factors of business growth. If businesses fail to keep good employees, they will end up investing far more time and money in recruitment and training without reaping any of the advantages.

Employers are not entirely at fault here – many employers go to great lengths to ensure that the right processes are put in place for employees to be able to take time off work when required, or work flexibly. The problem, however, is that a culture of modern or “smart” working is often neither embedded, nor encouraged.

A starting point could be to establish certain days when employees can work from home, for instance, and actively encourage internal meetings to take place online on such days.

While it is likely to present difficulties for businesses, employee burnout also has the potential to impede regional growth. In recent years, the Yorkshire region has seen unprecedented economic growth, with Leeds becoming one of the UK’s key financial centres, and is expected to be a driving force behind the Northern Powerhouse.

As such, Yorkshire cannot afford to see valuable talent go to waste at a major point in its development.

Diane Coolican is managing director of Leeds-based Redsky Learning.