BC Budget an Opportunity for HR to Show Their Stuff

By Ian J. Cook, CHRP

There are always two ways to face a challenge. The first is to see it as impossible and give up before starting. The second is to assume that progress can be made. The first approach leads nowhere. The second approach does not necessarily lead to success but it is essential if there is to be any hope of success.

The budget that was announced by the BC government on February 21st clearly set out a challenge. Given the global back drop of dangerously indebted countries which are introducing large reductions in public services and an economic environment that calls for fiscal restraint, this should not come as a surprise. There are many instances in Canada and abroad where countries have borrowed beyond their means in order to fund salaries and benefits for public services. These locations are now facing the momentous task of having to cut services and staff in order to avoid a complete collapse of their financial health. Every private sector company knows that it does not make sense to take on long-term borrowing in order to cover payroll. This same logic is being applied by the BC government to the business of public service.

In the words of Kevin Falcon, the government is looking to introduce “gain sharing” to the public sector. A common practice in the private sector, any gains in productivity that are achieved through collaboration with the workforce are then shared between the employer and the employee. It will be possible for workers in the public sector to earn more, when they find ways to increase the efficiency of how they work. This challenge provides considerable opportunities for HR practitioners to show their value. Achieving such gains will require careful and balanced interactions with unions and staff alike. It will also require effective analysis of the performance of people to find opportunities for optimizing or altering work to achieve improvements. All this is a great opportunity for HR to step up and meet the challenge.

The opportunities for improvements are there. Based on three years of data from the HR Metrics Service median public sector absence rates are twice those of the private sector. Several members of BC HRMA are already showing the way to overcome this challenge. An HR team at Vancouver Coastal Health has reduced their time absent by over 300,000 hours in the last three years; a multi-million dollar saving every year. Other HR teams in the public sector have improved their hiring and performance management processes, leading to reductions in project times from three years to 10 months. These programs have not only saved time as both groups have also seen a significant increase in their employee engagement scores. This suggests that people enjoy working in more effective and more fair environments.

While others debate the rights and wrongs of budget allocations, the people with their sleeves rolled up working to make a difference are in the HR function. This budget provides the opportunity for HR practitioners to show their worth and continue to build on the leadership that has already be shown.

A global citizen, Ian J. Cook, MBA, CHRP (ijcook@bchrma.org) has chosen to make his home in Vancouver where he heads the growth of BC HRMA’s research and learning services.

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