Employee welfare is at the heart of the Labour Conference this week. John McDonnell made the headlines when he announced the idea of shares for employees in companies with over 250 staff.
It’s a bold move and is part of their bigger picture, with the Labour Manifesto promising a range of measures to improve life at work.
As usual, these measures will no doubt split opinion. Businesses will worry about the cost and the growth and interference of the state under a potential Labour government. Employees on the other hand may welcome the idea of closing the pay gap, getting better representation and shares in the business they are working for.
But does any of this really help?
What employees really need
My concern would be that these measures are little darts being thrown at a much bigger problem. They get at a few symptoms but not the causes.
There is a great deal of research (see below) to suggest that employees are disengaged and unenthusiastic about their work. They are not involved or committed and they do not feel valued.
What they are looking for is more self-fulfilment. Better working conditions is not just about showers and trendy on site eateries. It is also about being more creative, being able to add value, being recognised, having two-way dialogue, helping to shape the values and culture of the company and help direct its growth.
Only in this way can you truly share in the success of the company. Simply getting a few shares, but with no real change in management outlook is not really going to make much difference.
Employee welfare is just such an issue.
One thing that Labour are doing that is hard to argue with is they are trying to take a far longer term approach to government. Our party political system is incredibly short term and swings us from one faction to the other at regular intervals; undoing and redoing anything that might have been achieved.
We need more independent groups set up to deal with major issues and advise more objectively on courses of action that are good for the country now and in the long term, regardless of who is in power.
And this is how future development might be better achieved. We need education, to make the business case for better employee engagement. That better performance, better investment from staff leads to innovation and cost savings. It leads to competitor advantage and the sustainability of the business, weathering economic, political and technological storms.
Each business will need to explore its own path on this journey. For some, company shares may be exactly the right answer. But they would have got to this by entering into dialogue with their people, by finding out how they want to do their job and how they see the organisation and its value to them.
Not by having measures imposed on them from the outside that may or may not be relevant or understood.
Employee engagement is too important to be just part of any political parties attempt to win votes. It has to be something that businesses see as imperative to their survival. This is the only way attitudes and habits will change.