The last few months have seen a whirlwind of HR-related issues surrounding gig economy companies such as Uber & Deliveroo, as the number of UK workers on zero-hours contracts is approaching 1 million.
The lack of staff benefits such as sick pay and holiday pay have raised awareness of the exploitation of temporary & ‘self-employed’ workers across the UK, and has caused many to examine and re-evaluate their HR policies within their own businesses.
Indeed, a report released this morning by Matthew Taylor recommends a new category of worker called a ‘dependent contractor’, which would allow Uber and Deliveroo employees, for example, to gain access to extra protection. This, he says, will address the issue of ‘too many people not having their rights fully respected’.
The scandal surrounding Susan Fowler’s blog post which detailed her ‘very, very strange year at Uber’ was arguably the push-over-the-edge for trampling Uber’s reputation through the mud. Her claims of the HR team at Uber repeatedly ignoring and undermining her report of sexual harassment brought to light further questions into Uber’s HR policies and procedures.
Uber has always branded itself as a cool new tech company, and we can see this reflected in their employee benefits, which apparently include casual dress, gym membership, free drinks, and so on. Deliveroo employees have access to discounts at Apple, Vue Cinema and other restaurants, as well as to riding gear like helmets and lights.
But are these companies missing the mark when it comes to HR? It feels as if by throwing in some material goods, company culture is expected to grow without the HR team putting in any leg work. At the end of the day, your gym membership isn’t going to protect you from sexual harassment, and your Apple discount won’t provide you with sick pay.
Think about the financial investment that goes into providing employees with expensive riding equipment and gym memberships. That’s a lot of money to go to waste after an employee’s sexual harassment complaint goes virtually ignored. The most important parts of HR management cost very little, in fact.
Travis Kalanick, ex-CEO of Uber, obviously missed the mark with his own HR department, believing it to be ‘largely to recruit talent and also efficiently let go of personnel when needed’. As John Boudreau rightfully notes, ‘CEOs, boards, and others can overlook basic personnel tasks, being attracted by bright, shiny objects like agile culture, holacracy, best-place-to-work lists, or a cool physical space’, leaving behind what is undoubtedly at the crux of HR – staff wellbeing. It’s one thing to have some cool and quirky benefits, but it isn’t going to cover up the cracking foundations of any company HR processes, and Uber is just one example of this in action.
Maybe it’s somehow easy to put focus into the wrong things in HR and not place enough emphasis on the things that matter most to employees; things like job security, employment protection and general health and wellbeing. No matter how many cool perks we might be providing for our employees, it’s not going to protect our company in an employment tribunal, and it isn’t going to protect our staff from being harassed or bullied at work.
Not that cool company benefits aren’t great, but before putting the expected basics of HR management in place, it can feel like companies such as Uber are jumping the gun a bit. It’s important to make sure that compliance and basic reporting are sorted before considering the more exciting stuff, or you risk the foundations falling to pieces below an expensive company culture investment, and ending up in a situation like Uber and Deliveroo, with very little to show for it.