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Empty UK train station platform

With industrial action being voted for by a variety of workers such as Royal Mail and Rail staff, we talk to Professor Bernd Brandl in our Department of Management and Marketing, whose research focuses on employment relations and international Human Resource Management, to ask some quick-fire questions in relation to how business leaders can learn from strike action in the UK in order to keep employees satisfied.

1. With the threat of strikes from across a variety of sectors  (criminal barristers, doctors, teachers, nurses, pilots, rail workers), how does this so-called summer of discontent in the UK compare to other such times in recent history? 

“There was no 'summer of discontent' in the UK for many decades. The last time there were so many strikes and protests regarding work and labour issues was in the 1980s. While there were some important and larger strikes in the past, the most important thing now is that the summer of discontent will become an ever more problematic and tense winter of discontent.” 

2. How have we got here? 

 “There are several reasons why we’ve arrived here. Our current circumstances can be traced back to underinvestment in infrastructure, austerity policy, and labour law reforms which led to an increase in precarious work via zero-hour contracts etc. More recent events like the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent costs of lockdowns and the current energy crisis have also played their part.”  

3. What can business leaders do to ensure their staff are happy? 

“Provide employees with a working environment that allows fair and decent payment and working conditions.” 

4. And how are business leaders monitoring the contentedness of staff (what are the top tips)? 

“Business leaders need to engage seriously with staff. There are various ways to stay in touch with their needs and wants, such as allowing both individual and collective representation of their employees and taking steps to consciously involve employees in what the company is doing. Many employees and their representatives understand the difficulties that their companies are facing, and are willing to make compromises, but to do this they need to be informed and involved." 

5. What specifically can leaders learn from the strikes in the UK? 

“Avoid such conflicts by properly engaging with their staff.” 

6. If pay is the main sticking point, how can organisations offer a better package that offers more than a rise? 

“There is no silver bullet to answer this. There are many ways to offer employees what they need and want, and it is often not only about pay. Actually, pay is just one of many important things when it comes to employee satisfaction and motivation. Securing good and fair working conditions often matter more than securing a pay rise.”  

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