Lack of autonomy impacts employees, spotlight on the gender pay gap, payroll giving reaches new high

MUCH WAS made of the Sustainable Development Goals’ ambitious 2030 targets when they were officially unveiled at the start of 2016, but the early pace appears to be lacklustre. The World Health Organisation is warning that goals around drinking-water and sanitation won’t be met unless investment in the sector is ratcheted up. The assertion is based on new figures from the United Nations (pdf).

These show that future aid commitments for the two focus areas are declining, dropping from pledges of $10.4bn per year in 2012 to $8.2bn in 2015. This is despite current spending edging up by 4.9% per year between these same dates. Four in five of the 75 countries studied report that financing for water, sanitation and hygiene is still “insufficient”. The UN estimates that overall capital financing from all sector needs to triple to $114bn per year. The SDGs seek to achieve “universal and equitable” access to drinking water and sanitation services by 2030. Under the Millennium Development Goals, which ended in 2015, the goal was to halve the number of people without access to both these basic goods. These targets were achieved by 147 and 95 countries, respectively.

Initial progress towards achieving the main SDG on energy – universal access to electricity – needs renewed emphasis, too. New data from the World Bank and the International Energy Agency shows that the increase of people getting access to electricity is slowing down. The problem, again, is lack of finance. Investment in renewables needs to double, if not triple, while energy efficiency investment must increase three- to sixfold. By current projections, the world will only reach 92% electrification by 2030.

At present, 86 million people are gaining electricity every year, but 1.06 billion people still live without. Access to clean cooking fuel, another core 2030 goal, is worryingly low as well. An estimated 3.04 billion people currently use kerosene and other non-renewable fuels to cook with, a slight increase on 2012 levels. The bulk of these people live in Asia. As for renewable energy, the world saw a “modest” rise in carbon-free fuels, which increased from 17.9% of final energy consumption in 2012 to 18.3% in 2014. Only 13 of the world’s 20 largest energy consumers increased their renewable use over this period, and only Italy and the UK did so by more than one percentage point.

In mid-April, the UN organised a high-level conference at the General Assembly in New York to discuss how to best finance all the SDGs. The UN estimates that a total of $6tr is required per year, equivalent to $90tr over the next 15 years. Meeting the goals would be good for business, the UN insists. According to a report (pdf) by PWC back in January, investors could realise new business opportunities worth $12tr in only four sectors: agriculture, cities, energy and resources, and health and wellbeing.

Women professionals lose out on flexible working 

Credit: Monkey Business Images

DESPITE RESEARCH indicating that greater autonomy at work has positive impacts on employees, new research by the University of Birmingham Business School finds different employees are granted different levels of freedom. While 90% of management say that they have “some” or “a lot” of autonomy over issues such as working hours and their pace of work, professionals have notably less control, especially women. Fewer than two-fifths (38.2%) of female professionals report ‘‘a lot’’ of autonomy over their job tasks.

A similar proportion of female professionals (38.6%) say the same about work pace. Those in lower-skilled occupations, such as sales and customer services or plant and machine operation, report the lowest levels of autonomy. More than one quarter of such workers (26.5%) report no opportunity to decide for themselves, whatsoever. The findings substantiate recent research from the Cass Business School that credits employee autonomy with nearly one-third (30%) of the variance in performance ratings between workers with formal and informal flexible working arrangements.

Workplace wellbeing is not just about managing your own time. It is heavily influenced by managing other people as well. A recent research review by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, a policy-focused non-profit group, cites a study of healthcare employees who participated in a four-month course on conflict management training (pdf). Requests for third-party mediation in conflicts at work also reduced among the sample group from 29% to 17%, while recorded absences from work reduced from 3.81% to 0.76% of working hours. Overall, 26 of the 41 academic studies reviewed show positive impacts on employees of at-work wellbeing training. The report calculates that the financial benefit of the psychological and emotional help of such training equates to a £1,584 increase in income per year. According to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (pdf), more than half (53%) of managers in UK companies do not have the necessary training to handle “difficult conversations” or conflicts, which often unnecessarily escalate into disciplinary action or grievance procedures as a result.

The British Council for Offices, meanwhile, has commissioned a new report into wellbeing issues related to office work. Humans now spend on average 21.6 hours per day indoors. The report, which will be published next year, follows new figures from the UK Office of National Statistics that show the UK lost more than 15.8 million days to mental ill health in 2015/2016. The figure could be even higher, however, with a study by AXA PPP finding that two-fifths (39%) of employees who live with a mental health condition keep their condition hidden (pdf).

Companies fess up about gender pay gap

Credit: Ian Johnston


FEMALE STAFF at UK asset manager Schroders receive on average 33% less in fixed pay than their male counterparts, and 66% less in bonuses. Explaining the difference, Schroders says men account for 71% of its senior staff, who receive higher salaries and larger bonuses than average (pdf). High street bank Virgin Money, meanwhile, has used its latest annual report to reveal a 36% pay gap between its male and female staff (pdf). Again, the dominance of women in lower, less well-paid ranks of the company is given as the reason, although it admits that the situation is “not acceptable”. Other companies to have come out with information about their pay imbalance between male and female employees include energy utility SSE (pdf) (23.4%) and professional services firm PwC (pdf) (15%).

The sudden surge in transparency is sparked by new disclosure rules coming into force in the UK. Organisations with more than 250 employees will be required to reveal any gender-related discrepancies by April next year. The measure will affect an estimated 9,000 firms, which collectively employ more than 15 million people, almost half the UK workforce. Despite falling year on year, there remains a large gap between average male and female pay in the UK. According to the latest figures from the UK Office of National Statistics, the gap stands at 19.2%. In other words, women, who account for nearly half (47%) the UK workforce, receive 81p for every £1 received by men.

If the record of UK-based companies sounds bad, then spare a thought for the rest of the world. In the first cross-sector ranking of its kind, the pro-quality investment organisation Equileap recently evaluated the gender-related policies and performance of 3,048 global companies in 23 developed countries (pdf). Of the large UK companies studied, 28% made it into the list of top 200 performers. Other leading countries included Norway (where 58% of eligible companies made the top 200), Sweden (38%), the Netherlands (35%) and Finland (33%). By comparison, only 2% of eligible US companies were ranked among the top 200. Japan was lowest at 0.25%. Even so, only six companies report having no gender pay gap and not a single firm met Equileap’s criteria for overall gender balance in leadership and workforce. The three best-performing are: communications (with 11% of the top 200), financial services (9%) and utilities (9%).

Payroll giving tops £1bn over 30 years

Credit: Chrisdorney


UK EMPLOYEES have donated more than £1.3bn to charity through their payrolls over the last three decades, outstripping the £1.04bn raised by the country’s flagship public giving campaign, Comic Relief. More than 220,000 employees make a regular donation direct from their wage packet. Payroll giving, which is taken from pre-tax income, generated £74.3m for UK charities last year. The most popular are Cancer Research UK, the NSPCC, Macmillan Cancer Support and Friends at Work. The average donation is £20.57 per month.

The figures come from research undertaken by the Charities Aid Foundation, which published findings earlier this year suggesting that corporate support for charities attracts new recruits. According to research, one in four (26%) people say they are more inclined to apply for jobs with firms that have a strong track record for philanthropy and good causes. Two in five (39%) of the 1,041 employees surveyed agree that businesses and organisations that back charities make for better employers, while almost half (45%) say charitable activities help improve morale in the workplace.

A similar trend can be seen in the US. According to a survey commissioned last year by Fortune magazine, nearly two-thirds of millennials (aged 18-34) are more likely to want to work for a company that gives to charity. Among Generation X (ages 35 to 44) the proportion is closer to 59%, while for baby boomers (45-64) it’s as low as 47%. Based on 2015 figures, the same publication identifies biotech firm Gilead Sciences as the biggest US corporate donor (with annual cash contributions of $446.7m). Next come retailer Walmart ($301m) and banks Wells Fargo ($281.3m) and Goldman Sachs ($276.4m).


Main image credit: Riccardo Mayer
drinking water  SDGs  renewables  carbon  charitable giving  philanthropy  fossil fuels  gender pay  women 

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