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Football-style employment contracts could be a gamechanger

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 01 Apr 2022

Is a new breed of employment contracts that take their inspiration from the beautiful game the answer to hanging onto your best people against a backdrop of huge attrition? Andrew Mawson outlines one of the workforce trends shaking up professional services.

The game has changed, and so must organisations if they hope to keep their best people and attract the talent they need. Fail to act and ‘The Great Resignation’ will leave them with a big hole in their skilled and knowledgeable workforce.

The re-evaluation of lifestyles and priorities triggered by the pandemic has seen white collar workers resigning in their droves. Our own workplace surveys of nearly 10,000 employees have found that 35% of staff were happy to work five days a week before COVID-19, but that has now dropped to just 3%.

Meanwhile, 86% of workers now want to work from home at least two days a week. These numbers suggest that employers would be making a potentially fatal mistake if they use the end of pandemic restrictions to force staff back into the office every day.

Momentum is growing for new types of employment contracts that represent more of a two-way street between employer and employee. Many professional services firms have begun to strike deals with their employees whereby the individual pays for the cost of their training if they leave within a certain period. 

In a similar vein, we see the potential for new contracts akin to those in professional football where, in exchange for a signing-on fee and an agreed progression structure, the worker agrees to remain in the organisation’s employ for a defined period and, if they leave, the receiving employer has to pay a transfer fee.

Inevitably, we will see more contracts that don't designate the office as the primary workplace, with people wanting to work in different locations. Now that they've realised this is possible, many are making those choices with little resistance. That shift also demands change to employment and health and safety laws, which currently focus too narrowly on the physical office and physical safety. Organisations need to shift their thinking when it comes to mental wellbeing and safety because there is real risk these factors get neglected when everyone stops working face to face, in the same place. 

What risks do they present?

Football-style contracts won’t come without risk. For example, an employee on a fixed contract could become disgruntled and decide they aren’t committed to the cause and vision of the company. Then valuable time must be spent either convincing them to buy into the company, or you work together to part ways amicably.

We see this happening with some professional footballers who are happy to sit on the substitute’s bench picking up their salary without contributing. A contract buyout clause could stipulate ‘if you want to leave the business at any time, someone has to pay a certain fee’.

Leadership should be considered too, because employees don’t leave companies, they leave leaders. If a leader is stuck in the old way of working, calling people back to the office five days a week, tensions will arise.

How to make transfer fees work in practice? 

It’s difficult with existing employees to make it happen. But with new employees you can set out a very clear and compelling deal comprising a detailed development map and expectations. The employer must demonstrate that it has created a very clear route for the employee and pinpoint when it expects them to be earning a certain salary, assuming they’ve kept up their end of the bargain.

After the fee is agreed, the employer should highlight how much training, mentoring, and coaching they are going to provide as part of the contract. In exchange, the employee will need to commit to their vision. 

Potential pitfalls and how to overcome them

There is a danger that we molly coddle younger members of staff, implying a magic carpet to success, fame and fortune. In reality, the greatest learnings come from dealing with tough challenges and being part of a team wrestling with difficult situations. So whilst organisations should provide mentoring, coaching and development for junior staff, there needs also to be an understanding that they need to be exposed to real situations and allowed the freedom to make the odd mistake within a learning environment. 

I certainly learned more during the most challenging periods of my career than any other, largely because I had to in order to survive. Younger workers should know that someone is around to support and guide them if they are going to be thrown in at the deep end, but they can’t truly experience the world of work until they are fully in the water.

Andrew Mawson is Founder & CEO at workplace transformation consultancy Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA)

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