Let’s hear it for embarrassment

Some words have incredible resonance. Wisdom, optimism, resilience.  They mean a lot; they make you stop and think.  In the midst of the onslaught of information we’re all subjected to on an hourly basis, it’s good to be challenged.

On such word, and one that you don’t see too often in the media, crossed my radar this week. Embarrassed. Now that’s a word that flags you down with all the impact of an elephant at a tea party. It was raised in a Daily Express report relating the fact that this week Iceland sent over a container load of woollen jumpers, socks and blankets to keep our pensioners warm. This followed an appeal on an Icelandic radio show after a recent Daily Express story had warned that up to one in 12 UK pensioners could die this winter because of the cold weather.

In the Daily Express report Mervyn Kohler, Special Adviser for Help the Aged, said: “It is a scandal that the UK Government has proved so incapable of keeping our older people warm that other countries have felt the need to help out. While it is very generous of the people of Iceland to send warm clothing, the UK Government should be ashamed that in the fifth richest nation of the world our older people have to rely on the charity of others. It’s high time the Government tackled the national embarrassment of fuel poverty once and for all.”

The Daily Express crusade Respect for the Elderly has called on the Government to ensure that pensioners can keep warm through the winter by increasing pensions and fuel payments. “In my prime” calls on everyone in the UK to be highly and permanently embarrassed about the way we treat our old people – and to do something about it.

Heart bypass

A very strange TV advertisement is currently being aired showing a throbbing human heart in all its rather slippery looking glory. The ad is from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and its aim – according to their press release – is to grab our attention and raise awareness of the UK’s biggest killer – heart and circulatory disease. Having been put off my dinner by the perky pulsator I guess I can confirm that it does do that.

The ad appeared about the same time as a report from Help the Aged showing that, due to the huge increase in the numbers of us living longer, “the UK’s ageing population is set to cause a huge rise in the number of older people living with long-term illnesses (heart disease, osteoporosis and dementia)”. This will undoubtedly, as they predict, stretch the NHS to breaking point.

Although they maintain that more research is needed into causes and cures, the message has got to be that we all must individually do more now.  Surely by now we are all aware that smoking, poor diet, excess weight and lack of exercise will almost certainly affect our health and lead to heart and circulatory problems. Already there’s plenty that the medical profession can do to fix such problems, the message for everyone – from the cradle onwards – has got to be prevention, prevention, prevention.

Perhaps if we were able to have a look at our hearts and other inner organs and found that they looked nowhere near as bright and bouncy as the BHF model we might be motivated to take action.  A similar series of ads some time ago showing what smokers’ lungs actually looked like were pretty powerful and effective.

A silver lining?

If anything good comes from the current recession – and we can only hope that it does – it may be that progress is made on addressing two long-standing workplace problems. First is the issue of the recruitment of over 50s into meaningful, valuable, mainstream jobs i.e. the range of career positions we’ve been used to as opposed to a “little job” at Sainsburys, or B&Q. Second is the desire of just about all workers at all ages to have better work-life balance and improved flexibility about where, when and how much we work.

For years, numerous academic, government and commercial researchers have come out with reports showing that a) this is definitely what people want and b) it generally just isn’t happening. Of course, it’s easy to see why employers have dragged their heels. Why change things when they don’t have to (i.e. if it ain’t broke – and from their point of view it isn’t – why invest time and effort in fixing it)?

Interesting then to see how quickly employers can move when the need to save money becomes immediate and pressing. Part-time working, sabbaticals, reduced hours and home working, and more besides, are suddenly all being introduced by employers anxious not to make staff redundant.

On a longer term basis let’s hope that this pressure to review their business needs on a more in-depth basis will see more employers realizing that it is the quality of individual employees in terms of their skills, knowledge, experience and wisdom that they should be judging rather than the meaningless criterion of chronological age.

Ageism is still the most pervasive and invidious form of discrimination in our society. Let’s hope that the recession leads to some real steps forward in terms of changing attitudes and practices.

The loaves and fishes job market

Interesting news about a new service which enables organisations to sell the time of their staff.

Called StaffShare, http://www.staffshare.co.uk/home/index.html it allows organisations to register individuals, who could be under-utilised or at risk of redundancy, on a website offering their services on short- or medium-term secondment basis. Organisations interested in an employee, which will initially be restricted to charities and the voluntary sector, can then buy their services for the selected period through the website.

The scheme has been welcomed by the TUC with general secretary Brendan Barber commenting: “StaffShare is part of a new approach that is needed if we are to avoid the waste of talent and human tragedies that occur if companies rush prematurely into redundancies when conditions start to get tough. This will keep people in employment while allowing third sector organisations to draw on specialist expertise.”

StaffShare is a fully automated interactive system, which allows organisations to sell and buy the time of skilled professionals including, but not exclusive to Financial Controllers, HR Managers, Marketing Executives, IT Professionals, Web Designers and Grant Writers.

We think it’s a great idea and one that should be seized upon by all sectors in respect of all types and levels of jobs. It could, on a long-term basis, solve many of the problems of older workers and the gap which exists between our wants and needs for work (i.e. generally to work longer but on a more flexible basis) and those of employers (who want us, if at all, to work full-time and then retire – generally early).

But no doubt such a scheme would be beset with tax, pensions, health and safety and goodness knows what other bureaucratic issues which ultimately would strangle it in its infancy.

At the very least let’s hope this idea is only the start of a whole raft of recession inspired schemes about how to share out work and rewards more fairly and profitably for all. If this happened, and some were adopted, the recession could be ultimately a very good thing.