High Performance Workplaces - Because people mean business

15th September 2005

Hilton Paddington Hotel, London


The challenge of globalisation means that European business needs to be able to become even more competitive - and changing demography means more people need to encouraged into the workplace for a longer overall working life. To be successful business needs to make the best use of all its resources, and the most valuable resource is people. The concept of the High Performance Workplace is about managing in a way that enables and encourages people to maximise their potential – in their own interests and in the interests of business performance.  Those were the key messages given by a Presidency conference held in London on 15th September 2005 to look at high performance workplaces, and how they can help to change the future of Europe.

The conference looked at a range of employment related issues surrounding high performance workplaces – from the latest developments made by researchers in the area to the role of policy makers in creating an enabling environment  for high performance practice. In their opening speeches to the conference, Minister Gerry Sutcliffe and European Commissioner for Employment, Vladimir Spidla were keen to stress that the way people in Europe work has changed radically in recent years, and firms must take account of this in their work organisation, in order to get the best out of their staff. As Mr Sutcliffe pointed out, “People no longer see it as desirable to spend all their working lives in one company, or even one career. They want to be able to balance work commitments with their lives and responsibilities outside work as parents or carers. They want to make full use of their skills in rewarding careers that stretch and develop them”.

Businesses are constantly competing to recruit talented and skilled staff who can help to add value in a dynamic, fiercely competitive global economy. A number of firms gave presentations to the conference on their experiences of high performance working, and the benefits that increased employee involvement, innovative work organisation and reward schemes, training initiatives, diversity initiatives and flexible, family friendly working patterns have brought to their organisations – along with the difficulties that those firms faced in becoming high performance workplaces. Copies of their presentations can be downloaded below.

High performance work practices are good for employers, as they contribute to achieving good, successful businesses with high turnover and solid profit margins. They are also good for employees, thanks to a high degree of investment in skills development and training, combined with open communication channels between managers and workers, flexible working policies and the involvement of employees.. A culture of High Performance can contribute to the economic success of Europe in increasingly competitive global markets. As Commissioner Spidla said, “Europe needs high performance workplaces because they constitute the engine driving the modernisation and competitiveness of our economies”. Will Hutton, Director of the Work Foundation, pointed out the role that governments and supranational institutions such as the EU have to play in building and supporting the institutions of employee engagement that generate trust and effective leadership, corporate governance and sustainability.

Afternoon workshop sessions of the conference looked at three key areas:

  • Raising standards in the workplace - quality of work, innovative work organisation, reward and commitment and employee involvement practices;
  • Human resource management – raising skills and encouraging lifelong learning, active promotion of equality and diversity in the organisation, the role of community involvement;
  • The role of the research community – what academics can do to encourage the development and adoption of high performance work practices.

The conference workshops highlighted the fact that stakeholders  –governments, businesses and trade unions, the research community – were focussed on the same goals. The recurrent theme that emerged from all sessions of the conference was that by taking steps to create a valued, diverse and involved workforce, any business can maximise its potential and gain an edge over its competitors. The challenge seemed to be to find a way to share best practice with each of these groups and to enhance cooperation between Member States. There was a wealth of experience at national level in high performance practice: workshop discussants had highlighted some of the best initiatives in place, from a Portuguese “Equality is Quality” award for gender equality within companies, to the UK’s “Model Workplace” booklet, a “dispute prevention” set of guidelines produced by Acas, building on years of experience of dispute resolution in the workplace. However, workshop participants and panellists felt that something was needed to pull this knowledge and experience together at European level. Lenia Samuel, Deputy Director General, European Commission, agreed to examine the idea of a web-based guide to high performance practices to promote best practice between Member States. As she pointed out, “good business practice is also conducive to productivity and quality“ and such a tool would be useful for European policymakers, social partners and academics alike.

Bill Callaghan, the conference Chair, concluded the conference by thanking all those who participated in the event and calling for all the main agents of change, from policymakers to academics, to share in the exchange of best practice and make high performance workplaces a greater feature of the European economy.

Key speeches and conference documents can be found under related documents.