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HR: Underemployment: The grey area in HR Management
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Recent studies suggested that underemployment, a grey area between employment and unemployment, has become a surging problem faced by both hirers and employees.
 
In the Press Conference of the 2012 Blue Book of the Chinese Society, Professor Chen Guangjin, with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the employment situation in China is still complicated. He claimed that companies are having a hard time finding the right people and job seekers feel there are no opportunities for them. Meanwhile, another survey on working happiness indicators of employees shows low contentment rate in jobs. Both realities clearly illustrated the ubiquity of underemployment at present. 
 
According to the data which RMG Selection collected from its clients, some positions have been open for three or even more years due to the high job requirements. As a result, some companies have to hire unqualified people to fill those positions in order to keep the projects running, others choose to hire overqualified talents with the knowledge that they are not able to keep them long enough.
 
Underemployment can also take place in areas where sections of the local economy are inactive. Some applicants, who could (and would like to) work as full-time employees, can only find part-time jobs due to lack of job and training opportunities or lack of social services of finding jobs.
 
Another situation can be understood as ‘overstaffing’ or ‘hidden unemployment’, in which full-time employees have to work part-time due to unavailability of work opportunities, inevitable budget cuts of the companies they work for, legal or social restrictions or the highly seasonal nature of the job itself.
 
If anyone in your team had previously experienced or is currently suffering from this underemployment, do not panic, the following points will help you to analyse the causes of these phenomena:
 
● Insufficiency utilisation of skills  
On the labour market, companies always found themselves in a dilemma: the HR departments hope to catch big fishes, waiting for the ideal talents to knock on their doors. On the other hand, however, they always work under recruitment deadlines. The result is that they often end up choosing, instead of the right ones, either overqualified or under-qualified candidates, who would either feel not being valued highly enough or work under huge pressure caused by their inadequate capabilities. At the same time, senior employees are unhappy as they feel as though they’re being held back by having to work with unqualified newcomers. This would cause a chain reaction in which companies suffer from constant loss of human capital.
 
● Insufficient utilisation of economic capacity
The labour market is closely linked to the economic situation across society. Due to the limited job and training opportunities and the inadequate social welfare systems, the number of part-time or informal workers keeps growing. These workers, who are under-paid compared with full-time employees, could not be deemed as properly employed.
 
● Insufficient utilisation of employees
Even some formal employees, who are properly hired and collect a monthly salary, find themselves in a situation of underemployment. Specialists like fire fighters or EMTs are in two states at work: standing by or saving lives. These kinds of underemployment are understandable and necessary. However, it is crucial to prepare for those times on stand-by. But how? A private hospital with a 24-man EMT team has set us a good example in which the EMT members would exercise their skills and take exams periodically. In the long run, this kind of activity is not only beneficial to employees but also to the companies.
 
It is also the ‘habit’ in many state-owned companies that there are many staff members who lack tasks and aren’t busy; underemployment, culturally, has become the norm and as naturally and inevitably the Chinese economy moves away from state-run to privately-owned enterprises so too will there be an inevitable move towards business and activity as dictated by a competitive system.


Perhaps you have begun to look at a way to help your team?
 
After you have painstakingly screened the candidates for several times and selected the right guys for the jobs, you’d better make sure they don’t work in a state of underemployment. Below are some tips for your consideration:
 
● Make scientific performance evaluation systems – there are always reasons for staff to work harder and as the saying goes- ‘if you measure it, it gets better!”
Let’s take one of RMG’s clients, Stago, as an example. In this company, their performance evaluation system is made up of the fulfilment of working goals and personal development. Philippe Barroux, General Manager of Stago, said that the basic salary is based on the level of target fulfilment of the previous year. And in terms of personal development, an employee would sit together with his/her manager and list his/her personal aims for being a better talent at the beginning of a year. “The more aims you reach, the bigger annual bonus you get,” he said. 
 
The annual performance assessment in Stago is not only an opportunity for discussing career development and training objectives for company staff, but also a great chance for establishing ‘win-win’ relationships between the employer and the employees. “Making personal development assessments for the employees made them feel a sense of achievement and also made their work more efficient,” said Philippe.
 
● Creating a positive competitive environment inside the enterprise, giving the employees a goal
A positive environment for competition is a good way to retain your employees. Let’s share the successful cases from P&G. One secret of P&G is the internal promotion, according to which P&G never hires a person from outside P&G as a superior. P&G only chooses, promotes and rewards those who have had outstanding working performances, which has nothing to do with other irrelevant factors. The promotion depends on the working performance and the contribution one made to the company. The speed of one’s promotion depends on one’s capability and achievements, a P&G spokesperson once said. For employees, the glamour of a company is not only the salary, but more importantly, there should be a channel for employees to realise their career ambitions. 
 
● More promotion channels
It is important to make employees realise that no matter what department they work for and what positions they hold, everyone can find the way to success if they try. Furthermore, if they meet the requirements, they can be promoted to handle bigger responsibilities and get a better salary. The employees should not only positively accept the subjective judgments given by their supervisors. In a win-win relationship, they should combine their own personal career goals with their enterprise’s own development objectives.
 
Many people spend a lot of time developing their own methods after hearing some new ideas and forget that practice is the only way to create results. In the face of the underemployment situation, which may have already existed or may occur in the future, a manager should put his methods into practice. Only in this way can people successfully deal with emerging problems.

 By Robert Parkinson
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