HR Information

Research reveals widening gap between pay and performance

New research has revealed that UK companies are failing to differentiate pay sufficiently for top-performing employees.

The findings demonstrate that there is a clear opportunity for firms to better allocate their resources to attract, motivate and retain their best employees as the state of the market creates more competition for talent.

Employers in the UK are falling short in how they deliver pay programmes including base salary and bonuses, even though salary remains the foremost consideration for workers in the UK when deciding to join or stay with a company.

Employee attitudes

The 2014 Towers Watson Global Workforce study shows only a small number of workers in the UK (39 per cent) see a clear link between their pay and performance.

Less than half (43 per cent) of employees believe their employer adequately rewards individuals for break-through ideas, while only 44 per cent are satisfied with their company's attempts to explain its pay programmes.

Carole Hathaway, Global Leader of Towers Watson’s Rewards practice, said many forecasts are not predicting significant growth in earnings until at least spring 2015.

"Without the current flexibility to expand the pay pot, employers are missing a trick by not using the resources they do have more strategically when it comes to rewarding employees," she added. 

"Instead, they seem to be spreading what they have more evenly than ever in an attempt to keep everyone happy, rather than rewarding their best performers for going the extra mile."

Employer attitudes

Employers give themselves middle-of-the-road ratings on their effectiveness in delivering pay programmes, the study found.

Less than half (42 per cent) said they think their employees understand how their pay base is determined, while only 45 per cent of UK companies were of the opinion that employee performance was fairly reflected in pay decisions.

Only a third (36 per cent) of UK employers said they think their base pay programme is well-executed.

A separate survey by the organisation revealed that pay growth will remain much the same during the next year, with employers in the UK planning to maintain pay rises at an average of three per cent into 2015.

Wage growth in other countries in Western Europe – including France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Spain – is outstripping inflation to a greater degree than in the UK, while the growth of wages is even better in developing economies.

In other regions in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, more employers are differentiating pay for high performers than in the UK.

Ms Hathaway commented that it is surprising that a third of employers are awarding a bonus to those employees with a low performance rating, thus hampering their ability to reward top performance as part of their pay performance efforts.

Paul Richards, head of Towers Watson's Data Services EMEA, said firms should be focusing their efforts on rewarding their high-performing employees as this will help them to attract and retain talent.

HR Information

Collaboration with universities benefits employers

Collaboration between businesses and universities is producing a wide range of benefits and boosting students' prospects.

Organisations involved in these partnerships gain access to new talent, better productivity and improved competitiveness – both in the UK and globally, according to a report, which has been published by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).

'Forging Futures: Building higher level skills through university and employer collaboration' reveals that universities also benefit, as they are able to provide relevant, up-to-date courses, diversify their offer and enhance employment prospects for their students.

Professor John Coyne, vice-chancellor of the University of Derby and UKCES commissioner, described the trend for more partnerships as a "quiet revolution" in the tertiary education sector.

"There is no one-size-fits-all solution for people to gain the skills they need. Work-based courses are an alternative way for young people and experienced workers to gain high-level skills, and from the report it’s clear there is a lot of great work taking place," he said.

Mr Coyne added that more needs to be done to support these partnerships, so that they become accepted as a mainstream alternative to a traditional degree.

Improving competitiveness and productivity

The UK's economy is currently in a state of transition and the proportion of jobs requiring high-level skills is expected to increase.

Collaborating with universities enables companies to meet these evolving needs, particularly in cases where traditional education and training are insufficient to do so. 

In addition, employers often benefit when the training goes beyond their specific sector – for instance, they gain when collaborations lead to sustained growth in supply chains.

Putting in place pathways to industry

Clear routes into employment linking education and training opportunities to necessary skills can enable employers to develop and maintain a skilled workforce. Industry-recognised qualifications, developed with universities, can lead to better movement through the labour market.

Attracting new talent

This is particularly important when a certain sector is expecting significant employment growth (expansion demand) or where it is necessary to replace a large number of staff who are planning to retire (replacement demand).

Working with universities can enable industries to overcome barriers to attracting new recruits, giving them access to a pool of talent with theoretical and practical experience, high levels of knowledge and a good understanding of work culture and employability.

Retaining and training existing staff

Training and staff retention can be improved through collaborative efforts. Staff retention can be boosted as employees are able to develop new skills and take on new challenges, while recognising that their employer is willing to invest in their development.

Organisations are able to integrate the skills of their workforce with long-term goals and this could allow them to change the structure of their organisations, their recruitment policies and their approach to continuing professional development.

Employers are being encouraged to think about which of their skills needs would benefit from collaboration with a university. They should then consider contacting institutions with known expertise in the sector to begin discussions.

Life Sciences

Is there a biology gender divide?

Addressing the persistent gender gap in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects has proven to be one of the most pressing academic concerns in recent years.

Biology has been seen as an area which is not affected by gender inequality, as it is the one STEM subject in which female candidates have traditionally outnumbered male ones. More than 60 per cent are female and about half of biosciences graduate students are women.

However, a new research paper published in the US casts doubt on the notion that the gap has totally disappeared, revealing evidence of inequality even in biology classrooms.

Unequal participation

Researchers at Arizona State University (ASU) and University of Washington found evidence of gender-based gaps in both achievement and class participation during a study of introductory college-level biology courses

"Often, gender differences are assumed to be present only in fields where males outnumber females and where there is a strong emphasis on math," said Sara Brownell, assistant professor with ASU's School of Life Sciences. 

"But we are seeing it in undergraduate biology classrooms that do not focus on maths – where females make up about 60 percent of the class – indicating that this could potentially be a much more systemic problem. It's likely this is not unique to physics or biology, but rather true of most undergraduate classrooms."

Some 23 classes were studied at a research one (R1) university over a two-year period. Comprising mostly sophomores and biology majors, they were generally taught by two instructors each. More than 60 per cent of the 5,000 students enrolled on the courses were female.

Studies of exam performance and class participation revealed that female's exam scores were on average 2.8 percent lower than those of male students.

There was also a gap in participation rates, with 63 per cent of males on average speaking up when asked to volunteer responses to questions – even though they made up just 40 per cent of the classroom.

Bridging the gap

According to co-author Sarah Eddy, this can create problems because such classes are the first opportunity many people have to interact with professionals and peers and build up their confidence levels. Unequal participation rates mean women have fewer chances to succeed.

Fortunately, however, the researchers have proposed strategies they say could be used to bridge the divide.

They recommend using a pre-sorted list of student names to randomly call on students, rather than allowing them to raise their hands. They believe this idea may meet with some initial resistance but would boost equality in the classroom.

"In order to solve the problem, instructors must be aware that it even exists," Professor Brownell pointed out. 

She argued that it is now important to find out the causes of the inequality and then develop new strategies that could combat it.

HR Information

Lack of opportunity ‘is hampering staff retention’

New research reveals staff retention is being hampered by a lack of opportunity and structure within their organisations.

HR service company Penna found that the absence of opportunity was the main reason behind employees' decisions to leave companies during the past 12 months, cited as such by 20 per cent of respondents.

In the same period, one in three organisations have witnessed a rise in resignations. Despite this, 20 per cent admit they have no formal approach to succession planning.

Investment in learning is becoming a high priority for many companies, with 42 per cent of respondents predicting they will spend more money in this area during the next year.

Despite this emphasis on learning, the survey revealed career conversations take place annually only in a small majority of businesses (51 per cent). In firms where such discussions are held, 25 per cent of managers are not trained to conduct them.

Bev White, managing director of Career Services at Penna Plc, said: "Having conversations annually is not enough for career development starved individuals that are keen on getting their chosen career path back on track."

"For Generation Y and C as well, we know that frequent conversations about their career progression are desirable – so businesses need to consider how to build in regular informal catch ups with constructive feedback."

In a separate report, Penna claims mentoring could prove to be a useful tool for organisations looking to retain staff and prevent a 'talent drain'.

According to its research, 20 per cent of employees are not involved in mentoring schemes but would like to be.

The majority of those who engage in such initiatives do not see them as an opportunity to find work elsewhere. Just one in ten harbour such intentions, while 59 per cent see mentoring primarily as a chance to acquire new skills.

An in-house approach would be the most productive way to implement mentoring schemes, the report found, as 64 per cent of employees consider an external mentor to be the least desirable option.


Scientists eliminate HIV from human cells

Scientists at Temple University, Philadelphia, have successfully eliminated the HIV virus from cultured human cells.

Patients affected by HIV-1 have to take medication throughout their lives to ensure they remain healthy because the virus inserts its DNA into its host's DNA. However, researchers have found a way to remove the integrated HIV-1 genes from cells permanently.

The researchers created molecular tools which they used to delete the HIV-1 proviral DNA. An enzyme known as a a nuclease and a targeting strand of RNA called a guide RNA (gRNA) were deployed to track down the viral genome and remove the HIV-1 DNA.

Once this process had taken place, the cell's natural repair mechanisms were able to take over and tie the loose ends of the genome back together.

"Since HIV-1 is never cleared by the immune system, removal of the virus is required in order to cure the disease," said Kamel Khalili, professor and chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Temple, who led the project along with Wenhui Hu, associate professor of Neuroscience.

He added that the same technique could theoretically be used against a variety of viruses.

However, the researchers must overcome a number of hurdles before the treatment is ready for patients. They need to devise a method to ensure the therapeutic agent is delivered to every affected cell and individualise treatment for for each patient’s unique viral sequences.

"We are working on a number of strategies so we can take the construct into preclinical studies," professor Khalili said. "We want to eradicate every single copy of HIV-1 from the patient. That will cure AIDS. I think this technology is the way we can do it."

According to the World Health Organisation, 34 million people around the world are currently living with HIV. The virus is particularly common in sub-Saharan African countries, such as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

In the UK, there were an estimated 98,400 people in the UK living with HIV at the end of 2012. With early diagnosis and effective treatment, most people infected with the virus will not go on to develop AIDS.


MSU team make stem cell breakthrough

Scientists at Michigan State University (MSU) have identified a gene that could make it easier to develop stem cells, which have the potential to benefit millions of people.

While the gene, which is known as ASF1A, was not discovered by the team, they determined that it is one of those responsible for cellular reprogramming – a phenomenon which is key to stem cell production as it can transform one cell into another.

"This has the potential to be a major breakthrough in the way we look at how stem cells are developed," said Elena Gonzalez-Munoz, a former MSU post-doctoral researcher and first author of the team's paper, which was recently published in the journal Science.

"Researchers are just now figuring out how adult somatic cells such as skin cells can be turned into embryonic stem cells. Hopefully this will be the way to understand more about how that mechanism works."

The scientists analysed more than 5,000 genes from a human egg, or oocyte, before discovering that ASF1A, along with another gene known as OCT4 and a helper soluble molecule, were the ones responsible for the reprogramming.

Previous research laid the groundwork for the discovery – in 2006, an MSU team identified the thousands of genes contained within the oocyte, while in 2007 Japanese scientists found that stem cells could be created without using a human egg by introducing four other genes into cells. These cells are known as pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs.

As they are derived directly from adult tissue, iPSCs can be a perfect genetic match for a patient.

ASF1A and OCT4 genes work in tandem with a ligand, a hormone-like substance that also is produced in the oocyte called GDF9, to facilitate the reprogramming process.

Jose Cibelli, an MSU professor of animal science and a member of the team, said many more genes have yet to be discovered that play a part in the cellular reprogramming process.

The team hopes to be able to conduct further research on oocytes that will enable them to develop new, safer stem cell strategies.

HR Information

Jobseekers ‘can be deterred by first impressions’

New research reveals more than two-thirds of jobseekers would turn down an offer of employment if their first impression of an organisation is substandard.

This is according to, which has published data on the factors influencing interviewees' decisions. The findings could help HR professionals ensure the recruitment process isn't jeopardised by external factors.

Appearances play a significant role in decision-making, with 35 per cent of interviewees saying they would not accept a job if they did not like a company's reception area.

Interviewers also play a key role and 50 per cent say they could be influenced by a recruiter's dress sense, while 60 per cent make judgements based on their handshake and 58 per cent on the quality of their conversations.

Some 51 per cent of job candidates said they would turn down a job if they were kept waiting too long in reception.

First impressions play a crucial role for both interviewers and interviewees. According to the report, applicants have just 6 minutes and 25 seconds during the first meeting in which to make a good impression on interviewers.

Only work experience (36 per cent) ranks higher than first impressions (24 per cent) in employers' minds, while education is the third most important factor (12 per cent).

Punctuality is the best way for candidates to make a good first impression, with 96 per cent of managers saying good timekeeping is important. Level of interview preparation is important for 93 per cent, while the ability to hold eye contact is valued by 82 per cent.

A candidate's physical appearance is also important to interviewers, with more than two-thirds (72 per cent) of employers admitting they would be deterred by tattoos and 62 per cent saying an applicant's dress sense could influence their decision making.

Corinne Sweet, organisational behaviour psychologist, commented: "We make instant assumptions about people and can judge harshly or form fantasies, based on external factors including: style, tattoos, skin colour and their accent. These impressions can be right or wrong, but employers need to understand that employees are forming their impressions too!"


Scientists discover ribosome ‘missing link’

Researchers at the University of California (UC) San Diego have discovered the 'missing link' in the system that enables animal cells to produce ribosomes.

The discovery could give biologists a better understanding of how to limit uncontrolled cell growth, such as cancer, that might be regulated by controlling the output of ribosomes. It will also lead to the revision of basic textbooks on molecular biology.

Ribosomes contained within each cell manufacture all of the proteins needed to build tissue and sustain life. They are responsible for a wide range of substances, including enzymes; structural molecules, such as hair, skin and bones; hormones like insulin; and components of our immune system such as antibodies.

While much time has been devoted to studying ribosomes, researchers have hitherto had little understanding of the processes underlying the formation of the proteins that are used to construct ribosomes.

Ribosomes are composed of around 80 different proteins in multicellular animals, as well as four different kinds of RNA molecules. In 1969, scientists found that two enzymes, RNA polymerase I and RNA polymerase III, are responsible for the synthesis of ribosomal RNAs.

However, they did not know whether a complementary system was also responsible for the production of the 80 proteins that make up the ribosome.

The UC San Diego researchers set out to solve this problem and discovered the missing link – the specialised system that allows ribosomal proteins themselves to be synthesised by the cell.

"We found that ribosomal proteins are synthesized via a novel regulatory system with the enzyme RNA polymerase II and a factor termed TRF2," said professor of biology and leader of the study Jim Kadonaga.  

"For the production of most proteins, RNA polymerase II functions with a factor termed TBP, but for the synthesis of ribosomal proteins, it uses TRF2."

Professor Kadonga added that the discovery of specialised TRF2-based system for ribosome biogenesis provides new opportunities for study and could potentially help to develop cancer treatments.


New research ‘could help combat atherosclerosis’

Researchers have identified a molecule that plays a role in exacerbating atherosclerosis and could provide a target for new therapies.

Scientists at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center found that a molecule known as 27HC (27-hydroxycholesterol) promotes the formation of atherosclerotic plaques, which can lead to cardiovascular disease.

Atherosclerosis involves the build-up of lesions (or plaques) formed from lipids, such as cholesterol and fatty acids. If these rupture, they can partially or completely block blood flow, causing a heart attack or stroke.

27HC belongs to a family of molecules known as oxysterols. It is produced during the normal breakdown of cholesterol and is known to accumulate in atherosclerotic plaques.

The UT researchers discovered that 27HC promotes the formation of atherosclerotic plaques, causing a doubling in the accumulation of lipids in the arterial wall.

It achieves this through mechanisms mediated by estrogen receptors. Normally, these receptors enable estrogen to protect against the development and progression of atherosclerosis – but 27HC blocks them and prevents these beneficial effects from being realised.

"When 27HC is present, estrogen's protective effects are only observed at very high levels of the hormone," said senior author Dr Philip Shaul, holder of the Associates First Capital Corporation Distinguished Chair in Pediatrics. 

"This result may explain why hormone therapy with estrogen does not provide cardiovascular benefit in women with pre-existing atherosclerosis, in which 27HC is abundant in the vascular wall."

The researchers found 27HC triggers inflammation in the arterial wall, a key step in the establishment of atherosclerotic plaques. 

This was characterised by the exaggerated production of molecules known as cytokines that drive inflammation, as well as the enhanced attachment on the arterial wall of immune cells known as macrophages.

Macrophages then accumulate lipids (such as cholesterol) and trigger the formation of atherosclerotic plaques.

Dr Shaul said complementary therapies are needed to combat atherosclerosis, even though statins have already had dramatic impact, and targeting 27HC could help to fulfil this role.

HR Information

HR ‘failing to monitor candidates’ experiences’

New research reveals many employers are failing to monitor candidates' experiences when it comes to recruitment.

Up to 60 per cent of HR professionals are doing nothing to monitor the impact of their hiring experience, even though 70 per cent understand the importance of this factor to the recruitment process.

Some 64 per cent of those surveyed in the CEB Global Assessment Trends Report for 2014 said it would become more difficult to hire candidates within the next 12 months, meaning a company's image could grow in significance in as part of a successful recruitment process.

HR Review reports that nearly half (49 per cent) of candidates are left with a negative view of an organisation in a traditional recruiting process. One in five of these people will expose the business to reputational risks by complaining to family and friends or airing their grievances on social media platforms.

Ken Lahti, vice president of product development and innovation at CEB, said that while recruiters realise the importance of a positive candidate experience, very few are actively measuring candidate reactions.

He added that the recruitment process can be an important marketing tool and can have an impact on future candidates and customers.

"Unless companies invest in actively monitoring candidate experience and improving their hiring processes, the candidates they approach today may negatively influence the people they want to attract tomorrow. A poor reputation – born of bad candidate experience – can stifle the talent pipeline for the future," he said.

The difficulties in attracting suitable candidates anticipated by those surveyed in the CEB report were highlighted in the Recruitment and Employment Confederation's recent Report on Jobs.

It revealed the number of applicants available for jobs declined at its sharpest rate for 16 years during May as the number of vacancies continues to rise.

The availability of temporary and contracts staff, as well as those available for permanent positions, declined sharply. The greatest demand for staff was experienced in the accounting and financial sector.