Southern European HR Renaissance

Southern Europe is a market ready for a renaissance. Having been an international citizen for most of my life and having worked across Europe I have had first-hand experience in seeing the different ways that HR is perceived.

From the strong focus on business partnering and innovation in the UK to the more operational heavy HR of Italy and Spain. Gaia Rossi and myself need to have a strong understanding of the nuances within regions, as dealing solely with HR profiles we need to be aware of which profiles fit in with which areas and which cultures best fit, but also to understand who the high potential candidates are who need to be placed in different environments to be able to thrive and reach their potential.

Southern Europe is a changing landscape where the mobility of talent and multinational environments have had a say in shaping how HR is viewed. International talent moving into senior HR positions has had the ability to change the way HR is viewed. Southern Europe had also erected an extensive safety-net of legislation in the employment arena unlike anything found elsewhere. In Europe, State involvement in the management of people is high, either through its legislative net, through to the State’s role as a major employer in its own right or through support services provided to employers and the workforce. Recently the key project is around dissolving a lot of this red tape but these projects are being met with heavy resistance from employees and very strong trade unions. As Vijay Kashyap, Senior Director Global Human Resources, Campari says ‘HR is highly influenced by the overall red tape and bureaucracy in these countries and tends to be driven by legislative or employee agreement needs. This creates barriers for multinational companies to rapidly expand as many employment laws are quite restrictive.

This has created a HR community made of two main profiles, the first is an expert in navigating heavy labour relations and dealing with works councils; these profiles are outstanding at handling very difficult situations and are battle hardened to deal with any problems. The second is that of the up and coming business partner. This is a relatively new profile for the market introduced by larger organisations and recent graduates championing the Ulrich Model and the focus on people.

There are also two main types of industries in Italy. On one hand we have businesses with a democratic leadership style with directors who are open to change and challenges and on the other we have traditional entrepreneurial owners who lead fervently from the front and where HR is still seen as an administrative tool, and most of the time organisationally reporting to finance.

This second type is where most of the changes are occurring purely due to a change in ownership. These new business owners are bringing a fresh mind-set and tend to have had more of an international upbringing giving them a more inclusive and strategic view of HR.

According to a senior Global Executive Vice President of HR in Milan most innovations arrive from the US and UK. In Italy there is still a divide between company polices, country laws and labour unions. Southern Europe has been impacted more than in other places. HR and companies can/must create culture (organizational culture which allows the business strategy to be successful) by anticipating these laws and rules. Two main subjects that are currently very hot in the market are Smart working (or lavoro agile). Many companies, the vast majority subsidiaries of multinationals, have already tried to implement these but have had to go through a number of hoops including changing of trade union agreements. The other subject is that of paternity leave which currently isn’t a legal requirement; however there is a proposal to provide 15 days of mandatory leave to all fathers.

These are just a couple of examples of where the company policies are starting to really challenge local laws and labour unions to innovate and change views that have been in place for a very long time. Overall it’s perceived as a very positive move towards a more flexible, dynamic and diverse attitude which in turn will create a stronger workforce and be able to support growth for firms. Although there are some employees who don’t buy into these more flexible working conditions and this is purely down to a working culture that has always applauded visibility within the office, in addition some people feel that flexible working would be seen as a negative by their managers.

In conclusion there are a lot of positives and changes that are creeping into the southern European market and HR has an important position in changing not only country laws but also regional and cultural mind sets to create a more dynamic environment that champions growth and innovation.