Anglian Water is the best place to work in the UK, according to a study by jobs site Glassdoor. Despite being a former state-owned utility, the water company even knocked Google off top spot this year. It is praised by its employees for its positive culture, putting customers at the heart of what it does, as well as having a strong focus on employee engagement.

What’s unsurprising, but somewhat depressing, is that not one telecoms or mobile firm made the top 50. We know that a satisfied and engaged workforce drives improved financial performance, but telecoms firms seem to have forgotten that in a competitive labour market, jobseekers are not going to choose firms that are miserable to work for – no matter how tempting their salaries. And finding out what companies are like to work for has never been easier.

What’s worrying for telecoms firms is that The Engineer reported on a study earlier this year that the recruitment crisis in STEM is costing the UK economy £1.5 billion in temporary staffing costs, recruitment, training and inflated salaries. The study found the country needed 173,000 additional skilled workers and 89% of businesses were struggling to recruit.

The shortage means recruitment is taking longer, 54% of employers thought the UK risked falling behind in technological development and 43% said it could affect the country’s R&D credentials.

Rather than being overly dramatic, if anything this underestimates the problem.

Another study by Robert Walters showed that 89% of firms think there will be a moderate to severe shortage of technology talent next year. This study revealed that the most severe shortages will be in cyber security, business intelligence and data-related roles.

And yet, despite all this evidence, telecoms firms remain pretty depressing places to work, with regular layoffs and pressurised cultures. Rather than retaining talent and reskilling, many firms in the sector are driven by short-sighted and short-term goals which means they regularly let go of the talent they do have.

Redundancies in telecoms can result from nonsensical reasons such as management change which sees entire (successful) teams being swept out of the door by the new broom. Talent is laid off to save on the wage bill over here; over there they’re recruiting (unsuccessfully or expensively) for some new in-demand talent. Older workers are driven out of businesses not because their skills are outdated or their performance poor, but because younger workers are cheaper. CFOs rub their hands together not because they’ve acquired some valuable new workers through an acquisition but because now they get to ‘realise synergies’, the trendy new weasel words for layoffs.

Many folk currently working in telecoms firms dream of doing something else because their job isn’t fun, enjoyable or rewarding. They talk increasingly loudly of stifling politics, short-termism and a total lack of vision from executives. Where there’s Powerpoint there’s usually an executive who prefers to talk to reporters and shareholders than his/her own staff. Yet the solution to so many of the industry’s problems lies within. I’ve met so many incredibly able staff who can clearly articulate how their firm could do better. The difference being that unlike the staff at Anglian Water, the executives in telecoms firms are not listening to their employees, often do not sufficiently value them, and do not engage them to improve internal performance. They’d rather pay out on redundancies than retain existing talent and reskill the staff they already have.

It’s pretty damning that a dynamic technology industry such as telecoms needs to look to a former state-owned water utility for lessons both on customer-centricity and improved workforce management.

Posted by Teresa Cottam

Teresa helps B2B service providers improve their commercial results and the customer experience they deliver through research, insight and analysis that builds effective strategy. She is a judge of the GSMA GloMo's for customer experience and enterprise innovation, and for the UK Cloud awards. You can follow her on Twitter @teresacottam

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