by Brelda Baum
Housing associations (HAs) are perceived to be great places to work according to The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For 2014 survey (not for profit results) which is dominated by HAs and social housing employers. This seems to demonstrate that, despite the availability of other more lucrative options, people still want to work in the housing sector, perhaps because HAs and social housing organisations are at the forefront of a very rapidly changing environment, often at the cutting edge of a lot of social issues, so that by working for them, people see themselves in a position to do some good and see evidence of it.
Elaborating on this theme, a recent article supports the view that people want to work in the housing sector. And a two part feature by HR Magazine’s Katie Jacobs focuses on experts from the sector and gets them to explain what makes not-for-profits successful – to quote Jonathan Austin, CEO of ‘Best Companies’ ‘they just want to do the right thing and do right by their people’.
So what does make them great places in which to work? Well it seems that it’s all about: collaboration between organisations; a focus on personal development and creating inspirational leaders; having a wider social purpose; having a visible leadership team; and encouraging staff engagement. An Adam Smith Institute report ‘Social hearted, commercially minded’ highlights some of the challenges facing HAs. It finds that many are reviewing their strategies and business plans to ensure a workable balance between their social and commercial aspirations; while some associations are concerned about the growing emphasis on the commercial aspects of the business, for others, this is liberating. Balancing these competing objectives may create the dynamics for employees with differing outlooks the opportunity to thrive within the housing sphere.
The National Housing Federation, taking a focused look on what the future holds for HAs in a study that envisages a future, where, by 2033, HAs will be recognised as: social enterprises, independent private bodies which exist for social good; building, maintaining and managing good quality homes across all tenures and for all income groups; and investing long-term in economically and socially healthy and resilient communities. The report predicts that HAs could own or manage nearly six million good quality homes, housing over 12 million people across different types and tenures (more than doubling the number of homes that HAs currently own and manage).
Is the future all about mergers, alliances and getting bigger and bigger – the big shop versus the small shop conundrum being played out all over again? G320, which represents small housing associations working in London, makes the case for the small in organisations and finds that small has real strengths, particularly those that relate to meeting customer needs and the maintenance of homes.
What is it that drives job satisfaction in the HA sector and how can employers maintain this position into an uncertain future? Is it all about how HAs recognise the varied needs of their staff through, for example, opportunities for personal development, training, and ensuring that staff have the resources to do their job properly? Are these the reasons why people feel valued in the workplace because their training and development needs are being met?
The findings of a 2013 survey of housing sector employees about their role and opportunities for career development, present a somewhat mixed picture of career opportunities. While 45% feel positive about the future, over a quarter of respondents identify skill gaps with regard to the leadership of change management, efficiency expertise and an understanding of the commercial sector. Perhaps these issues create a training agenda for management to consider in order to build on what is clearly a very positive workplace environment in the HA/social housing sector.
Do you work in a housing organisation? What do you think? Are they great places to work?