Human Resource Practice in the Modern Workplace

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Introduction

The National Theatre (NT) is one of the most successful and famous cultural establishments in the United Kingdom. It attracts many actors, playwrights, and theatre-goers from different parts of the UK. In the 2017/18 financial year, the NT experienced significant success. The obtained resources allowed the establishment to develop a plan that is aimed at making the NT better and more beneficial. The strategic aims include increasing the audience base, strengthening the position in the UK, advocating the importance of the arts in society, expanding the National’s international reach and delivering on the four-year aims.

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Human resource management (HRM) plays an essential role in achieving the objectives above. Consequently, the principal purpose of this paper is to mention what HRM function changes should happen to make the strategic aims more effective and meet the requirements of the new external situation. The changes include creating a pool of actors, initiating professional relationships within the organisation, welcoming diversity, developing creative industry skills and encouraging employees to establish a moral economy. At the same time, the Brexit and Covid-19 pandemic stipulate that it is reasonable to start cooperating with foreign actors to increase the NT’s international reach and reduce the National’s workforce, respectively.

National Theatre Background

The NT has a rich history that means that the organisation has its own customs and traditions. Since its opening on October 22, 1963, the NT has produced more than 800 plays (National Theatre, no data d, para. 1). Here, it is reasonable to consider the issues of funding. Each year, “the NT receives a regular grant from Arts Council England of £16.7m” (National Theatre, no date b, para. 10). In addition to that, “public funding for the arts makes up just 0.05% of Government spending and delivers a return of £5 in taxes for every £1 invested” (National Theatre, no date b, para. 10). That is why theatre and other creative industries are among the fastest-growing economic sectors in the UK.

Now, it unites thousands of people who perform their functions to create a show on stage. They include actors, scenic artists, ushers, stage designers, and other employees. When it comes to finding actors, the National’s HR Department deals with this function. Members of this Department attend approximately 500 productions per year to find talented individuals (National Theatre, no data a, para. 6). This strategy is necessary to make sure that the NT includes the most professional and skilled actors in the country.

One should also state that the HR Department performs essential functions for the NT. It is so because this department is responsible for creating “long-term strategies for growth and development” (National Theatre, no date c, para. 1). It is so because its members deal with numerous essential issues, including selection, recruitment, performance management, pay, diversity and many others (National Theatre, no date c, para. 1). That is why it is necessary to draw specific attention to this department if the NT wants to achieve its strategic goals. Consequently, the information below will show how the HR Department can contribute to reaching better results.

Changes for the HRM Function

To begin with, one should note that the paper addresses the state of affairs within the UK creative industries. Previously known as cultural ones, they were “renamed and redefined in the late 1990s by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport” (Coulson, 2012, p. 246). That change resulted in the fact that these industries witnessed essential economic, social and policy-relevant benefits in a while. Since the NT was a part of this economic sector, the given establishment also faced positive changes. Even though the information above has mentioned positive characteristics of the industry, it is impossible to state that the NT does not have to deal with numerous challenges. A significant group of them refers to the HRM function and activities to find new actors.

In an attempt to understand what changes are necessary, it is rational to start by describing the current state of affairs. Theatre actors are generally self-employed and work within the “gig economy.” Even though the term originated in the sphere of music, it can be used to describe relationships within other industries, including theatre one. Thus, it relates to work that is characterised by a short-term employer’s commitment to the employee (Chafe and Kaida, 2019, p. 3). Consequently, this relationship leads to employment uncertainty, periods of low pay, employment insecurity, and others (Chafe and Kaida, 2019, p. 1). When it comes to artists, they also witness more considerable income variability (Chafe and Kaida, 2019, p. 3). That is why a study by Umney and Krestos (2014, p. 571) stipulates that fatalism about poor working conditions is typical among artists. However, they agree to accept this risk in pursuit of greater creative autonomy (Umney and Krestos, 2014, p. 571).

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In addition to that, it is necessary to mention that some actors are ready to work without any rewards. As a rule, it refers to young and inexperienced individuals who seek an opportunity to start their careers. Even though this phenomenon should be considered harmful, it can result in both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, unpaid labour provides the whole industry with essential benefits (Siebert and Wilson, 2013, p. 712). As has been mentioned, young individuals can try their hands at the sector, while theatres obtain an opportunity to find an employee free of charge. On the other hand, negative consequences emerge because it is unethical to exploit individuals (Siebert and Wilson, 2013, p. 717). The information above stipulates that HRM of the National has to deal with significant challenges.

Furthermore, a study by Opara, Stanton and Wahed (2019, p. 1451) also addresses HRM challenges and mentions that project focusing work is among them. Even though this article has been conducted in an Australian context, it offers essential information for the NT. It is so because actors are selected through a casting process and then laid off at the end of each production. This situation means that it is rational for the National’s HRM Department to draw more attention to job security. Providing actors with full-fledged social and employment benefits is a useful way to create a pool of artists. These individuals will be the first candidates when it is necessary to find actors for a new show. This strategy will help the NT save resources because it will not always be required to organise a massive casting process.

The step above can result in the fact that a relationship between the NT and its employees will become more professional. It is a positive outcome to reach since it contributes to achieving the National’s objectives. At the same time, Dean (2012, p. 931) stipulates that actors should be considered real workers, which provides them with appropriate rights and obligations. In addition to that, the HRM Department should contribute to establishing a trade union that will secure the interests of employees in an oversupplied labour market (Dean, 2012, p. 932). This fact will result in a strengthened UK’s position of the NT.

Since the National wants to increase its audience base and expand its international reach, it is rational to welcome diversity. Specific attention is required irrespective of the fact that this phenomenon is universally acknowledged and the NT’s official website states that it advocates diversity in all forms (National Theatre, no date a, para. 3). For example, the study by Randle, Forson and Calveley (2015, p. 590) states the “the workforce of the UK film and television industries does not reflect the diversity of the population.” The researchers admit that the barriers to entry the industries include race, gender, disability, and others (Randle, Forson and Calveley, 2015, p. 602). Consequently, if the National’s HR Department manages to eliminate any kinds of discrimination from a recruiting process, positive outcomes will occur. The current situation demonstrates that the NT addresses this issue, but additional efforts are required to attract the audience of different nationalities, backgrounds and genders.

In an attempt to meet the requirements above, the HR Department should not forget that one of its main tasks is to find skilful and experienced actors for upcoming shows. In other words, the HRM function should also contribute to “creative industry skills development or artistic excellence” (Rimmer, 2018, p. 310). This condition is necessary because the emphasis on these phenomena reduces the possibility that the NT’s sustainability will be threatened or completely unachievable (Rimmer, 2018, p. 310). Consequently, the HR Department is going to face significant challenges. On the one hand, it is necessary to offer job security to employees. Since the labour market is oversupplied, they will be many candidates to cooperate with the NT. On the other hand, it is necessary to analyse these candidates to select the most professional and experienced individuals that can make a difference for the NT. In addition to that, it is rational to apply the concept of active networking, which is necessary to consider whether a particular individual can be useful for the National’s network (Coulson, 2012, p. 248). This phenomenon ensures that the NT only employs the right people.

Finally, the National’s HR Department has the potential to both make the organisation’s strategic plans more effective and improve the UK’s creative industry. It refers to the fact that the HR department can create and strengthen moral economy among participants of the industry. For example, when individuals become members of the NT, they learn specific values, norms and expectations about their careers (Umney, 2017, p. 848). If these individuals break their relationships with the NT, they enter a community of other unemployed artists and distribute the phenomena that they learned at the NT. Even though the study by Umney (2017, p. 834) focuses on function musicians, the information can be applied to actors since they represent the same industry with the same challenges. Furthermore, Opara, Stanton and Wahed (2019, p. 1451) argue that effective HRM function can foster “the growth of networks that could provide training and development and career development opportunities for organisations and individuals.” Consequently, if the HR Department manages to improve its performance, both the NT and the creative industries will face essential benefits.

National Theatre and the New External Situation

When one discusses the position of the NT, it is impossible to consider it in isolation. It is so because any changes that happen in society affects the way of how the National operates. The recent examples of such events include the Brexit and Covid-19 pandemic. There is no doubt that the two has significantly influenced the UK, in general, and the NT, in particular. That is why the following information will explain how HRM can address a new set of problems.

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Firstly, it is necessary to consider what challenges the Brexit brought in achieving the NT’s objectives. For example, a survey on British musicians by Masso (2018, para. 1) reveals that 40% of them have already experienced adverse outcomes of this event. The respondents admitted that a challenge was connected with obtaining visas, meaning that travelling abroad became more problematic. As for the NT, this information stipulates that the National’s objective to strengthen its international reach is endangered. It also relates to “a reduction in audiences due to the financial uncertainty of the British economy” (Masso, 2019, para. 2). However, there are specific pieces of advice that can help HRM mitigate the adverse effects. For example, if the NT plans to organise a show in a different country, it will be rational for HRM to find local actors and equipment to minimise possible transporting risks. However, one should also mention that HRM cannot utilise an aggressive strategy to mitigate the Brexit consequences since the NT is publicly funded and should respect the referendum results (Trueman, 2019, para. 7).

Secondly, Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in an essential crisis for the whole world. The NT, in turn, “shut its doors on March 16 and has cancelled all performances until September at the earliest” (Snow, 2020, para. 3). It has resulted in the fact that the NT has lost a substantial part of its income that is represented by box office receipts. That is why the National and its HR Department should find a way of how to address this problem. Since the two call for but cannot reckon on sufficient government support, a possible solution is to reduce the workforce. As a result, Snow (2020, para. 1) supposes that the NT will dismiss approximately 30% of its workforce to preserve the sustainability of the whole organisation.

It seems that the proposed way of how to overcome the coronavirus outcomes derail all the previously mentioned recommendations. Indeed, initial advice has stipulated, for example, that it is necessary to create job security while reducing the workforce is considered admissible here. Now, it should be emphasised that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the whole world. Consequently, it is challenging to predict whether it will be possible to achieve the previously stipulated objectives in their entirety. That is why the topical item on the current agenda is to preserve the organisation and ensure its sustainability. In this case, reducing the NT workforce seems the most suitable decision for its HR Department.

Conclusion

The National Theatre operates within the UK’s creative industries that are characterised by employment uncertainty, short-term contracts and low pay for individuals. As for the National, it has developed a development plan that should make the theatre better and attract more spectators to it. That is why the Human Resource Department should take specific efforts to result in essential benefits for the organisation. The proposed steps include creating a pool of actors, establishing a more professional relationship between the employer and the employee, welcoming diversity and developing creative industry skills. In addition to that, the National’s Human Resource has the potential to encourage individuals to establish a moral economy that will be beneficial for the whole industry. The actions above are necessary to increase the audience base, strengthen the National’s position in the UK and internationally and enhance the importance of the arts in society.

At the same time, the external situation both within the UK and in the whole world has made its adjustments. On the one hand, the Brexit has created significant problems for the National to expand its international reach. It is so because the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union has resulted in travelling and transportation challenges for numerous artists. The Human Resource Department can address this situation by cooperating with foreign actors and specialists to eliminate the necessity to deliver equipment to a foreign country. On the other hand, coronavirus has led to a set of severer problems. The National does not offer any shows now, which means that the organisation is left without a significant portion of its income. The situation becomes even more tragic because no one can predict when the National can open its doors. In this situation and without sufficient government support, the organisation should do its best to preserve its sustainability. That is why reducing the workforce by approximately 30% seems a suitable decision.

Reference List

  1. Chafe, D. and Kaida, L. (2019) ‘Harmonic dissonance: coping with employment precarity among professional musicians in St John’s, Canada’, Work, Employment and Society, pp. 1-17. doi: 10.1177/0950017019865877
  2. Coulson, S. (2012) ‘Collaborating in a competitive world: musicians’ working lives and understandings of entrepreneurship’, Work, Employment and Society, 26(2), pp. 246-261.
  3. Dean, D. (2012) ‘The relevance of ideas in a union’s organisation of contingent workers: ‘here come the fairy people!’’ Work, Employment and Society, 26(6), pp. 918-934.
  4. Masso, G. (2018) ‘Musicians’ survey highlights impact Brexit is already having on work’, The Stage. Web.
  5. Masso, G. (2019) ‘Theatre companies build contingency plans as they prepare for no-deal Brexit fallout’, The Stage. Web.
  6. National Theatre (no date a) Casting. 
  7. National Theatre (no date b) Key facts and figures. Web
  8. National Theatre (no date c) Role outline: HR department placement. Web.
  9. National Theatre (no date d) The history of the National Theatre. Web.
  10. Opara, S. C., Stanton, P. and Wahed, W. (2019) ‘For love of money: human resource management in the performing arts’, Employment Relations, 41(6), pp. 1451-1466.
  11. Randle, K., Forson, C. and Calveley, M. (2015) ‘Towards a Bourdieusian analysis of the social composition of the UK film and television workforce’, Work, Employment and Society, 29(4), pp. 590-606.
  12. Rimmer, M. (2018) ‘The art of survival: community-based arts organisations in times of austerity’, Community Development Journal, 55(2), pp. 295-312.
  13. Siebert, S. and Wilson, F. (2013) ‘All work and no pay: consequences of unpaid work in the creative industries’, Work, Employment and Society, 27(4), pp. 711-721.
  14. Snow, G. (2020) ‘Coronavirus: National Theatre preparing for ‘substantial’ staff redundancies’, The Stage. Web.
  15. Trueman, M (2019) ‘Matt Trueman: British theatre has its head in the sand over Brexit’, The Stage. Web.
  16. Umney, C. (2017) ‘Moral economy, intermediaries and intensified competition in the labour market for function musicians’, Work, Employment and Society, 31(5), pp. 834-850.
  17. Umney, C. and Krestos, L. (2014) ‘Creative labour and collective interaction: the working lives of young jazz musicians in London’, Work, Employment and Society, 28(4), pp. 571-588.

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