How European nations are addressing the HR challenges of today
Yet while countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and the UK face similar difficulties, the way in which governments and organisations are responding to them differs, and some are taking the problems more seriously than others.
Here we consider some of the biggest challenges facing the HR profession today and examine what different European nations are doing to tackle them. Could countries learn a thing or two by looking at the approaches being taken by their European neighbours?
This is a problem that's affecting employees across the continent. Figures from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) show that after back pain, stress is the second most frequently reported work-related health problem among EU member states, and it's responsible for more than half of all working days lost.
There are many factors contributing to a rise in cases of work-related stress, and it is widely believed that today's 'always-on' culture - where the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and laptops makes it difficult for people to switch off from their jobs and to say no to their employers - is partly to blame. So it is sensible that Germany is taking steps to address this culture.
Laws in the country already prohibit companies from asking their employees to carry out any work during their holidays, and now the government is also said to be considering the implementation of a new law that would prevent workers from being contacted via email or mobile phones outside of normal working hours.
It comes after German employment minister Andrea Nahles commissioned a report that will attempt to define work-related stress and calculate the true cost of the problem to the country's economy. It will also examine the viability of introducing new anti-stress legislation.
In Belgium, meanwhile, a law has been passed that requires all employers operating on Belgian territory to take measures to prevent burnout - a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion - among their staff. This includes conducting risk assessments and providing counselling to affected employees.
This is seen by many commentators as a very positive move, and one that other nations should look to replicate. "To our knowledge, Belgium is a pioneer," said Dr Patrick Mesters, Director of the European Institute for Intervention and Research on Burnout. "It is one of the only countries where burnout is mentioned as forming part of psychosocial risks."
In the UK, the issue of stress at work is also being taken increasingly seriously and today there is a much bigger focus on achieving a healthy work-life balance. In June 2014 the right to request flexible working was extended from parents of children and teenagers and certain carers, to all employees, while remote working has become a much more accepted option.
However, the UK is the only EU country in which employees can choose to opt out of the Working Time Directive, which dictates a maximum working week of 48 hours. The reason for the opt out is to give businesses the flexibility they need to cope with peaks in demand, but some argue that it can actually contribute to rising stress levels among the UK working population.
An ageing workforce
Ageing populations present a very real challenge in Europe. EU-OSHSA figures shows that more than half of European employers think it is very likely or fairly likely that there will be a higher proportion of people aged over 60 working for them in 2020. However, only 12 per cent have programmes or policies in place to make it easier for staff to continue working up to or beyond retirement age.
There are, of course, some great examples of companies actively preparing for an ageing workforce. In the Netherlands, the country's largest insurance provider Achmea has launched a project called Silver Pool, which offers temporary, flexible contracts to staff over the age of 57. A full salary is paid to these individuals while they are working, and a percentage offered when there is no work to avoid losing their highly-valued skills and experience.
But it's not just about keeping older staff on the books. How companies protect the health and safety of older workers is one of the biggest challenges arising from an ageing labour force, and businesses across Europe could do well to follow the example being set by some German employers.
The Financial Times points out that a number of companies in the country are making physical modifications to their workplaces to cater for the needs of employees coming up to or, if possible, working past the traditional retirement age.
For example, railway company Deutsche Bahn has provided more lifting gear and ergonomic chairs as an additional health and safety measure for older staff. Similarly, car manufacturer BMW has opened an assembly line specifically designed for employees over the age of 50, with softer wooden floors to reduce strain on joints and workstations that could be adjusted to different heights.
But what if some employers decide they don't want to retain older talent? How, then, can countries make sure that people in their 60s and above are given the opportunity to work and to continue saving for what will probably be a fairly lengthy retirement given the rise in life expectancies?
Well the UK government is trying hard to change employer attitudes towards older staff, and it started three and a half years ago with the abolition of the default retirement age. As of April of 2011, UK employers have been unable to force workers to retire once they reach a certain age. Now they can only enforce retirement if their decisions for doing so can be objectively justified, and it's a policy that could work in other European countries.
Again, this is an issue that is prevalent Europe-wide. A survey carried out by management consultancy firm McKinsey earlier this year showed that more than a quarter of European employers are struggling to fill vacancies, while a third believe a lack of skills is causing significant problems within their organisation.
It is a problem across many industries, but particularly in science, technology and engineering related professions. Quite simply, there are not enough young people studying these subjects at school or university to replace the skilled and experienced workers who are set to retire over the coming years.
The Netherlands appears to be taking the issue quite seriously, and there have been a variety of campaigns launched in the country to encourage take-up of STEM subjects. For example, there's the Jet-Net, or Youth and Technology Network Netherlands, which is a joint initiative launched by leading Dutch technology companies and secondary schools that aims to promote technology-related careers among young people.
There is also the Platform Beta Techniek, which has been commissioned by the government and the education and business sectors to increase the number of students in scientific and technical education and to find ways of using existing talent more effectively, both among businesses and research institutes.
Similar schemes are in place in Belgium, most notably the government's STEM-actieplan 2012-2020. This brings together four government departments - education, work and social economy, economy and science and innovation - to increase engagement among young people, show them how exciting careers in industries like engineering and technology can be and encourage businesses to play their part in solving the skills problem.
Germany is also making good progress in plugging its skills gap with its apprentice programme, which has been held up as an example for other EU nations to follow. It is a dual system that balances classroom learning with on-the-job training, and it has been credited with helping to keep youth unemployment in Germany much lower than in other countries across Europe.
It is also, crucially, helping to train future engineers, scientists and IT professionals, and this is perhaps where the focus should lie for other EU nations. While efforts to close skills gaps must start in schools and while governments certainly have a role to play in addressing the challenge, there is also a lot that businesses can do to equip the next generation with the skills that are so badly required.