workplace culture

The New Year’s Key Workplace Challenges

The New Year’s Key Workplace Challenges

What HR and management professionals must consider going into 2017

Tougher economic conditions will impact HR and L&D professionals

Australia is facing a productivity crisis in an uncertain economic environment not because we are vastly unproductive but because the boom is now over and people must be more productive. Put simply, organisations want just as much or even more for less. 2017 will bring with it a greater pressure on workers to perform.

Relatively high and inflexible salary and wage rates across many professional and semi-professional industries are problematic for a country that is losing opportunities because in so many fields it is just not competitive. As people are being expected to work harder and longer and to change their job functions, HR departments will be dealing with higher incidents of challenging behaviour that result from growing levels of anxiety, frustration and dissatisfaction. Expect increases in absenteeism, complaints about poor behaviour and work-related mental health claims.

The answer is to do your due diligence and get those policies, reporting procedures and compliance training programs sharpened. It won’t hurt to be clear about culture and behavioural expectations and to build the resilience of your leaders.

HR and L&D professionals will also be presented with the challenge of producing more with less. These are not the ideal circumstances for achieving best practice, but it should be looked at as a great opportunity to implement simple, back to basics strategies that can be seen to make a difference.

As for government, the so called ‘attack’ on workers’ pay and conditions, in particular the reform to penalty rates, may well gain greater momentum should there be continuing major industry ‘shut downs’. The values of jobs in some industries are growing daily.

A one-dimensional approach to learning will be problematic

Small, medium and large organisations that are really committed to the skill and knowledge development of their people will need to provide a range of learning solutions. One key reason for this is that the large differences in the ages of professionals in the workforce means that there is a wider range of learning preferences than ever before. While budgets and efficiency are typical reasons organisations are turning to eLearning as a prime learning methodology, there is a growing thought that some people learn better through an eLearning experience than in face-to-face training-especially if the eLearning experience is based upon cognitive loading principles. But the truth is, this isn’t the case for everyone.

There is still a degree of scepticism among Australian learning professionals that eLearning can be a ‘be all and end all’ learning methodology which may be healthy. 2017 will see an increasing use of eLearning as a methodology, but wading through the good and the garbage will be a prime role of L&D people. At the end of the day, it’s much better to have access to five quality-learning experiences than 200 that have no learning principles behind them at all.

In 2017, try diversifying the learning experiences available to your people. Don’t be constrained by their personal biases and do some simple analysis by age-group and function to determine what does and doesn’t work.

Political correctness versus the maverick workplace leader

 The election of Donald Trump was without a doubt a shot in the arm for the ‘free-stylist’ leader. This is the type of leader who calls his or her subjects to action on the basis of claims with little substance. It is the type of leader who appears to speak their mind without significant consideration for the impact it will have on others. Some would say Trump is just ignorant while others believe he is simply commencing work on his own political and social agenda. While I believe there is a question mark over whether or not Trump will even see out term one of his presidency, his election has signalled a growing resentment toward the ‘politically correct set’ and among people being forced to speak and behave in away far removed from their true feelings. This resentment also exists in Australia. (See the results of the 2016 election.)

Trump is first and foremost a businessman and his election may well give the nod to business leaders (and boards) across the western world to be a little less considerate or even backward in relation to what they say and whom they offend. If this extends to Australian workplaces, some senior HR people may find themselves walking the tight rope between supporting their chief and dealing with disenfranchised management teams and workers who have often been protected from ‘hard talk’ by a system that has demanded leaders think deeply before making public statements. For senior HR people, 2017 may well be the year of being the ‘meat in the sandwich’.


Personal Life Choices Remain Sacred

Sexually explicit text messages between two colleagues in a relationship were found to be inadmissible in an adverse action case because it couldn’t be concluded that the “author would be likely to replicate in the workplace the content, tone or subject of text messages which were indisputably intended to remain private”.

Federal Court Justice Julie Anne Dodds-Streeton rejected an argument by a former TRUenergy (now Energy Australia) government and corporate affairs director that the text messages between managing director Richard McIndoe and former general counsel Amanda Barnett while they were in a relationship were admissible because they established the probability that the managing director “routinely used explicit, lewd, obscene, indecent and sexualised language about women and would do so in the workplace”

Thank god sanity prevailed and congratulations to Justice Julie Anne Dodds-Streeton! To have allowed texts from a consensual and unrelated relationship, albeit between work colleagues, to be used as evidence to support a sexual harassment claim would have been a travesty of justice and a poor reflection on the system that adjudicates on human rights matters in this country. Whether or not the claim by former Director Kate Shea that TruEnergy has a ‘sex culture” is eventually substantiated, it remains important that Australian workers retain the right to make lifestyle choices outside the workplace. If a worker chooses to participate in a consensual sexual relationship with another worker and the behaviour, however sexually charged or ‘lewd’, is conducted outside the workplace, it is no business of the employer or the employees. Of course, if the behaviour outside the workplace is, or has been illegal or unlawful, that is an entirely different matter.

When conducting iHR Australia’s ‘Custodians of Culture’ program I talk about two important related matters.

1. Workplace culture is a critical factor in the prevention of unlawful conduct; and
2. That leaders in organisations must remember that there needs to be an imaginary white line around their workplace, outside which some of their personal choice may best be kept.

In regards to these points, if McIndoe and Barnett had flaunted their messages to work colleagues in the workplace or forwarded these messages on to others in the workplace causing discomfort, then I would regard their behaviour as inappropriate and potentially unlawful. However, according to Justice Dodds Streeton, this has not been the case. She suggests that the sexually explicit text messages would have been admissible if McIndoe had circulated them “on the office email, broadcast them in the office or otherwise made them known to persons in the workplace” or if they had contained “sexual observations about other persons or actual or proposed sexual or indecent conduct in the workplace”. But in her view this was not the case.

It is my view, however, that leaders must remember that their behaviour does affect how others in the workplace behave. What they say and don’t say in the workplace sends out a message about what’s ok or not ok at work. Managers, especially those in senior roles, are ultimately custodians of culture. iHR Australia’s many years of conducting workplace investigations has clearly demonstrated that workplace culture, the way we do things in a workplace, is a key risk factor in claims of harassment, discrimination and bullying.

Furthermore, senior leaders must remember that recorded public behaviour outside the workplace can also set a perception about that leader’s capacities, boundaries and style. However, despite the views of some leadership purists, I believe great leaders have the ability to adjust their behaviour depending on the circumstances in which they find themselves. They have an ability to understand their environment, assess their situation and behave appropriately.

Yet, whatever scholars of leadership might believe, Justice Dodds Streeton has made it clear that courts respect the right of an individual to have a personal life. If fellow workers are mutual and consensual participants in a sexual relationship within their personal domain, the court will be reticent to allow their actions and behaviours to be the business of a court.

An interesting question is: what difference would it make if a worker used a phone owned by the organisation to send such messages?