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Weekly HR Wrap July 17 2017

New Financial Year and Workforce Productivity

The main news this week is about the response of the boss of the American woman who requested two days “mental health” leave.  Some areas are congratulating her (and rightly so) for speaking out about her ongoing (mental) health issue in a way that will reduce stigma and judgement. (we hope).

Others are focusing on the supportive response from her boss who mentions being reminded about the broader and preventative nature of sick leave as well as being able to “bring our whole selves” to work.

What’s it all mean?

Well in terms of HR and people management, here are the three key things to me:

  1. Sick leave was renamed personal leave in Australia under the Fair Work Act. This case reminds us that sick leave is not just for when you are contagious with the flu. It is personal leave intended to assist and support us to manage our health once we move into an “unwell”  state.
  2. Emails and the written word can (and do) often go so much further than between the initial sender and recipient. In this case the global sharing of the content has generated only positive comment and feedback for both parties – that we’ve seen anyway. Are there email exchanges that you’ve had where you would not want the content shared outside the company? Are you avoiding face to face contact with certain people? Emails can be a time saving device and also have a place when points need to be documented and recorded. There are other instances where a phone call or an in person conversation will be faster, shorter and more effective.
  3. Open communication between staff and manages breeds trust and allows for matters to be raised before they intensify or escalate. Imagine if this woman worked for a boss who was not tolerant of her mental health. She might stay quiet and feel compelled to come to work until she suffered a major episode – at which time she would need significantly longer time off work to recover. And after which she would probably feel hesitant and nervous about coming in to work, which could worsen her state of mind.
    Open communication is essential to team effectiveness and performance, not just mental health.

Are you sabotaging your productivity?

This was the title of an article in MyBusiness that flows neatly from the previous item of interest as it refers to the benefits of flexible work arrangements. A workplace psychologist makes mention of proven benefits of flexible work including working from home. The most important point that is made is linking flexible work to business strategy.  The benefits include employee autonomy (workers trusted to work independently will usually perform at a higher level) and ability to balance family and other commitments (getting the work done without being distracted by an approaching commitment)

Implementing flexible work practices is not something for every department or every business. That’s why the Fair Work Act enshrines the right to request flexible work arrangements and does not mandate that those requests be granted.  (I admit that the hurdles to prove a genuine workplace requirement when declining such a request  have become higher in recent years).  It’s most important to be able to take a broader view when considering the benefits of flexible work arrangements including:

  1. An employee may be better able to work on a confidential piece of work when out of the office as it is distraction free (providing there are good cyber security protocols and systems in place). There is no need to be aware of who is nearby when planning or working on a critical piece of communication.
  2. Tired and distracted employees are an example of the phenomena “presenteeism” – when employees are physically present yet unable (for physical or mental reasons) unable to perform at their best. Consider what happens when staff come in to work when they are sick or come back from illness too soon. This also affects employees who travel long distances to get to work – the effects of traffic jams, stress and time as well as long distance train commutes. (Imagine what would have happened to workers if the recent Melbourne Metro train stoppage had occurred in the morning rather than the afternoon peak)
  3. Take a broader and flexible approach to what it takes to get work done.  As technology improves and the workplace changes, is it really necessary for every employee to be physically in the office/work site every day? As mentioned earlier, some jobs are not suited to flexible work arrangements. See this as an opportunity for a conversation with staff about how they think a flexible arrangement can be structured to help them and also continue their contribution to the business. You might be pleasantly surprised by the responses you get.

Company Culture is Top News

The woes of Uber are once again in the news, at Board/Director level this time as there are more changes of staff at the most senior levels. This of course is quite “symbolic” as everyone in the company will notice the change of leadership. And will observe closely what if anything changes. Culture is also getting attention at the start up end of the business world from SmartCompany who interviewed (or quote) a range of entrepreneurs on how to get people to work together and create a culture that is productive and effective.

Culture as a piece of HR news has featured previously in these blogs. This week will stick to three key observations:

  1. A company has a culture regardless of how you planned or primed it. The first step is to identify what that culture is, then seek to understand how it was created and then (finally) assess whether it is the culture you desire. The next steps will be to reinforce and strengthen the desirable elements of the culture and seek ways to adjust the aspects that may not be 100% on target
  2. Culture, performance and productivity are all the outcomes of behaviour. Making sure that performance conversations and reviews focus on behaviour is one way of assessing and reinforcing desired business and culture outcomes.
  3. As a business grows, especially when that growth is rapid, it’s essential to keep tabs on behaviour and conduct. Please don’t ever allow results to overshadow poor conduct or actions that are inconsistent with culture. That’s also known as putting a price on values and is one of the fastest ways to disengage your staff.

Interestingly SmartCompany also published an article on the adverse impact of giving too many choices – to customers and staff. It’s long been said that “a confused mind will not buy” meaning that customers want a simple and easy process. Staff productivity and efficiency will also be affected if there are too many decision points in a process or an activity.

Wishing you a productive week and a positive start to the 2017/18 financial year.