Insights to HR News August 7 2017

Broadspring Review of HR News 31 July 2017

Weekly HR Wrap July 24 2017

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.



Weekly HR Wrap – new format

Hello readers!

You’ll notice a new format this week – after a week off line – while I’ve been trying to solve a glitch.  I believe it was related to the format style that I’ve been using so this week it’s back to single column – but hyperlinks work!

When Too Much Is Too Much – change or policy fatigue and it’s risks

Not exactly or specifically HR news but certainly relevant. This article from MyBusiness discusses the cyber and security risks businesses are facing due to “security fatigue”. In other words, people have become tired and bored and “over” hearing about the need for security so each new piece of information and update gets less attention.

The modern day version of the boy who cried wolf. So what does this mean for you and HR?

  1. It’s important to make policy real to people rather than just educating and informing about the content. Use case studies where possible and bring to life the implications and reasons behind your policy
  2. Get employees involved in the process of creating and reviewing policy where you can so they have a direct connection to what is in the policy
  3. Trust your people to do the right ting based on the foundations laid in your policy and values frameworks

Bullying and Stop Bullying Orders – a new case

This week, the Victorian Chamber shared an article about a case where bullying was found to have occurred, or the behaviour was unreasonable, and yet declined to issue a stop bullying order. That must have been a relief to the employer as stop bullying orders can be quite challenging.

What was interesting was the Commissioner comment that their role is not to punish but to take steps necessary to stop bullying. No order was issued as the Commission found that the employer had taken proactive steps to prevent the unreasonable behaviour occurring again.

Why is this newsworthy?

  1. A bullying claim is not the end of your business and Fair Work are not out to punish you if it has occurred. Treat every allegation seriously, investigate impartially and learn from the experience.
  2. Communication skills are more and more essential in managers and staff to ensure that bullying is prevented
  3. Training for all staff on prevention of bullying and your company values is important

Don’t be Casual about Casual workers

HCMag this week wrote about new rights for casuals to request permanent work. AS far as I was aware, this isn’t really a change – there has always been the option for employers to offer ongoing work but this change is adding the right to request for casual employees.

So what?

  1. A right to request does not equal the obligation to agree. Always be aware of what your business really needs in terms of staff
  2. Casual employees need to be considered with equal attention to any other employee in your organisation.
  3. Know your responsibilities in terms of receibing and responding to such rights to request

Have a great week.

When An Employer Ought to Agree to Disagree

Recently several conversations and articles have brought to light just how many agreements are being made to resolve difficult situations.

This post is not about continuing conflict or suggesting that reaching agreement is a bad thing. What it IS about is the quality of those agreements and more importantly what the implications of some agreements are in the short and longer term.

Let’s consider a case where an employee has done the wrong thing (perhaps stealing cash money from the company or bullying other staff or refusing to follow company procedure).  For a wide range of reasons an employer may make the judgement call that it is smoother/easier/faster/better for all involved to negotiate a way for that employee to exit the business.

Why do these agreements get made?

Before you get all upset we all know that paying “go away money” is a fact of business life.  It may not be one that anyone would condone, however commercial reality is clear.  The factors that get considered are:

  • financial costs of taking a matter to court
  • emotional costs on other employees if compelled to give evidence on a matter that they are already distressed about (think about how victims of crime often say they relive it when on the stand giving evidence)
  • emotional and stress costs to staff trying to manage that case during its process while doing their other work
  • how stressful it is for everyone being on “tenterhooks” or walking on eggshells during the time that the matter is being investigated/heard at court
  • making a better off overall assessment between resolving something now and it taking many more months to come to a close

What is the problem with these agreements?

When an agreement is made it is done so in order to be binding and as agreed between the parties involved.

The question is whether employers are always aware of how many stakeholders are actually involved when making an agreement to release an employee.

When two parties make an agreement it may well be binding on them but who else is affected by the agreement? And how?


Let’s get practical

One case from a few years ago involved an employee who stole cash money in the several $000s from his employer.  Lets call the employee “Pat”. Pat was confronted by the employer about the theft, admitted to taking the money and was extremely distressed about the act and claimed to have not wanted to steal the money but to highlight some issues with security of cash handling within the business.   (A concern that was proven to some degree as the money was taken although not so much as the theft was recognised before the cash left the premises). Due to the nature of the situation and a previously good performance record Pat’s employer offered Pat the option to resign rather than the employer pursuing formal charges.

Pat agreed.

So what’s the problem?

Let’s consider another situation

This will be a composite as several such cases have occurred in recent years. Consider a senior employee – whether a manager or a professional/technical specialist – who has a reputation for bullying and intimidating staff. The nature of the workplace is such that staff are “rotated” in to the work area with “Jo” and move on to other areas of the business (or the industry) reasonably quickly. The employer has clear processes and policies to prevent bullying and harassment, however staff are unwilling to make a formal complaint for two key reasons.

Staff are likely to move on from the area as a natural progression fairly quickly and don’t want to be “tied up” in an investigation process while trying to settle in to a new role. Secondly, staff who feel intimidated are often unwilling (or emotionally unable) to face making the matter formal for fear of reprisal and also unwilling to expose themselves to further risk (what happens if their complaint is not proven)

The situation becomes anecdotally known in the business but not a lot can be done without evidence or a complaint.

So now what?

A conversation is held between the employer and employee. These are by no means easy or smooth conversations and can be quite emotional for both parties.

At the end of that conversation an agreement is reached in the belief that it is what is best for both parties. A polite and professional way to end the employment relationship that allows a resolution to the problem and hand and both parties to retain their reputation and dignity.

It doesn’t end there though – let’s look at what often happens next

So the employer and employee are satisfied with their agreed outcome and most people think that’s the end of it. That is far from the case.

  • Other employees and co-workers usually “know” what has been going on and people observe keenly what happens around them.  When employees witness a situation where poor behaviour is over looked, ignored or paid out it can have significant negative effects on your company culture.
  • Those affected (especially in the case of bullying behaviour) are very likely to feel that their worth and value to the company is very low as they watch the person who has made work tough for them. “waltz away” without any consequences for their behaviour
  • Future employers have no way of truly knowing the relevant background of a person they are interviewing or considering for a position. In the case of the theft, this is particularly significant.

Every decision and agreement has a legacy.

There are certainly the immediate considerations that often drive the making of such agreements.

However I implore employers to take a step back and consider the medium term implications for their business in terms of:

  • money paid out in such agreements
  • negative effect on culture
  • employee trust and engagement
  • reputation — the grapevines are often very active

And please consider the longer term effects of such “go away money” agreements on future employers and co-workers of people who have done the wrong thing.

How can an employee be expected to learn and understand that they have done the wrong thing when there are no consequences or repercussions for what they have done? Paying out and agreeing a “polite” exit for an employee will not help them to develop alternate strategies and in fact may in some way condone their behaviour and encourage them to keep doing what they have been doing.

No prospective employer can or should make decisions based on grapevine mutterings or gossip, but it is very hard for them to make evidence based decisions to hire when evidence is obscured by the agree to disagree and part ways politely approach.

Pam Macdonald is a coach and advisor to business and leaders on making effective change and high performance work environments. If you would like to comment on this article or follow up with Pam please feel free to do so by email


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