How flexible is your work place?

I recall a conversation with a young woman recently who wanted the opportunity to work from home one day a week. The only reason was that she travelled for an hour each way to and from work and she wanted to reduce the stress and be more productive with her time. She said that her supervising partner was not very keen on the idea at first but then she convinced him.

When I asked her how she smiled and said ‘I pointed out that most Fridays he left the office at lunch time to drive to the sunshine coast to go windsurfing’. Some might say that is a cheeky response, but she had a good relationship with him, and as she pointed out, she was planning on being available to clients and colleagues on her day at home, rather than in a wet suit on the water.flexibility

It was not that simple of course. While she overcame resistance, she had to make sure that her supervising partner, the other partners, her team members and clients were all going to benefit, or at least not be disadvantaged by the new arrangement, so she agreed to a two month trial period.

After two months her billable hours were better and communication had improved in the team, largely because she took responsibility for making sure everyone was informed of whatever they needed to know, and neither clients nor partners were the slightest bit concerned about her ‘absence’ from the office. In fact her supervising partner is now considering working from home on a Friday, from the sunshine coast, to save time driving!

Does she have a secret? This young woman is a very determined and focussed person and she provided her tips for making it work:

  • never assume the team knows what you are doing
  • over communicate if necessary
  • always prepare for your day away from the office on the day before
  • flexibility is a privilege so it is up to you to show how it can work and work well
  • practice reciprocity – if there are times you are needed to work longer hours or work in the office on your ‘at home’ day, then do it
  • put yourself in the shoes of your colleagues – what would you need to make it work?
  • Express gratitude to those assisting you, and often
  • communicate about problems and be open to many views

This is a good example of flexibility in action and how good communication can overcome even the toughest barriers. Do you have any advice for making flexible work, work?

Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

Australia is a multicultural society. Almost half of our population was born overseas or has a parent who was born overseas. One in five of us speak a non-English language at home. It’s important that this rich cultural diversity of our everyday lives be reflected in our workplace.cultural diversity

What does cultural diversity in our workplace mean? Workplace diversity means creating an inclusive environment that accepts each individual’s differences, embraces their strengths and provides opportunities for all employees to achieve their full potential. The importance of cultural diversity in the workplace cannot be stressed enough. Valuing the differences of each employee allows them to contribute their own unique experiences to the workplace.  This can impact positively on both the environment and relationships within the workplace as well as externally e.g. relationships with customers and clients.

In Australia it is unlawful to discriminate an employee (or a prospective employee) in the workplace because of a protected attribute. Protected attributes include race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, pregnancy, religion and social origin. Therefore, for example, you cannot fire an employee because of their sexual preference.

Diversity in the workplace should be seen as a valuable resource for an organization, not simply because the law prescribes certain obligations. A company known for its ethics, transparent recruitment and employment practices and appreciation for diverse talent will always attract a wider pool of qualified candidates. Moreover, a company that actively engages in cultural diversity will be rewarded with loyalty from clients who prefer to do business only with companies that are socially responsible. A culturally diverse workplace will enable you to broaden your client base and in the long term increase your profitability. Cultural diversity will also lead to the retention of valuable staff and maintain high staff morale. Undoubtedly, costs associated with high staff turnover will be reduced.

Below are some tips for employers in creating a culturally diverse workplace:

  • Discuss diversity with your employees, highlighting the benefits of having a diverse and inclusive workplace;
  • Ensure flexible work options are available to all employees, including parental leave policies for both men and women;
  • Be aware of different cultural practices and special needs of employees and make workplace adjustments;
  • Identify and address any unconscious bias in the recruitment of potential employee.
  • Value individual skills that employees bring, including language skills and international experience.
  • Take steps to address and prevent discrimination and harassment in your workplace.

By law, employers are responsible for their employee’s physical and psychological health and well-being and should encourage tolerance and respect for cultural differences in the workplace.

MENTAL HEALTH: A Big Issue in our Workplace

The incidence of mental illness in our community as well as in our workplace is increasing. Mental illness is more prevalent than many people realise. Around 25% of Australians aged between 16 and 85 will experience a mental illness at some point in their life. The most common mental illnesses are depression and anxiety disorders. Unfortunately, more than half of these people with mental illness do not access medical treatment.Mental-Illness

An employee may develop a mental illness prior to employment or during employment. Most employees successfully manage their illness without it impacting on their work. However, others may require workplace support for a short period of time, while a few will require ongoing workplace strategies.

All employers have legal obligations in relation to the management of mental illness in the workplace. The law requires that a workplace is safe and healthy for all workers and does not cause ill health or exacerbate existing mental conditions. Additionally, anti-discrimination laws require an employer not to discriminate against or harass workers with mental illness. Employers are also required to make reasonable adjustments to meet the needs of workers with a mental illness, just as they would in relation to an employee who has a back injury.

A common presumption is that an employee’s mental illness develops outside of the workplace. However, an ‘unhealthy’ work environment or a workplace incident can exacerbate an employee’s mental illness. Unfortunately, in some cases the workplace is the cause of the employee’s mental illness.

Stress-related workers’ compensation claims have doubled in recent years and Australian businesses are losing millions of dollars each year by failing to provide early intervention/treatment for employees with mental health conditions. Additionally, a healthy and safe workplace minimises stress levels, improves moral and achieves greater staff loyalty. Therefore, it goes without saying that is imperative that employers are aware of mental health issues in its workplace and are taking steps to ensure strategies are in place so people can seek help.

One way for an employer to help employees with mental health issues is to ensure they can work under flexible arrangements, so that they can spend time with their families, attend healthcare appointments and allow employees to make up the time later. Other ways employers can help their employees is by:

  • encouraging employees to seek professional help by developing a culture of respect for diversity;
  • ensuring staff are aware of employee assistance programs, encouraging staff to maintain a balance between physical, mental and social wellbeing;
  • being quick to act on discrimination and bullying; and
  • conducting sessions in mental health awareness and stress management.

Today’s workforce is a diverse one and even employees with mental illnesses have abilities and skills which will benefit an organization. The cost of ignoring mental health issues is far greater than the cost of developing and implementing strategies to create a safe and healthy workplace. Providing a healthy and safe workplace benefits all employees and simply makes good business sense.

Perspectives of a new employee

“To feel valued, to know, even if only once in a while, that you can do a job well is an absolutely marvelous feeling.” – Barbara Walters

Recently we had a new candidate come to us  ready to start looking for a new job.  She was unhappy with her current employer, we found her a new job quickly and months later she is very happy with her new employer.  It has nothing to do with the work she was, and is now, doing.  Let’s call her Sarah.

For Sarah, the reasons are simple:

Before she started – Employer 1 had not organised to finalise her employment  documents and she was not paid for over a month after she started.  Employer 2 had all documents sent to her, with clear instructions on completion, with plenty of time for her to return them before she started.

On her first day – Employer 1 had made no arrangements for Sarah to start. When she arrived, the receptionist did not know a new employee was starting that day.  She was taken to her desk which was not clean, to find that her new boss was not in that day, and no one knew what to do with her.  She sat at her desk alone that first day.  Employer 2 is a small organisation but had a short orientation planned including a buddy to show her around and answer any questions she had about the organisation and systems.  She was also given a small stationery pack with the basics she would need – writing pad, pens, post it notes, stapler etc.

For the first few months – Sarah enjoyed her work with Employer 1 but felt lonely.  Her boss barely spoke to her other than to give her work to do.  She never knew if she was doing a good job or not.  Her probation period came and went with no acknowledgment.  She didn’t receive any feedback.  The other people were nice enough – she just never felt like she belonged.  Her current employer arranged a fortnightly meeting just 5-10 minutes long, every two weeks to check up on how she was going and give her feedback, which was usually positive and always constructive.  She was also asked for feedback by her boss.  Her probation was marked with a letter given to her by her boss with a cake for morning tea to share with others in the office.

For all the similarities in work, salary, and location, these experiences were like chalk and cheese.

And the reason is that she was made to feel valued by her new employer.  The things that made her feel valued cost no more than a bit of time and a cake.  Who couldn’t afford that, for the sake of an engaged and loyal employee?

Expressing Gratitude is one of the easiest ways to retain staff

“Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.” ~ Randy Pausch

Gratitude, and showing it, is so important in the workplace. Especially in times where salary increases may not be possible or not as high as staff might be expecting.

Research also shows that while gratitude is good for the recipient, over time it also impacts the wellbeing of the person expressing it.

Here are a few simple ways to show the people with whom you work how much you appreciate them:

  1. Say thank you. Look them in the eye and say thank you. Even for the smallest of things. And be specific.
  2. Pass on positive feedback given by someone else
  3. Leave a surprise post it note on their desk or computer.
  4. For a team thank you, organise a cake for morning tea one day.
  5. Make someone a tea or coffee without asking them.
  6. Tell someone else, in your staff member’s hearing, what a great job they did.
  7. Start an ABCD club — awards (monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, whatever works for you) for staff who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
  8. Start a seasonal tradition and have a small celebration. Or a big one.
  9. Celebrate big wins or good jobs for clients and customers with the whole team and make a big deal about the fact that it is a thank you to the team effort not celebrating the fee or profit.
  10. If someone has been working longer than normal hours, surprise them with an ‘early leave pass’ to leave early one day.
  11. Start a tradition for those with children starting school for the first time that they can either have the day off or work reduced hours that day.
  12. Remember important life events or anniversaries – it shows you care

These are just a few simple ideas to help make your staff feel valued, appreciated, and most importantly, engaged. But the possibilities are endless! And most importantly, gratitude is contagious.

How do you build a great workplace culture?

The health of the workplace culture and the impact it has on behaviour at both individual and organisational levels is not always understood.

Understanding differences in belief systems, attitudes, perceptions and motivations of your workforce is a key starting point in implementing a positive workplace culture.

In all businesses the purpose of developing a positive and inclusive culture should always be to grow a better business. Aligning the profitability of the business with this purpose reinforces a business culture where people are treated with dignity and respect.

Happy structured workplaces are invariably more productive, so putting effort into developing a culture that supports staff to enjoy their work and feel an important part of the business success is a good business decision.

Finding the balance

The challenge for many business owners is balancing the financial need to make hard business decisions with the humanitarian need to treat staff with respect.

Sometimes the stress and strain of keeping your business viable comes into conflict with the desire to deal respectfully with the human foibles within every workplace.

So what does a positive workplace culture look like?

Like everything else in business, it can be very simple, so we have broken it down into four steps.

1. Have a forum for people to say what they need, whenever they need to and to whomever, without fear or favour.

2. Listen with your heart as well as your ears. This way you will hear not only the words being said but also to the underlying request, which might just be the need to get something out in the open.

3. Be completely open, non-judgemental and honest in dealing with issues and to respond accordingly.

4. Recognise effort, give praise and credit accordingly and reward appropriately.

Ultimately businesses have to be profitable to pass on the benefits to clients, staff and shareholders. Dealing with workplace issues in a structured, respectful and truthful way allows us to focus clearly on business outcomes, rather than workplace distractions.

What value do you place on understanding and working with the underlying culture in your workplace?

4 signs that your staff may be thinking of quitting.

It’s easy to get complacent with good staff and not make an effort to ensure they continue to be happy working in your firm. Staff quitting can be very disruptive to any business, no matter how big or small. No two people are alike when you ask them what makes them happy at work, but there are signs that could indicate a staff member may be thinking of moving on. Read more