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Category Archives: HR’s role in the organisation

05 March 2009 8:44am

The Federal Government has urged employers to consider 20 “simple and inexpensive” family friendly initiatives, in launching its new flexibility funding program.

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), notes that family-friendly work arrangements do not need to be “prescriptive and difficult” in order to succeed.

It outlines, on its website, 20 simple family-friendly ideas that employers can introduce at “little or no cost”.

These include:
1/ scheduling meetings within normal working hours;
2/ negotiating start and finish times and allowing staff a say in rostering arrangements;
3/ allowing staff to make up hours if they need to attend an appointment;
4/ discouraging weekend work and staying back late, except in exceptional circumstances;
5/ broadening the definition of ‘family’ (to include more distant relatives) for the purposes of bereavement leave;
6/ holding a ‘bring your child to work’ day or family picnic day;
7/ allowing leave without pay for cultural purposes;
8/ introducing a policy for breastfeeding employees; and
9/ introducing a keep-in-touch plan for staff on maternity leave.
Employers, DEEWR says, will benefit from such strategies through improved efficiency, increased staff retention and attraction, better OHS outcomes and, possibly, national recognition as employers of choice.

Employees can expect an increase in job satisfaction, improved health and wellbeing and a more equitable work/life balance.

$15K grants for small employers
Small business employers can now apply for grants of between $5,000 and $15,000 for implementing family-friendly policies under the Government’s new funding scheme.

Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard this week launched the Fresh Ideas for Work and Family grants program, aimed at funding and encouraging businesses with fewer than 15 workers to provide flexibility and offer employees a better work/life balance.

The initiative fulfils a 2007 Labor election promise, and eligible employers are invited to apply for the first round of grants – ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 – by 24 April 2009.

Successful applications, Gillard says, will be those that propose strategies that “benefit both the employer and employees, demonstrate long-term sustainable outcomes for the business and have the potential for wider application to other businesses”.

Initiatives should allow workers to strike a balance between their work, family, cultural activities and social life, and could include:
1/ constructing rosters based on alternative “core” hours to cater, for instance, for parents with school-aged children;
2/ providing facilities such as “family rooms” for employees with young children;
3/ establishing part-time work or job-sharing opportunities; and
4/ establishing a workplace mentoring system.

Flexibility advocate applauds new grants
The Fresh Ideas for Work and Family grants program is “a welcome injection of funds” for the development of a widespread culture of workplace flexibility, according to Liana Gorman of flexible recruitment consultants, Part Time Online.

Employers, Gorman says, can use the grants to develop policies around unpaid leave, part-time or job-share options (as opposed to lay-offs) and other flexibility strategies.

But it’s not just about the money, she notes.

Small business operators will be provided with streams of information and the implementation of their policies will be closely monitored and reviewed. (An employer will not receive the grant in its entirety until policies are firmly entrenched.)

The Government initiative has come at a time when many companies are “putting the brakes” on a variety of so-called non-core strategies, Gorman says, and the scheme should discourage employers from rashly shelving such initiatives in response to the economic crisis.

An employee’s need for flexibility hasn’t changed, she warns, and employers risk permanently damaging their brand if they forget to treat their workers with empathy and understanding.

Employers need to look beyond the next 12 months, she says.

Gorman notes that many larger organisations could also use some help in developing a flexible workplace – with the culture of flexibility taking a while to “permeate” the Australian working culture – but that the current scheme is “a good start”.

03 March 2009 6:36am

Attracting great consultants might not be forefront in recruitment executives’ minds right now, but those who fail to manage their employer brand during the downturn will struggle to attract good staff when it ends, says employer brand strategist Brett Minchington.

Minchington, who chairs the Employer Brand Institute, notes that in the broader market, companies once seen as the ‘poster child’ of their industry have made massive lay-offs and are now “off the list of talent looking to switch jobs or graduates looking to enter the job market for the first time.

” With the recruitment industry one of the first to be impacted by the downturn, companies without a “game plan” to react quickly have been hit hard, he says. “How you manage your employer brand during the downturn will not only impact on current and future sales, it will determine your attractiveness as an employer when the economy starts to grow again.

“We have recently witnessed consumer boycotts of products of companies that have announced massive lay-offs. This is a good example of the link between your employer brand and your corporate and consumer brands.”

To manage your employer brand through the downturn, Minchington recommends that you:

Ensure open communication across the lines. This will help to squash rumours in their tracks before they spread and be perceived as fact;

Continue to undertake staff research to ensure you have a good handle on how employees perceive their employment experience;

Treat people with empathy and respect, and communicate honestly if layoffs are necessary.

Provide every opportunity to ensure employees are ‘fit’ to move to another role outside the organisation – treat them like family!

Stay in touch with them, as you might wish to re-hire them down the track;

Undertake an audit of your employer brand to develop your strategy so that in 12 to 18 months you are best positioned for when the economy improves;

Invest in building capabilities in your employees through integrated learning and development programs;

Encourage coaching and mentoring programs to keep your leaders close to their people and enhance engagement;

Audit your existing materials, channels, themes and messages to check these are best-fit for the next 12 to 18 months, and ensure your internal and external communication strategy is relevant;

Continue to celebrate individual and team success. A simple “thank you”, or “well done” can be much more powerful than a movie ticket! Use the time to get good stories about your employment practices out into the media; and

Most of all, stay focused on the tasks at hand, keep an open mind to what’s reported in the media about the crisis and let your staff feel confident their leadership team have a well-thought-out strategy for managing the company through the next 12 to 18 months.

Minchington is chairing the upcoming 2009 Australian Employer Branding Summits in Melbourne and Sydney.

02 March 2009 8:19am


HR must make the shift from transactional to transformational – driving change within a business instead of just aligning with it – if it wants “a seat at the table”, says the head of global HR consulting at Kelly Services.

Presenting a webinar last week on the challenges facing HR during the current downturn, Lance J Richards urged HR practitioners to embrace some “absolute imperatives” that will help them position their companies for success – now and when the market turns back up.

Even in a time of large-scale job cuts and “disappearing companies”, he says, “the issue of human resources and the issue of talent management is still with us, very much… So for the first time since HR came into existence in the 1940s, we are top of mind”.

All part of a cycle

Richards says the first imperative for HR is to remember that the current market is “just part of a cycle”.

“Economies run in cycles – that has not changed. We have to remember there is a longer-term view. Yes, we have some issues here today, but on a long-term view we still have the issues coming ahead of us.”

The war for talent, he says “has already ended. Talent has won. We are all on the back foot and we will continue to be.”

HR can’t affect the “flatlining” birth rates that are the underlying cause of the global talent shortage, but it has an obligation to understand that the “oops point” – when “the economy is back, business is growing, but the availability of talent is going to drop” – is coming. “We have to understand longer term exactly what this is going to do to us.”

Migrate from transactional to transformational

“We’ve got to look at what we do within our businesses. We have to continue making the migration from HR being transactional to being transformational.”

HR has been focused on trying to be aligned with the business, he says, but “alignment is no longer sufficient. We have an obligation to be not just aligned but interwoven – truly a part of the business”.

“This requires us to look at HR as a completely new platform.”

HR often complains that it doesn’t have “a seat at the table”, he says, but “asking for a seat at the table isn’t going to work. We have got to be involved in designing the table, building the table, and only when we’ve done that will we be welcome at this brand new table and accepted there”.

HR practitioners must understand business and business strategy – what drives the business – as well as they know HR, he says. But for most practitioners, “all we know is HR”.

Ride the dragon

“Change is like a dragon. You can ignore it, which is futile; you can fight it, but you will lose; or you can ride it.”

HR has an obligation “to understand what that means and come in and ‘ride the dragon'”.

For example, he says, HR must understand the changes that Millennials – or Generation Y – are bringing into the workforce.

“They are bringing into the workplace a significant shift. They’re not focused on being with your company for ever and ever, and not necessarily interested in climbing the corporate ladder. These folks are very focused on what they consider to be an engaging workplace. Their demands are not about wanting to be CEO… they are focused on their life. And the challenge we’ve got here… is to provide them with work/life balance. They enter our workforce expecting it.”

Too many companies are still focused on maintaining a nine-to-five culture, “and that becomes a problem with Millennials as they’re coming in. They are not going to tolerate those kind of requirements”.

As well, he says, HR must embrace the “amazing things going on [with technology]”. It has an obligation to “have and build enablers that allow employees to get work done more efficiently”. iPods, for example, can be used for training, and Skype for video calls.

“If we allow workplaces to fall behind, then the talent we need are going to find somewhere else to go.”

Remember Darwin

Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest – “those that fail to adapt, fail” – applies to HR, Richards says.

“Being good at HR is absolutely necessary, but no longer sufficient.”

Research shows that CEOs believe HR lacks business acumen, and line managers think HR lacks the capacity to develop talent strategies aligned with business objectives, he says. Management also believes that HR isn’t held accountable for the failure of talent initiatives. “That’s a problem. That is a frightening indictment when line managers are telling us these things.”

HR must move away from traditional measures of success – such as cost per hire, mean time to fill etc – and focus on “world class quality”.

“I rarely get clients tell me that their number one concern is ‘how cheap can I do something’ or ‘how fast can I do something’. What our clients are telling us today is they’re essentially focused on quality. They will put up with higher costs, they will understand longer time periods to deliver results, but they will not sacrifice for quality because that is what makes the difference now. And that’s the piece that a lot of HR professionals have not gotten their arms around.”

Take care of employees, including the ones who are leaving

Although employers might currently be releasing employees, says Richards, they must remember that “we’re coming rapidly to the ‘oops point’. The economy will turn up, we know that’s going to happen, and we need to keep that forefront of our minds. We will need our employees – we will need them badly.”

He urges HR to remember “who your former employee may be”, because they might be a vendor to the company; a customer; a competitor; a blogger; an ambassador; or a critic.

The person you’re trying to hire tomorrow, he says, might ask them what they thought about working for you. “What is the answer going to be when your former employee gets that phone call?”


Melbourne, Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Eighty seven per cent of CEOs and top level executives believe their companies will survive the global financial crisis according to a survey released today by the Australian Institute of Management.

The vast majority of the 528 business leaders surveyed also remain positive about the capabilities of their companies and future prospects.

Most of the people involved in the survey said the Australian economy was well placed to withstand the full impact of the international crisis.

Despite this confidence, 20 per cent of respondents said their companies were looking at downsizing and retrenchments.

Skilled employees were the ones most likely to avoid retrenchment according to the survey. The ‘retention of skilled employees’ was listed as the number one priority by respondents in answer to the question: ‘How do you intend to best position your business during the downturn?’

The CEO of the Australian Institute of Management VT in Melbourne, Ms Susan Heron said the confidence of business leaders in the future of their companies and in the relative strength of the Australian economy were “welcome findings” from the survey.

“Companies need to have the confidence to invest in their business and recognise that skilled, well trained people ‘drive’ performance,” Ms Heron said.

Eighty one per cent of participants said investment in the development and retention of employees now will benefit their companies in the ‘medium term future’. Another positive indicator for employees was that 33 per cent of those surveyed said their companies would be increasing expenditure on professional development and training over the next 12 months.

The survey was conducted by the Australian Institute of Management during December and January and respondents were drawn from small to large sized organisations across the spectrum of Australian industry.

Just 11 per cent of survey participants said their companies had not been impacted by the economic downturn. Almost a quarter (23 %) of respondents said their company had been ‘significantly’ affected by the crisis. Fifty five per cent of those surveyed said their companies had suffered a loss in revenue since the downturn began.

“It is important that companies retain their key employees and exploit the opportunities presented by the downturn to recruit people with much sought after skills and experience who can fill ‘capability gaps’ in the workforce,” Ms Heron said.

“Talented ‘Gen Y’ managers, who can be groomed for long term executive roles in a company, will be prize recruits.

“Many Baby Boomers have had to postpone their retirement plans because of the downturn and the negative impact on superannuation investments. The one upside to this is that Australia’s skills crisis will be eased by boomers staying in the workforce longer.

“Downturns are an opportunity for companies to build market share and I am very encouraged that 71 per cent of survey respondents said they recognised this reality.

“To sustain a business and build market share, companies will need to have in place access to the necessary finance.

“Companies will need to look at what is their core business, look at revenue projections, working capital levels and recognise that ‘cash is king’.”


-59 per cent of respondents believe Australia’s ageing workforce means there will be a long term shortage of skilled, well trained employees

-38 per cent said their companies had suffered a reduction in orders

-33 per cent reported a decline in request for quotations

-19 per cent said there had been an increase in bad debts

-65 per cent indicated that managing cash flow was now ‘more important’.

-25 per cent said access to funding had become ‘more important’.

The Australian Institute of Management is the nation’s major provider of management development, executive insight and research. It is an independent, not for profit organisation with more than 28,000 professional members and more than 5,000 corporate partners across Australia. The Institute is a federated organisation with each state managing its own operations.

An executive is someone who manages at a senior level of a major company or government department and earns more than $100,000 a year.

A psychopath is someone with an anti-social personality who has no compunction or guilt in trampling over, or even being violent towards, others to achieve his goals.

And “his” is correct because men make up the overwhelming majority of psychopaths, although there is an increasing number of women.

Men also make up the majority of executives in Australia.

No one really knows how many executive psychopaths there are, but a Canadian academic, Robert Hare, has estimated that one in 100 people in the American workforce is a psychopath.

Psychopaths act out their anti-social impulses at all levels of the workforce and typically seek authority positions to give them power over other employees.

Thus the attraction of becoming executives and gaining control of staff. With executive power, the psychopath can hide behind a mask of legitimacy to hollow-out selected fellow employees.

But they don’t just exist at the top of the tree. Psychopaths can also be ambitious staff who go to pathological ends to unseat in-power executives and take their positions.


University of Sydney psychotherapist John Clarke has made a life-long study of psychopaths in the workforce and is the author of two books on the subject – Working with Monsters and The Pocket Psycho.

He says workplace psychopaths commonly intimidate fellow workers, sometimes behave impulsively, always lack remorse and often are glib and superficially charming.

“About half the people in any workplace won’t be affected.

“If anything, they will think they are good guys because psychopaths go out of their way to cultivate people who they can use,” Dr Clarke says.

“It’s from the other half of the workforce the psychopath selects victims to wage war on. The weapons of war include bullying, putting down, humiliating in front of others, stealing credit for work done by others and spreading false rumours about other people.

“They will tear people apart to get where they want to be,” he says.

Dr Clarke says the influence of psychopaths already in private and public sector executive positions or trying to attain them is way out of proportion to their likely numbers.

“They are attracted to corporations and organisations because they can get power over others and are actually rewarded for their behaviour.

“Companies attract psychopaths without even knowing when they place job advertisements asking for someone to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

“These psychopaths … have no compunction, no pity. They will level people to the ground without feeling. That is what they enjoy,” he says.

Dr Clarke says there are two types of psychopaths who hold down executive positions.

The first is one who has been identified and finds it increasingly difficult to stay on in their job.

“Once their behaviour is discovered and understood, they move off to another job in another organisation (where) … they very quickly resume their behaviour.

“The second type is virtually unstoppable. They are the people who have so much power in an organisation they can’t be touched.

“These people are usually in positions where they can actually head off or successfully counter any attempts to get rid of them.They hang on like grim death and leave their positions when they want to.”

Dr Clarke says it is immensely difficult weeding out executive psychopaths.

He says management and staff have to be educated about the psychopath’s behaviour and develop a united stand so people are less likely to become victims. Psychopaths find it difficult to operate against this sort of united stand, he says.

“Then the employer has to form a corporate strategy to modify this behaviour or get rid of them.

“And the higher the level the psychopath has obtained in the organisation then the more difficult it is forming such a strategy.

“But rehabilitation almost never works. All it does is give them new social skills to manipulate their victims,” he says.

And what about the executive psychopaths’ victims?

Psychologist Don Jeffreys who treats victims of workplace psychopaths, says depression, anxiety, stress and isolation are common symptoms.

“The victims are commonly angry and puzzled about why they have been singled out by the psychopath,” Professor Jeffreys says.

“Concern about their mistreatment at work can take over their entire lives and they often feel trapped with nowhere to go.

“If the situation cannot be relieved at work, the victim should leave their job as soon as he/she can. To stay under continual threat of psychopathic behaviour from senior staff or even work colleagues is untenable,” he says.

What staff should do:

  • Do not try to negotiate – there is little point and it can offer your persecutor new angles for attack.
  • Educate yourself about the behaviour of psychopaths and discreetly find out if fellow workers are suffering similar behaviour.
  • Carefully document everything that they do to you and approach your HR department. Expect it to be extremely difficult to prove.
  • Inform family and friends – they become your support base and they will be affected by your gradual psychological disintegration, which could include anxiety and depression.
  • Consider changing jobs as quickly as possible if no action is taken against the psychopath. Leave no matter how unfair you think that may be.

What organisations should do:

  • Organisations should make themselves familiar with workplace psychopaths’ behaviour.
  • After a complaint is received they should get an evaluation from people working above or below them.
  • If the evaluations are generally negative and in line with a victim’s complaint, get expert advice to see whether behaviour modification would be worth trying.
  • If not the psychopath should be dismissed.

 18 February 2009 8:28am

Successfully linking an HR strategy to the company’s bottom line hinges on managers “getting the basics right”, and understanding that much of what makes a business run well “is a lot more mundane than grand theories”, according to Barclays PLC’s HR director, Cathy Turner.

“There’s a great deal of science underpinning HR practice, but sometimes that science becomes an end in its own right rather than a means to an end,” says Turner in the recent strategy + business reader, Capturing the People Advantage. Much of the “science”, she says, seems to be rich in content. However, there is often a disconnect between the theories within the science and viable strategies that will benefit the company.

The theories, she says, are usually “platitudinous aspirations with no solid foundation”. “If you [operate] at the theoretical level only, you often build a bureaucracy, usually owned by HR, that is quite divorced from what internal clients are telling HR they need if they are to serve customers brilliantly,” Turner says. “A major risk in HR is that we become seduced by the theory alone and forget that the primary reason the company employs us is to enable business leaders to run their businesses better.”

HR managers must adhere to the “fundamental law of business”, she says. That is, providing a “service of demonstrable value to customers if you expect them to continue to do business with you”. To do this, she says, HR departments must assemble teams with: intellect – “There is a wide misconception that HR is just common sense and anybody can do it,” Turner says. “But HR is very technical, so you need good mental acuity to excel in this field.”

Barclays PLC recruits HR staff with measurable skills in employment law, talent management or recruitment. “The technically minded can contribute something real to the business and can communicate effectively with our senior managers,” she says. “If they are going to be truly credible, our HR people need to develop a commanding knowledge of the overall business, the customer base, and the products”; relationship management capability – much of what HR does involves serving others within the business, and “great service means instinctively and constantly asking, ‘How can I help you?’ and following up with strong service delivery”. “You need to interpret the human dynamics within the organisation and be sensitive to what is affecting people, always thinking what you could do to help and protect them”; high standards – HR must always be looking to improve and develop talent with the same alacrity as other segments within the business. “This means not accepting second best and always seeking to raise the standard of our work.”

Executives in the senior leadership group should also be held to account. “[Barclays PLC is] committed to realising a performance culture, which means that continuous superior performance is required year after year,” Turner says. “Individuals are under constant assessment. This is not a cosy club, and there is zero tolerance for anything other than meeting our standard”; a talent-capture policy – “HR needs to be ready to move quickly to capture talent when it becomes available from market dislocations or competitor underperformance”; and risk management skills – “When I consider the diverse aspects of the HR arena… and the extent to which our core activities of hiring and motivating employees are impacted by external regulations and internal controls, it becomes clear very quickly that managing risk and being in control is at the heart of HR,” Turner says.

“There is always money to get”: HR expert 

Print Article13 February 2009 8:47am 

HR credibility is at “rock bottom”, and it’s up to HR managers to stand up and fight for recognition and funding, and to prove to executives that human resources is more than “hiring, firing and keeping us safe”, according to Upper Edge Learning’s head of strategic design, Milo-Arne Peady.

“HR managers have to drive the change,” Peady says.

Speaking at a breakfast forum in Sydney yesterday – with fellow panellists James Adonis of Team Leaders, and Yvette Gent of love* Recruitment – Peady said that HR leaders have to be “ready for battle”, and approach every boardroom meeting with a sales pitch.

“There’s always money to get,” she says, even in an economic crisis.

The crucial thing is to take the “fluffiness” out of HR.

HR managers, she says, need to change the “fluffy” culture through communication. They have to develop strategies and competency frameworks and communicate them to executives in the financial language they understand.

They must prove to executives that training programs, for instance, are more than just spending money. They’re about “the return on spending money”. The credibility of HR hinges on demonstrating return on investment, she says.

Cash-strapped creativity

Gent agrees with Peady, saying: “Stand up and fight and get your team close and rocking.”

She notes, however, that a current shortage of cash is a reality for many employers, and that HR managers need to be inventive in their efforts to improve staff morale and performance.

“You don’t have to have money to communicate and be creative,” she says.

At love* Recruitment, Gent says, managers regularly conduct “walk and talk” sessions in informal settings such as the Botanical Gardens, in which employees are encouraged to express their concerns. People are more willing to talk outside of the work environment, she says.

Employee feedback from the sessions is collated with the results of more formal and thorough questionnaires and communicated back to the company.

Employees feel that they are part of the decision-making process, she says, and employers, as a result, can expect to see a lift in morale and performance and the retention of “Grade A” workers.

Retention key

Retaining high performers is key to surviving the economic downturn and maintaining a company’s reputation and brand status, according to Adonis.

Firing workers when times are tough should always be the last resort, he says.

“How we treat employees now is how remaining employees will treat us a year from now.”

HR managers should explore all avenues and attempt to fix problems through training and development before letting high performers go, he says.

Peady agrees: “The world you’re in right now is not the world you’ll be in tomorrow.”

Reducing staff numbers is the obvious response to an economic downturn, she says, but there are often more prudent options.

The panellists suggest:

  • reducing weekly hours in consultation with employees. Managers could, for example, request certain employees to work four days a week instead of five;
  • offering employees the opportunity to take unpaid leave for study or travel, or to cut back workers’ hours to allow them to undertake part-time study;
  • reducing graduate recruit numbers instead of hastily slashing graduate programs altogether;
  • offering trainer training courses to cut back on long-term outsourced-education costs; and
  • communicating with and looking to staff and colleagues for solutions.”Solutions don’t have to come from leaders,” Peady says.