Sexual Harassment - There’s No Place for It

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We’re all of the opinion that a work environment free of discrimination and harassment is the ideal scenario, right?

We agree. And the principles of Equal Employment Opportunity now in place in any business operating with best practice in mind, are designed to underpin all your business and workplace decisions in this area. 

When it comes to managing allegations of sexual harassment, employers must stand to attention pretty quickly. Investigating an allegation is mandatory, regardless of whether you think the claim has veracity or not.  Employees count on you to get this right - and so does the law, so having a zero tolerance for any kind of sexual harassment is most certainly best practice - and the way to go.

Here are two cases of sexual harassment held before the Commission, with learning points relevant for many workplaces.

EXTRACTS FROM AUSTRALIAN HUMAN RIGHTS AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION (HREOC)

 

1. THE CHRISTMAS PARTY

Two months after Amy began employment as a short-term contract delivery person, she attended the staff Christmas party at a local hotel. Amy alleged that on arriving at the hotel with her sister, a group of about ten male co-workers wolf-whistled and made sexual remarks about them. Shortly afterwards a co-worker, Evan, walked over to the table where Amy and her sister were seated with their drinks. He started to dance and lifted his T-shirt, exposing his stomach and chest. He then allegedly proceeded to loosen his pants and turned around and bent over, exposing his bare backside directly in front of Amy and her sister.

Later in the evening, while Amy was playing pool with another co-worker, Evan allegedly approached Amy from behind and pulled down her top, exposing her right breast. She claims she hit Evan over the head with her pool cue because she was frightened and embarrassed. After this incident Mark, another co-worker, approached Amy and tried to wrench the pool cue from Amy’s hand. Amy claims she was further intimidated by Evan, because he was sitting across the room, staring at her.

Amy complained to her manager the following work day about these incidents, and her employer conducted an investigation into the complaint. Her allegations were substantiated. Evan was transferred to another work-site, while Mark was reprimanded. After making her complaint, Amy alleged that her co-workers treated her coldly and her contract was not renewed. Amy lodged a complaint with the HREOC seeking financial compensation and the introduction of a more transparent sexual harassment complaint and discipline procedure. Amy’s employer settled her complaint privately for an undisclosed amount, prior to going to a conciliation conference.

 

2. OLD SCHOOL BEHAVIOUR IS NO EXCUSE 

Tracey began working for a telecommunications company through an employment agency as an administrative officer. A co-worker, Sam, allegedly started to make innuendos and comments of a sexual nature including “I know what you need”, and “Are you wearing a G-string?” Tracey also claimed that Sam stared at her breasts, tried to hold her hand when he was passing her something, and invited Tracey to sit on his lap.

After almost twelve months of this behaviour from Sam, Tracey stated that she was suffering from stress headaches and hated going to work. She complained to the manager who responded by allegedly saying that Sam was “from the old school and doesn’t know any better” and to wait a few days or a week and see what happened. No action was taken by the telecommunications company.  Tracey lodged a complaint with the HREOC alleging sexual harassment against Sam and the telecommunications company. Prior to a conciliation conference, the parties decided to negotiate settlement privately. The terms of the final settlement remain undisclosed.

Acts of sexual harassment can play-out at any time, and can occur during office hours or at other premises - including Friday afternoon drinks at the pub.  Whether an allegation arises as gossip or a direct complaint, there’s a legal obligation to investigate and take the matter seriously.  

 

REASONABLE STEPS

But that’s not all. Additionally, employers have a legal responsibility to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment from happening in the first place.

‘Reasonable steps’ may vary, depending on the size of your organisation. At the very least, they include  implemented policies which create a discrimination-free environment. The next step we’d encourage is documented procedures - outlining specific steps to take in the event of an allegation – as well as specific training for employees on acceptable workplace conduct. 

Leaving no stone unturned, here’s a brief list of examples from the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission on what constitutes sexual harassment:

  • Staring, leering or unwelcome touching
  • Suggestive comments or jokes
  • Sexually explicit pictures or posters
  • Unwanted invitations to go out on dates or requests for sex
  • Intrusive questions about a person's private life or body
  • Unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against a person
  • Emailing pornography or rude jokes
  • Displaying posters, magazines or computer screen savers of a sexual nature
  • Communicating content of a sexual nature via social media, such as sending sexually explicit text messages.

We hope none of these examples ring true in your workplace. But if they do, it’s time to step up and get compliant!

 

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One Quick Way to Kill Productivity - Hire the Wrong Recruit

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What takes forever but can kill your productivity overnight? Hiring the wrong recruit. 

It sounds like a bad joke, doesn’t it? But those who’ve experienced the results of bringing the wrong person into the fold, know that it’s anything but! 

There can be a number of reasons why an employee is not a good fit for a company.  It could be due to a poor skill set that was misjudged at interview stage, or a personality clash. Perhaps they turn out to have a lack of drive or ambition and act like a wet blanket on your goals and your team. Good recruitment, even when outsourced to experts, isn’t fail-safe, despite our best efforts and intentions. 

The best recruitment takes time and careful planning. If you’re lucky enough to have struck gold and there’s a pool of good candidates to choose from, you’re smart to do the job well, and carefully. When things go wrong and the appointment turns out badly, it’s not just a disappointment, it’s a waste of time and effort. Plus, it can have a ripple effect through your workplace and affect productivity and morale - the backbone of a good business.  

This is something it pays to get right. 

In a study released by global employment firm Robert Half, in which two thousand chief financial officers were interviewed, 95% percent of respondents said a poor recruitment decision impacts the morale of the team.


Greg Scileppi, the President of International Recruitment at Robert Half confirms this. “Hiring a bad fit or someone who lacks the skills needed to perform well has the potential to leave good employees with the burden of damage control, whether it be extra work or redoing work that wasn’t completed correctly the first time,” he says. “The added pressure on top performers could put employers at risk of losing them, too.

Other findings from the survey included:

  • Supervisors spend on average 17 percent of their time managing poorly performing employees.
  • Sixty percent of recruitment managers report that bad recruits don’t get along with co-workers.
  • Forty-one percent of recruitment managers estimate the cost of a bad recruit to be in the thousands of dollars.
  • It takes five weeks, on average, to fill a staff-level position and over seven weeks to fill a management position.

The statistics are telling. It’s clear that recruitment catastrophes can change the culture of your workplace and be a significant burden on your bottom line.

 

OUR TOP RECRUITMENT TIP – AND IT’S SIMPLE 

In Australia, employers can appoint new starters under the terms of a probationary period.  This provides business owners with the opportunity to assess their fit for the role and the business.  The employer can decide on the length of the period. It can range from a few weeks to a few months at the start of employment, and should be written into all employment contracts. 

During the probationary period, there’s a chance to review the employee’s performance and provide constructive feedback. This gives both parties the best chance of building trust, maintaining a successful partnership – and getting on with the job in hand. 

However, where a new employee is not suitable for your workplace, letting them go during their probationary period is perhaps the best option - and the most straightforward.  This must be done lawfully, so if in doubt, err on the side of caution and get professional advice first.  

Persist! Recruit carefully until you find the right person for your team - and your business.  It will be well worth your efforts for your business’s longevity. In the meantime, the protection of a probationary period is there to help you. 

 

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Moaning and Groaning – and When to Pay Attention

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We all complain sometimes. We’re only human. And workplaces aren’t immune to it. Typically, a couple of disinterested, disengaged or just downright grumpy employees might have a grumble at some point during the working week. 

You can hear it in their tone, and the general tenor of what they say, and if you’re a manager or a business owner, we don’t need to tell you - it can be an array of issues, ranging from the surprising to the predictable. 

Perhaps it’s a colleague’s annoying ring tone, or they’ve been asked to perform a task outside of their job description.  Either way, this is one of those aspects of management that make it a complex game. It takes patience, no doubt. Critically, it also takes judgement – in knowing what complaints to take seriously and which ones can be taken with a pinch of salt. 

If you’re unclear on what workplace rights you’re required uphold, here’s some help in how to begin deciphering what can be dismissed as a moan, and what could have greater consequences. 

 

WHAT THE LAW SAYS

Starting with the basics, workplace laws ensure that employees are protected under an employment agreement or any relevant award or enterprise agreement.  If you’re up to speed, you’ll already know that these are the documents that are the go-to for determining employment conditions like salary and other entitlements.  Make sure all your employees have one - that’s best practice. All employees have the right to participate in lawful union activities too.

Beyond this, the Fair Work Act is clear that every employee has the right to be treated equally, regardless of race, sex, age or disability, amongst other things. In practice and in person that means our personal odour, birthmarks, dermatitis and comb-overs are all part and parcel of us as a person and must be accepted as such.

When more untoward behaviour becomes repetitive in nature, then there might be a duty of care for the employer to intervene, under the workplace bullying and harassment laws.

The Fair Work Act even gives us the right to make a ‘complaint’ or ‘inquiry’ while at work. Where the line must be drawn is less clear, between complaints about the ply of toilet paper in the shared facilities, and matters which are obviously more substantial. At the very least, a complaint should be related to a person’s work. 

 


CASE STUDIES

 Complaints which have been upheld, in which the employee was found to have been exercising a workplace right include: 

  • Where an employee was not paid a commission in accordance with their employment agreement;
  • Where a colleague was found to have a conflict of interest - in choosing to engage their daughter as a preferred supplier to the business; and
  • Where a senior manager made inappropriate statements.

These cases suggest that a complaint or inquiry has to be about something that has direct and tangible impact on a person’s employment. By contrast, an employee’s concerns about another staff member’s dissatisfaction with their job, or complaints about the general lack of structure or direction within the business have been found not to be examples of employees exercising their workplace rights.

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

ADVICE: It’s not always obvious what is a workplace right – and what isn’t . When in doubt, err on the side of caution and get professional advice.  

POLICY: Get solid policies and procedures bedded down.  They should be underpinned by workplace legislation - specifically  discrimination, equal opportunity and workplace health and safety laws.  The tighter your policies, the less opportunity for uncertainty - or complaints.  

TRAINING: Tackle the hard stuff early. Provide regular training and communicate to employees what is an actual workplace right - and what is not. You might find there is less complaining and more time spent achieving your business goals. 

Most employees avoid being the squeaky wheel.  So complaints about real workplace issues might be few and far between in your business. But they can happen.  And when they do, it can be tricky to get the business of an employee’s rights, well - right. 

So get the right policy in place, take advice where you need to and avoid making on-the- spot decisions. There might still be the occasional grumble, but you’ll be clearer about what’s justified- and so will your staff. 

 

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When Your Talented Employee Loses the Plot – Did You Leave Them Stranded?

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Ever had a talented employee you saw as a core part of your team, only to find their attention wandered and they lost the plot and finally went elsewhere? You might find this story food for thought - because the problem could be you! 

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Emma and I always offload about work on the bus ride home. A few years back when we worked at the same place, we used to talk office politics. Now we’re in different jobs and it’s normally the nitty gritty. You know – projects that take too long, clients who won’t make decisions, colleagues with interesting personal habits. That sort of thing. 

So, I’m on the bus with Emma yesterday, and she’s getting more intense than usual. We’ve known each other since school, we’re pretty frank and I know when something’s getting to her. The thing is, stuff rarely gets to Emma, because she’s Emma the Wonder Kid. Always having a great time at work. Always getting quick promotions, big responsibilities. Everyone loves Emma, and there’s nothing she can’t do. It drives me crazy. She always was a bit of a champion. Until yesterday.

This job, she says, I’m just not into it. They’ve got me working on this roadmap for a new product, and I just can’t see how it’s going to fit in. It feels like I’m wasting my time. 

Yeah, I say, I know what you mean. I hate running round in circles too. I was being sympathetic. But really, Emma is such a talent, I find it hard to believe they would have her working on anything non-critical. Maybe she’s just got a manager who isn’t good at explaining how things fit together and what the end goal is.

So then she says Plus, I’ve got this feeling they don’t think I’m very capable. It’s like I’m not that useful to them. 

What the hell? There’s no way they think this about superstar Emma. So I ask her, Did your manager tell you that in a feedback session or something?

And she says, Nah, this manager never does feedback. You know, in the past the people I’ve worked for have always said good things about what I’m doing. Now it’s just this silence. I think he’s avoiding having to tell me bad news. 

I’m looking for a positive slant on things. But he must think a lot of you if he’s trusting you with the new product roadmap? Sounds like a tricky job.

She doesn’t look reassured. Or maybe he’s just sidelining me!   You know, sometimes he has meetings about this thing I’m working on and he doesn’t even include me. What does that mean? 

At this point I’m starting to wonder if maybe Emma is right. Could she be falling short of her manager’s expectations? Hmmm. Has he suggested you have extra training, or buddy up with someone who can work with you?

Well, no, she says, but then I’ve never noticed anyone else getting that sort of treatment either. That’s another thing he doesn’t do – training. I don’t know, it’s just so frustrating because I can’t tell what I’m doing wrong. What should I do?

Could it be that I’m smarter than Emma today? Because I think she’s missing something obvious! 

It just might be, I say, that it’s actually your manager who isn’t up to the job.

She says Well he’s pretty well respected. He knows this business inside out, manages the whole operational side.

He’s not managing you very well though, is he? I point out.

I felt bad getting off the bus and leaving her in such a discouraged state. And I couldn’t get the conversation out of my mind last night. It’s so unusual for Emma to be in a situation like this! Normally she knows exactly what she’s doing, and her employers give her heaps of great opportunities. I’m the one who isn’t sure if I’m useful! 

And then it hits me – there’s a role coming up where I work that would be perfect for Emma. So I make some calls. Because hey, whether the problem is her or her manager, maybe a complete change is what she needs. 

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Leaders of engaged teams:

  • Build trust and are inclusive
  • Align teams with a strong common purpose
  • Mentor and develop team members
  • Provide ongoing feedback

 

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Bringing the Best on Board – How to Go About Recruiting Smarter

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In business we’re so focused on operations - building, branding, marketing and delivering. One things leads to another, and the business grows – great! More business means you recruit more staff. And there’s the rub. 

Because replicating success doesn’t necessarily mean replicating your people.  Getting the right recruits in place creates the culture of your workplace.  So it’s clever business to be strategic, know exactly what you’re looking for, and how to interview to get it. 

Believe it or not, the last thing you should do is recruit someone who thinks just like you. Find someone who brings different thinking to the table but who is also a great team player, and genuinely gets on with everyone. That’s more likely to result in the robust collective skill set you need to carry on with that healthy growth and development. 

Here are some tips to help you single out the best candidates.
 

ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

Jotting down a few random questions and hoping for a wonderful outcome is unlikely to cut the mustard.  There’s nothing wrong with prescribed questions. Write them down and use them! But be flexible – go off piste and improvise occasionally, it’ll make you seem more human, and it keeps you thinking too! 

Moments of silence can be a good thing. They can prompt ‘gold nugget’ moments – when the candidate fills the space by talking unscripted.  This provides you with the chance to discover behaviours and experiences that may not have revealed if you had kept talking.

Ask questions that draw out the behavioural type of the person sitting before you. Past behaviour is usually an indication of what future behaviour will be like.  When you ask about specific tasks or real life experiences, you’ve got a better chance of the understanding how the candidate might react to workplace situations under your roof.  

Here’s what we mean. 

  • Describe a time where you have gone out of your way to help a customer. What did you do and what was the result?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you’ve been around people that you really didn’t like or you just didn’t want to deal with? Describe your worst example of this and how you made best of the situation.
  • Tell me about a time where a customer did not accept the information you gave them and you had to explain it in different terms.
  • Describe a time where you took over a difficult client. What did you do to ensure the relationship ran smoothly? What made a difference in these circumstances? 
     

GET SOME SLEEP

It might sound like an odd suggestion but when you’re interviewing a potential new starter, make sure you’re at your best.  Arm yourself with a clear mind so you’re fully on the ball and don’t make a costly mistake. 

President Bill Clinton, who was renowned for sleeping only five or six hours a night throughout his presidency, observes ‘Every important mistake I have made in my life, I’ve made because I was tired.’  

If only he’d been thinking more clearly that day in the oval office with the cigar. 

Don’t make an error of judgement that will come back to bite you. 

 

WATCH THE BODY TALK 

Being mindfully present during an interview means you can chat naturally - and look for non-verbal clues  - the subtle nuances of behaviour that start in our subconscious and emerge to give away so much about us.

Nikoletta Bika, researcher and writer at Workable, gives some specific pointers to use when reading body language during an interview. 

  1. OBSERVE EXTREME BEHAVIOUR: Colourful quirks can make the workplace better, but be cautious about other extreme behaviours - constantly checking a phone or avoiding eye contact. 
  2. SPOT THE DIFFERENCE:  Look for any changes in movement or posture -  is the tapping foot responding to an uncomfortable question?
  3. CONNECT THE DOTS: One isolated gesture might be a one-off, but if you see repeated behaviours that all say the same thing, listen to your instincts about them. 
  4. ASK AWAY: If you pick up on non-verbal clues that suggest an interesting or off-the-wall response, or perhaps withheld information, don't hesitate to ask follow up questions.

Good recruiting is simple and straightforward but also smart. You don’t have to impress with fireworks, just be well prepared and professional. Know in advance what attributes you’re looking for – find a great fit for your team, and bring something new and wonderful to the table! 

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Dealing with Workplace Hotheads

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Getting along at work is easier said than done.  Mutual accord amongst colleagues is a reciprocal thing – but sometimes it’s unrequited! 

A great workplace buzz relies on the collective valuing their relationships. It needs people who know how to build trust, and who aim to do so. When like minds meet and values are shared, we make productive connections.  There’s nothing like a sense of camaraderie for creating a platform from which your best work will be done.

That’s the best case scenario! But as we all know, sometimes workplace relationships just ain’t that simple. Worst case, they can be really challenging.  One person’s temperament - good or bad - has the potential to set the tone.  If things turn nasty – and sometimes they do - workplace productivity can really suffer, along with morale.  

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH

Difficult employees create confusion. Talking incessantly, not listening, always having the last word, falling short of commitments – those are some of the traits we’re all familiar with. Even more challenging is someone who’s competing for power, privilege or attention.  Or all three! When these behaviours are left unmanaged, conflict begins to simmer - and when it erupts it’s always counter-productive.    

We all have ordinary moments at work occasionally. Maybe we’re going through a sticky patch personally, and impoliteness is a bi-product of that stress.  Usually it’s short lived. But when something goes on for longer, not everyone has the self-awareness to see how it’s impacting on others. And then, look out! 

The reasons behind bad behaviour are a secondary concern. Whatever they are, the behaviour must be addressed and resolved quickly - that’s best practice.  If someone’s behaving badly in your workplace, here are some tips that might help.

THE TOUGH GET GOING

Talk constructively with the employee and find out if there’s a deeper issue.  If they’re making barbed comments in one particular colleague’s direction, take them aside and ask them why. They might be apologetic – it’s possible they genuinely don’t realise it’s a problem. On the other hand, they might make excuses for themselves, or counter-accuse the colleague. 

Either way, you’ve begun to set the tone and put them on notice that their conduct is unacceptable, and you’d like things to change - for the better.  This type of conversation can be disarming for an employee – but can go direct to the heart of the matter. If you’ve handled it well, the calm and rational conversation you’ve just had will be a far better outcome than what may have happened if you’d let things simmer. 

 


THE TOUGH GET READY

When an employee continues to be problematic or destructive, the problem can lie beyond what’s happening at work. According to Mindframe statistics, 1 in every 5 Australians annually will experience a mental health problem. So where a behaviour seems emotionally charged or disproportionate to the problem at hand, it’s possible there’s a more deep-seated psychological issue.

Keep your cool. Get your thoughts together – be logical, rational and empathetic. Then talk to the employee. Calmly. It may be enough to de-escalate things.  Giving your employee the chance to be honest about what’s really going on may bring clarity to the situation, and a new level of awareness for them. What they say should put you on the path for managing the situation. 

 

THE TOUGH WEATHER THE STORM 

When you've tried everything to improve a difficult relationship but the employee still seems hell bent on making your workplace miserable, it's time to consider your options.

You can always try and ride it out. Forge ahead! But be candid with your employee about how their behaviour impacts productivity and workplace morale.  They need to hear it! 

No matter how challenging you find their personality, this alone is not grounds for terminating employment, and may lead to all sorts of allegations - including unfair dismissal. 

However, doing nothing - and allowing their behaviour to continue - sends a clear message to everyone else that their behaviour is condoned.  This can be a costly mistake - in employee engagement, staff retention and productivity.  Not to mention your duty of care under the work health and safety legislation.

The sad reality is that sometimes you have to make the best of a bad situation – and put up with them. Stay within the guidelines of the law, and set the tone for your employees – all of them. Be clear and direct about what’s acceptable workplace etiquette. Be especially direct with those who need to hear it. Avoid being re-active. Do what’s right for your business - and all of your employees!

 

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Keeping the Digital Nomads in the Tent

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Technology has changed the way we do things, right?  Even the most computer shy amongst us would have to admit it. 

Working norms have gone out of the door – the filing cabinet and the nine to five routine. Technology has come along and restyled our offices, our homes and our working lives. Access to information and the latest thinking, the most up-to-the-minute opportunities and systems are but one swipe away.  

It’s not surprise then that a ‘gig economy’ has taken off. A growing breed of digital nomads have abandoned secure employment conditions, and are flitting butterfly like over a meadow of more colourful opportunities brought to them by the digital age. They’re native in the world of technology. Why should they let you run the show when they can run their own from a tablet? 

Traditional hours and workplaces are on the outer for these guys. They’re running project work from their devices, eschewing the corporate career ladder for the new freedom of decentralized work, and freedoms that money can’t buy. 

Around 79% of millennial talent prefer a flexible working environment - one that comes with autonomy and transparency, and not necessarily money and status. It has a powerful pull and there’s a danger that businesses will increasingly lose employees to this new working landscape. Gone are the days when a counter-offer could be made or a bonus offered to an employee heading elsewhere. These days they have more in their sights than a better pay cheque. 

 

NEW-WORLD OPPORTUNITIES 

Digital nomads will soon become the norm. When business leaders regroup to take advantage of this pool of creativity and talent, and both nomad and employer can really start to enjoy the potential flexibility this new arrangement brings.  

Choosing a legal consultant from an online freelance platform might seem far-fetched, but it’s already a reality.  One quick search and a few swipes and clicks can give you access to a wealth of talent from around the world, well suited professionals and a choice for all  budgets and briefs. 

New studies indicate that one in three millennials have a gig alongside their day job.  They’re up-skilling rapidly, looking for projects they find pleasure in doing, and integrating work and lifestyle.  This new kind of work brings with it flexibility and autonomy, and something they can be truly passionate about. It may only require investment in a few simple devices or pieces of digital kit. It sound attractive to most of us – and it’s highly appealing to this nomadic workforce. 

 

REAL-LIFE HURDLES 

Seductive and easy though it sounds, this new style of work isn’t without its hurdles, and they’re ongoing. 

Establishing a career, even in the fast-moving digital age,  takes time. It also takes commitment and dedication, mature age skills and life experience, a wide ranging knowledge base, and bravery - to say the least.  

It’s ever-changing. That’s exciting, but it also means there’s no ground-hog day security - returning to your desk each morning knowing exactly what you need to do and how to do it. 

Hitting your stride can be enormously challenging  and requires super-human ability to focus, rather than get distracted by the domestic duties you’re surrounded by in a home office or café – the laundry, the conversation at table number four, the doorbell. 

 

KEEP THE NOMADS IN THE TENT 

So what does this mean for business owners and leaders? It means opportunity. It’s time to think about this demographic and determine exactly how they can support your endeavours. How can an employee with digital nomad inclinations be of benefit to your business? Can they bring their upskilled talents into the right kind of project under your roof? Are they gaining new talents outside of your business that you can bring in? 

And how can you hold on to that digitally enabled, bright, creative and forward thinking employee? Nourishing them might mean resetting your ideas about what rewards people for their endeavours. One thing’s for sure, as the song goes, it’s not all about the money, money, money. It’s about the freedom, flexibility and lifestyle. Acknowledge that, and it might be to your advantage. 

Stay a spectator in the digital age and we end up watching the talent swoosh by and not really ever grasping how to truly reach it.  But help is on hand – and it’s probably in your workforce. There’s a good chance a digital nomad works for you or may one day do so. So plug in now, and make good of this new and changing genus. 

 

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WTF! Is It Ever A-OK?

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What’s the go when it comes to profanities in your workplace?  Is a sprinkle of colourful language okay when you’ve got a point to make? Or do you have a strict policy in place, with swear jars for repeat offenders, even if it’s you?

Author of In Praise of Profanity, Michael Adams suggests that it’s a modern problem brought about by changing moral codes.  In an interview with the ABC, he says there are ‘just some moments in life where you reach a point of existential frustration, everything has gone wrong at once, and you search around for other words, but none will suit the occasion quite as well as a nice profanity’.

There are many moments in business when can happen, and some of us may vent our frustrations by letting rip. If you have a tight group of co-workers, it might be the case that that swearing within reason and context is accepted.  In an open plan workplace, where the audience might extend beyond close colleagues, then this might not be the case. And that could lead to offence taken, and perhaps even distress and disengagement. 

 

A CASE STUDY

A case in point is Mark Baldwin v Scientific Management Associate, which was brought before the Fair Work Commission.  It was alleged that Baldwin had used crude and profane language in a threatening manner towards his manager.  Baldwin’s manager had then become fearful for his own safety.  The Fair Work Commission determined that Baldwin had been fairly dismissed, and the termination was upheld.

This ruling highlights the qualitative difference between swearing in general terms verses swearing when it is specifically directed at someone - becoming highly personalised.

 

SET THE TONE 

Employees look to their leaders for direction, and follow your cues.  So, when you choose your words as a leader, choose them well.  Set the tone and create a culture that is aligned with best practice. And get it right every time.  

Hats off to you if you consider this important and have implemented a code of conduct covering profanities in your workplace.  Enforce it consistently and lead by example – set the tone yourself. 

If you have no policy, it could be time to consider one. Let’s be frank: it’s only worth implementing a policy if you agree that swearing is not condoned. Good policies take time and effort to develop. And they only have value if you have a ‘follow me’ attitude.  Without this, you can expect your employees to be dubious about your intentions - and the Fair Work Commission too.

  


USE DISCRETION

If an employee’s language is offensive and/or has the potential to offend or cause harm to others - it’s your obligation as the employer to step in, policy or no. To ignore it is to condone it, and that could lead to allegations of bullying.

 

CONSIDER THE CONTEXT 

If the proverbial has hit the fan and you’re dealing with an incident, you’re wise to consider all the circumstances. Context is key. If the incident is serious, talk to the employee. Gather all the facts and take time to consider the circumstances, before drawing any conclusions. 

Keep front of mind that modern workplaces are generally robust. The use of profanities - in general terms and in certain industries - is not uncommon. Consideration should always be given to the context of the discussion, as well as industry culture.

As an employer, it’s your job to understand these nuances. Some situations - especially the serious ones - should never be overlooked, while others may be collectively acknowledged as contextual. 

Determine what’s acceptable for your workplace - then go on to create a pleasant environment for all, by leading with the behaviours you want to be contagious. 

 

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Summary Dismissal - Don’t Play That 'Trump’ Card Unless You’re Sure

Summary-Dismissal

Terminating employees is rarely comfortable – and nor should it be. It’s not just the legal ramifications and potential costs of getting it wrong that might make one nervous, but the impact upon the employee and their family can be a burden on the conscience that’s hard to bear. 

Summary dismissal is especially tricky.  This type of termination takes place when an employee is involved in serious misconduct.  It may include a serious and imminent risk to the health and safety of another person or to the reputation or profits of the company’s business, or where an employee deliberately behaves in a way that is inconsistent with continuing their employment.

Theft, fraud, assault or refusing to carry out a lawful and reasonable instruction that is part of their job, are just few examples of serious misconduct. 

Think you’ve got it covered? So did the business owners in these five cases of summary dismissal which were held before the Fair Work Commission. Only two of these five cases were upheld by the Commission, while the other three were deemed unfair. 

Which two do you think the Fair Work Commission upheld on the grounds of serious misconduct? 

  1. An employee performed burnouts in the workplace driveway, went on to intimidate a customer, and made ‘rude and aggressive gestures’ towards the Company’s security cameras. 
  2. An employee was annoyed for being contacted on their rostered day off, and verbally abused their co-worker during the telephone conversation. 
  3. An employee left a voicemail message containing ‘colourful language’ on a co-worker’s telephone. 
  4. An employee who was a competitive rifle shooter in his spare time attended work with a high-powered weapon.  He showed it to other co-workers in the Company car park, which led to the police being called to the workplace. 
  5. An employee engaged as a bouncer at a casino allowed an underage girl to enter, having only briefly inspected her Learner Driver’s Licence.



The Fair Work Commission determined that the first two cases constituted serious misconduct and the summary dismissal was upheld.

In the last three cases, the Commission found that the employer had overreacted, and that summary dismissal was not justified when the broader circumstances were considered.

Clearly, once the ‘Trump’ card of summary dismissal is on the table, there’s no going back, and if you’ve misjudged, it could work out to be costly. So it pays not to play your Presidential hand too rashly, unless you’re really sure it’s justified. 


Procedural fairness is always best practice in making sure you get things right first time.  There are a number of steps that must be taken before you make any final decisions as an employer. These include meeting with the employee and presenting all the facts and evidence surrounding the alleged misconduct; and allowing the employee to respond to the allegations, providing them with good opportunity to explain their actions. 

Procedural steps give you time to think, and understand, and can benefit all parties. All the evidence can be considered carefully and the right advice can be sought, before you make a final decision concerning the future employment of what might be a valued member of your team.

Terminating employees on any grounds – serious or not, is not to be taken lightly or done rashly.  Although you might have a level of certainty that the dismissal is well grounded, the law may not necessarily be on your side. Get the right advice first and avoid making an on-the-spot decision. You’re doing what’s right for your business - and your employees! 

 

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Get Social - and Be Upfront About It

Social-Media-Policy

A Victorian business owner learned to his cost recently about the harsh realities of social media use in the workplace - and setting rules around it. 

After being with the business for one year, a male employee was summarily dismissed by one of the business’s executives, due to an inappropriate and explicit update he posted on his Facebook feed.  The post alluded to a woman who had just been promoted having provided certain ‘favours’ to her boss in return for the new role. 

The employee in question soon amended the post, clarifying that the female employee was at his mother’s workplace — not his own.  However, not long after that he was contacted by his managing director and his employment was terminated - effective immediately.

The now ex-employee instigated unfair dismissal proceedings. His former employer argued strongly that the employee’s derogatory comments had overstepped boundaries and were not consistent with a safe working environment which is free of harassment, victimisation, or any kind of sexual abuse. 

The employee counter-claimed that he hadn’t been provided with a copy of the social media policy and was unaware of having received any warnings about social media use. Further, he alleged that the post was unrelated to his workplace, and it was posted while he was on a break at work.

The Fair Work Commission found that the employee had in fact been unfairly dismissed, and awarded him over $6,000 as compensation.

WHY

There were three reasons given for this finding. 

  1. The employee had flexible working hours and it was unclear whether he was on a break at the time of making the post;
  2. there was no evidence to show that the employee was provided with a copy of the social media policy, as the policy acknowledgment document was unsigned; and
  3. the employer’s concerns about the language used in the post was ‘tempered by the fact that similar language appears to have been used in the workplace at various times’.

A MESSAGE FOR SMALL BUSINESS

Dealing with social media as an employer can be very difficult. It may only take a few seconds for an employee to grossly misuse social media during work time, but it takes much longer for an employer to properly respond and take appropriate action.  Incidents like this can leave a business owner with a hefty bill - and a heavy heart - when things go wrong. 

PROTECT YOUR BUSINESS

It’s vital, astute business practice and good governance for every business owner to get their house in order. 

Every business owner worth their salt wants the peace of mind that comes from knowing they are meeting procedural obligations - with best practice standards in place for when it really counts. 

Meeting your procedural obligations and making your expectations clear to employees from the outset, ensures that your business can handle workplace complexities and disputes as they arise, smartly and professionally – and in line with the law. 

SOCIAL MEDIA & THE INTERNET

With the rise of new media, ways in which employees can communicate with each other, with those outside your business, and about your business, are continually evolving. While this creates new opportunities, it also creates accountabilities.   It’s important for business owners to have a Social Media & Internet policy that applies to all employees and contractors who use social media and the internet - whether in a private or business capacity. 

CODE OF CONDUCT

If a business expects employees to always treat others with the utmost respect and courtesy, both in person and online, it’s good due diligence to set expectations with a Code of Conduct.  Having benchmarks in place, so employees understand that congenial, professional and respectful behaviour is standard workplace practice, is almost certainly going to help your business tackle the bigger issues, if they arise.

TRAINING

Ensure you take the next steps too. All employees must be made aware of these policies with adequate training on the topic of their obligations within your business.  Have them sign off - to acknowledge their understanding. And don’t let the dust settle there.  Lead by example and remind your employees at every opportunity of exactly what your workplace expectations are. 

While we know that every situation is different, and the policies you implement aren’t legal documents nor will they guarantee compliance, they will provide you with assurance - that you’re meeting your procedural obligations, and can best handle workplace complexities as they arise, smartly and professionally – and in line with the law. 

Need help with policy development and implementation?  Contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for all your best practice support needs.
 

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Bring It on! Pioneering the Digital Revolution

Screen-Shot-2017-07-30-at-4.40.24-pm

Times have changed.   We’re almost two decades into the new millennium and it’s clear that the labour-intensive, industrial, hands-on work we grew up watching our elders do has morphed into a highly automated, digitally driven activity and a whole new style of business.

Ideas are changing and with them our workplaces and roles. As we continue to live and work alongside each other in a collective of many generations, even putting a title on the complex jobs that some of us now do can be a challenge – as well as an indicator of how far the world has come.

Many small businesses are kick started with a simple concept. They’re built on a foundation of entrepreneurialism. Much of the personal time and cash resources sunk into them initially often go into branding – that most mysterious and yet essential requirement.  

Very often those taking the leap do so without the comfort of a salary, at least in the start-up phase. They might work from a home office, conduct virtual meetings and taking extended work calls during what should be family time. Such is the new norm. In these circumstances our work can be all around us and woven through our personal life. The olden days when your parents went off to work and you knew what they did there and then they came home again – are on the wane for many of us.

Instead of a simple job title, many of us now offer a thirty second elevator pitch when asked what we do for a living. Being part of this changing collective isn’t a simple matter! We brace ourselves to weather the judgements made by other people who can’t quite fathom what it is we do. Because there are those who still hold true that real work can only be the laborious industrial type.  

The elephant in the room? This type of venturing into the unknown is not actually new. Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey built their careers on uninformed optimism, weathering opinions and complexity, at a time when their thinking was quite unique and progressive.  Little did they know that their endurance would become a game changer for how our future-selves viewed work and conducted business.


We are moving through this technological revolution with considerable momentum - the horse has well and truly bolted and we must stay in the saddle and hang on.  We must reinvent and digitalise, upgrade and adapt. We must better understand that exploring, trying new things and learning from our mistakes will eventually create a new balance and predictability. But rather than having the stable and linear career of old, we may have a handful of responsibilities we oversee throughout the day.

This cultural transition is a visceral experience for business owners, colleagues, parents and peers alike.  

It’s a good time for the curious, who ask the right questions of those at the forefront of contemporary thinking. Those questions, and their answers, lead to better understanding and our own growth, as people and as leaders.  We must draw intelligent conclusions on how the future economic world will look and how we can progress within it, leveraging all its opportunities and greatness.  

As we morph into this new age, it’s clear that some will continue to be at the forefront taking risks - just like Branson and Winfrey did. They may not have a job title that makes sense – other than ‘Pioneer’ - or have a role that even generates a regular income for a time. Some may lead a subsistence lifestyle to get by while growing their big idea. Others may have to push through negative critiques on their creative endeavours.  

Let’s salute their braveness! Because collectively we can all take direct benefit and make good of their pioneering in the new emerging world they are helping to build.

 

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Inspire by Example! And Keep Your Team Tight in Tough Times

Inspire-team

Building a team is one of those things that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, consistent effort and energy. And here’s the rub - Rome wasn’t built in a day, but your team can surely dissolve in one, in these fast-paced, demanding times!

When you’ve invested in building a team culture that hums along with everyone working towards the same goals, the last thing you want is to come unstuck and find the team hasn’t bonded or doesn’t perform when you really need them to.

So how to keep everyone inspired, realising their true potential and producing great results all of the time – and coming through the tough times intact? Do you have a strategy that keeps the working atmosphere in tip top condition and the team outshining your competitors?

These few tips should help you achieve this goal.


GET TOGETHER! 

Nobody likes long and tedious meetings, but it’s essential to keep everyone in the loop. So run team management meetings, but keep them short and to the point!

And then break your own rule. Because team meetings shouldn’t just be about status reports. No, they have a higher purpose. They give you a chance to truly engage with your employees, learn about their ideas, inspirations and also their individual goals – which may well align with your own in the business.

Team members appreciate the opportunity to share their thoughts and insights. They also need that regular get-together to discuss and solve any issues they’ve encountered on project work or in day-to-day business.

Meet weekly or regularly as an integral part of your business and your team development,  and everyone feels like they’re heading in the same direction – and the right one.


STAY ON TRACK! 

One of the main causes of frustration and disenchantment among team member is undoubtedly a loss of direction and the lack of a sense of purpose. There’s nothing more frustrating for an employee than not knowing what their key roles and responsibilities are in a particular project, what’s expected of them to accomplish that next step in the project’s development.

Everyone needs to know where they’re heading! So keep them on track, ask them what they need to know. And then make sure they have the guidance, support and understanding they need to do the job.

When times are tough, you may need to handle such situations in more of a hands-on manner. Help out directly, offer extra guidance or provide the necessary specialised equipment for the job. Whatever you do, you’re helping your team to get the job done, and maximise their potential. That’s a win for you both.


GIVE PRAISE!

Teams can be encouraged in different ways. Providing essential tools and excellent working conditions resonates deeply with people and keeps team spirits consistently high. But make sure you top that up with the occasional word of praise. We all like to know that our work is valued, and that what we’re doing has a positive impact on workflow and ultimate outcomes. But we like to hear that we’ve done good as individuals too!

Get to know what form of praise and feedback each individual appreciates best. Some may get the biggest boost in self-confidence by being praised publicly in front of others. Make sure you have a good word to say for the team too on these occasions! Other individuals may appreciate a private thank-you note more. Either way, praise is a great motivator. It helps everyone in the team to feel they are a part of something bigger than themselves, and it stimulates us to invest even more of ourselves into a project.


INSPIRE! 

True leaders, besides having the right knowledge and skillset for the industry they’re in, should also inspire. And that goes beyond the rigours and requirements of the job. It means being a well-rounded individual, empathetic to others and caring of oneself. It means looking after your business, your people and those additional things which are no less important, like your health and mental wellbeing.

Sleep, stress and work-life balance are all easy to manage. It’s now well known that being a

t the top of our game in this way fires our creative processes and concentration. Lead by example and make sure your team are looking after themselves too in this regard.

Follow these simple tips and you’ll find yourself stepping into the shoes of one who not only leads but also truly inspires by example.

 

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Patience – a Tangible Tool in Your Management Kit

hashtag-hr---patience-in-the-workplace

Ever found yourself seated at the Board table but reflecting that it felt more like a circus tent?

Or at some point in the throes of day-to-day business, been overwhelmed by the sense that your workplace is actually a child care centre, and not the substantial business run by fully fledged adults that you had in mind?

Patience is a skill that’s tricky to master, and when your mother told you it was a virtue, she was thinking of your management career. Because it’s the number one tool in your leadership kit when it comes to navigating employee contentment, engagement and teamwork. Dealing with chronic under-performers, or misfits and mavericks who just can’t or won’t get along with the rest of the team, or reaching agreement when all points of view differ and won’t budge.

Resisting the impulse to react in the heat of the moment takes grit and determination. Sometimes it’s tempting to send those who are misbehaving back to their desks without supper.

So how to build the resilience – and patience – you need?

For the sake of goodwill, you must try, if only because it’s the right thing to do. You pay their salary, you recruited them, oversee the headcount. You must therefore master the art of patience in order to get the most out of your people.  

Creating an environment that sends clear messages of expectations is an absolute cornerstone. Get expectations in place, so that you don’t end up exploring them in retrospect.

That said, it’s never too late to change course - even when you are in the thick of a workplace tantrum. As the boss, you get to draw a line in the sand. Before it gets to that, try these four simple strategies to make patience a primary principle.

 

BREATHE

It’s a cliché maybe, but feelings of frustration bring about muscle tension everywhere – including in those muscles that engulf your lungs. So breathe! In turning your attention away from the frustration and onto your breathing, you help keep your brain fuelled with oxygen and on track to making calm choices. 

Don’t forget, our feelings influence our thoughts. So when you’re saturation levels are up and you’re good and oxygenated, your neurons at least have a fighting chance of working through the tough situation - with resilience.

 

LEAD

A calm and patient environment is only possible if you lead those around you with good intent and trust.  Show others that you’ve got the ability to be nice without expecting something in return – or calculating the leverage you’re gaining.

“When leaders inspire those they lead, people dream of a better future, invest time and effort in learning more, do more for their organisations and along the way become leaders themselves. A leader who takes care of their people and stays focused on the well-being of the organisation can never fail.” - Lt. Gen. George Flynn



PERSUADE 

Building agreement when points of view differ around the table can be tricky. This is when opinions are aired, tempers can flare and at least one patient influencer is essential. Sure, sometimes an authoritative approach or an executive decision may be required, but simply insisting it’s your way or the highway without bothering to get buy-in from your team can be really unsettling and it’s not necessarily the way forward. 

To get others to buy into the way you see things and reach agreement around the table, you’ll need to ask the right questions and point respectfully to the different viewpoints present. Asking your colleagues to think about things from other perspectives often allows them to arrive at the same conclusion – for themselves. This is the art of persuasion.  

 

CONNECT

The cornerstone of any leadership style is building great relationships and trust within a team. It motivates people to take on tasks that they may not otherwise want to do, and fosters a ‘follow-me’ philosophy. Be friendly, smile, give encouragement, converse and laugh.  These are all qualities that are appreciated, respected and often admired by those around you. 

By connecting, especially with those that you lead, you gain the leverage to handle those tough moments with the patience and grace required to defuse most situations.

 

Keep things meaningful and lead by example. Simple changes can really bring about big impact - so use these four strategies to get you out of the circus tent and getting the most out of your team.  

 

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Get the Best Content and Industry Thinking on the Go

Content-on-the-go

Did you know #HR Blog is on SoundCloud? If you’re always on-the-go or just prefer to listen to articles, you can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and get our audio articles delivered right to your device. Whether you’re in the car, on a walk, or just taking a break, audio is a great way to get some valuable #HR content when it best suits you.

CLICK HERE to subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and never miss another audio article.

Below are a few of our most recent audio articles for you to enjoy.

 

THREE WAYS TO KEEP YOUR WORKPLACE ECOSYSTEM FLOURISHING

 

FORTUNE FAVOURS THE BRAVE – AND THE INDUSTRIOUS

 

KEEP ACHIEVING! ONE THING AT A TIME - HERE’S THREE WAYS HOW

 

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Get the Best #HR Content and Industry Thinking on the Go

Get-the-Best-HR-Content-and-Industry-Thinking-on-the-Go

Did you know #HR Blog is on SoundCloud? If you’re always on-the-go or just prefer to listen to articles, you can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and get our audio articles delivered right to your device. Whether you’re in the car, on a walk, or just taking a break, audio is a great way to get some valuable #HR content when it best suits you.

CLICK HERE to subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and never miss another audio article.

Below are a few of our most recent audio articles for you to enjoy.

 

WHY COLOURFUL QUIRKS MAKE THE WORKPLACE A BETTER PLACE

 

4 WAYS TO LIFT YOUR MANAGEMENT GAME - THAT WILL COST YOU NOTHING

 

A WHOLE NEW SPECTRUM – BRINGING DIFFERENT SMARTS INTO THE WORKPLACE

 

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Here's 4 Simple Tips to Help You Become a Knockout in the Office

Tips

As the old saying goes: the squeaky wheel gets the oil. This is also true when it comes to identifying leaders in the workplace. Don’t sit back and let others surpass you. Instead, step up and stand out—in a positive way! It’s fine to get a little “squeaky” in your office in order to show others that you take your job seriously and that you are 100% committed. Here are four simple tips to stand out and become a knock out in your office.

1. USE YOUR MAGIC WORDS

 

2. PUT A SMILE ON YOUR DIAL

 

3. ROCK UP SOBER

 

4. GET CREATIVE WITH YOUR NEXT TEAM MEETING

 

And there you have it, four simple ideas to help you stand out in a positive way and become a knock out in your office. Do you have any tips? Share them with us in the comments section below.  

 

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