Sheryl Sandberg’s recently published book “Lean In” has been described as the modern manifesto for women in the workplace. I can also attest that it offers just as much value for men. Despite having worked both with and for women for decades the book gave me a clearer perspective on the unique challenges and difficult decisions women face while managing their careers.

“Lean In” also highlights a significant issue faced by employers when it comes to retaining female employees who decide to start a family, be it in the near or distant future. The problem arises from whether (or not), employers should be discussing it first. Australia’s employment and discrimination laws prohibit treating women differently (unfairly) on the basis of pregnancy, breastfeeding and family responsibilities. This is known as ‘adverse action’. Therefore, simply asking employees about their family plans may expose employers to claims of adverse action which are expensive and difficult to defend. Employment lawyers typically advise against asking questions like this during interviews and reviews.managers should have an open dialogue with staff regarding their parenting decisions and timing

However, in “Lean In” Sandberg suggests that managers should have an open dialogue with staff regarding their parenting decisions and timing. The idea being that this knowledge allows employers to easily provide the support and opportunities that women need to juggle their family and career. She gives some great examples of ways to keep women engaged at work to avoid “leaving before they have left”, admitting that she has openly asked employees about their parenting plans despite the legal risk.

The book suggests many things employers can do to help overcome these challenges such as special parking for pregnant mothers, child care arrangements, flexible work and more opportunities for women to speak up and support each other. But how is it possible to implement this extra support in the face of the high risk, potentially contentious conversation which ultimately precedes it? The laws that aim to protect against discrimination appears in this way to be perpetuating it, as they can hinder vital communication between employer and employee. This is a troublesome legal conundrum that Australian legislators need to resolve.

A perspective on ‘Lean In’ by Employment Innovations CEO, Ben Thompson.

Have you ever experienced a situation where you were afraid to ask an employee a question that would otherwise enable you to provide more support and assistance to an employee?  How did you deal with this situation?

Melinda Gibson

Melinda is a HR Manager with Employment Innovations (EI), based in Melbourne; she primarily assists clients in the retail and hospitality industry. With over 10 years of experience in human resource management, Mel provides advice and training on HR practices and employment law, assisting clients with the implementation of effective human resource tools and strategies.

Visit www.thinkei.com.


There was once an employee at a software company, let’s call him ‘Bob’. Bob was a top-performing software programmer, very rarely away from his desk, quiet, reserved and an ideal employee in many respects. Bob’s performance reviews were near perfect; his employer gave him praise for the speed, accuracy and efficiency in which he performed his work.

Then it turned out that Bob was in fact outsourcing all of his work tasks to China, his day to day activities consisted mainly of social networking, YouTube and watching cat videos. He paid the consultancy firm around $50,000 per year, which was approximately one fifth of his total salary.

There also was, once another employee, Jeremy. Jeremy was a systems administrator for a well-known and substantially sized bank. Jeremy decided to automate his daily tasks to give himself time to build online gaming platforms. Both Bob and Jeremy were promptly terminated, so where are they now?

Jeremy is now a millionaire web entrepreneur, launching several highly lucrative businesses and while we can’t confirm Bob’s next move, this was not his first ‘outsourcing offence’. Whilst there is no question, in both cases, of misconduct, there is another question that needs to be addressed, how did this manage to go overlooked during performance reviews?recent reports estimating that only 35-40% of Australian organisations feel they manage performance reviews well

Bob’s performance reviews in particular were consistently positive, which in reality makes them hugely ineffective, as they did not manage to identify Bob’s severe lack of engagement. In addition, outsourcing work for one fifth of its current cost whilst not compromising on quality is a smart business move. Both Jeremy and Bob possess certain desirable qualities, that when used in the right way, could be of benefit to a business. Would a better performance review process prevent such a misinterpretation and misuse of skills?

Performance reviews, when done well, can boost morale, improve performance and encourage commitment. They can build on the strengths of the individual, help with career development and generally enhance the employment experience. However, when poorly executed, they certainly do more harm than good, with recent reports estimating that only 35-40% of Australian organisations feel they manage performance reviews well. The rest describe the process as negative and stressful, saying they add very little value and overlook what is most important. It goes without saying that both Jeremy and Bob were highly disengaged, so are outdated approaches to performance reviews the root of the problem?

Annual reviews, bad idea?

Annual reviews can create feelings of dread for both parties involved. To change the way in which managers and employees feel about this process, it needs to be transformed into an ongoing business activity. Regular conversations or check-ins will enable progress to be monitored effectively. Reviews should also consider the employee’s well-being, job satisfaction and general happiness, not just their productivity. This way, regular meetings can be kept casual and this encourages better communication.

Negative focus

Traditional reviews focus on the negative and most employees will be neither ready nor well-equipped for criticism. Managers should also collect positive feedback from peers; this creates a 360 degree effect, gives a multi-angle perspective and is also very easy to both deliver and receive. Regular, ongoing conversations of this nature allow employees to raise their own concerns, for example, lack of stimulation or job satisfaction.

Look ahead, not behind.

The focus should be primarily on the future, on what is required to move the employee and the business forward, including considering new ways of doing things. Managers need to be clear with expectations and ensure their employees have the tools they need to meet objectives.

Encourage self-evaluation.

Encouraging employees to evaluate themselves will help with motivation and self-esteem, plus delivering feedback from peers and highlighting achievements is helpful. The nature of a performance review can be tailored to suit the needs of both the employee and employer. It should be based around the requirements of the role, ensuring both parties are clear on what is and what isn’t acceptable. The underlying goal is to open and maintain the lines of communication, so you can avoid an encounter with an employee like Bob.

Melinda Gibson

Melinda is a HR Manager with Employment Innovations (EI), based in Melbourne; she primarily assists clients in the retail and hospitality industry. With over 10 years of experience in human resource management, Mel provides advice and training on HR practices and employment law, assisting clients with the implementation of effective human resource tools and strategies. Visit www.thinkei.com.

Featured image: Victor1558

 


Following the recent Kochie public outrage; mothers, breastfeeding and public places are a hot topic. Rather than jumping on the bandwagon and diving into familiar debates over women’s rights, appropriateness and professionalism, we thought we’d share some examples of women who are breastfeeding wherever and whenever they choose (including the workplace), and how the government and employers are responding.

US case: teacher breastfeeding while….teaching

Over in the US, Adrienne Pine, an assistant professor at American University in Washington awoke to a sick child. Refused admission to day care, she brought the child to work with her. The feminist anthropology class ran for 75 minutes and at a certain point, Pine breastfed the infant whilst continuing to teach her class of 40 students. Whilst the university’s response proved to be mainly supportive, she faced backlash from students and the press, with a common underlying suggestion that her behaviour was “unprofessional”. It was Pine’s first day on the job and not wanting to jeopardise her students’ education or her tenure, she said she made a judgement call.

Pine responded to the resulting interest from students and local press by publishing an online paper titled: “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposéing My Breasts on the Internet.” From which we quote: “So here’s the story, internet: I fed my sick baby during feminist anthropology class without disrupting the lecture so as to not have to cancel the first day of class. I doubt anyone saw my nipple, because I’m pretty good at covering it. But if they did, they now know that I too, a university professor, like them, have nipples. Or at least that I have one.”

The university provided private areas for nursing mothers, and publicly declared their support for employees who must take personal leave to care for a sick child. Pine created an alternative option which was neither promoted nor forbidden, but why the backlash? It seems that whichever choice this woman made, she potentially faced criticism. Whilst the workplace provides necessary support, this doesn’t necessarily translate into supportive attitudes from all involved.

Breastfeeding in Australia

In Australia, supportive attitudes can result in accreditation. We have recently seen two businesses recognised as an official BFW (breastfeeding friendly workplace), the most prominent being Mamaway, a maternity wear company with a store in Burwood. In this store, employees are able to breastfeed whenever they like, even whilst performing work tasks and this is just one of many Mamaway baby-friendly policies. A PR firm in Sydney also recently adopted breastfeeding friendly policies to avoid losing staff after pregnancy.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association says this is all part of what is necessary to keep up with a changing society. ABA National Manager, Tracy Kelly said: “More and more women are returning to work when their babies are still breastfeeding… There are very few companies like [Mamaway]… That’s fantastic.” The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that around 118,000 women return to work when their child is 6 months old or younger. In spite of this, the Australian Breastfeeding Association Accreditation Program has been active for more than 10 years and currently contains only around 100 companies. It is, however, expecting a 50% increase in the coming months, with the Australian Air Force as one of the anticipated participants.

Legal obligations

Alina Kaye, one of EI’s solicitors advises employers of their legal obligations:
The National Employment Standards under the Fair Work Act 2009 provide a return to work guarantee for eligible employees. Certain Federal and State anti-discrimination laws also prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of pregnancy, breastfeeding and family responsibilities. In the face of new reporting requirements as part of the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, companies with over 100 staff must also report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, detailing their working arrangements which support employees with family or caring responsibilities.

So, becoming a BFW will be on the cards for many businesses as a recruitment and retention strategy, but also as a necessity.

What do you think? Encouraging new mothers to return to work is an objective shared by many businesses and for universally agreed benefits. Aside from the legal requirements, should there be an extra push for all workplaces to become a BFW? Should we also anticipate that some companies may take Mamaway approach that anytime, anyplace goes?

Melinda is a HR Manager with Employment Innovations (EI), based in Melbourne; she primarily assists clients in the retail and hospitality industry. With over 10 years of experience in human resource management, Mel provides advice and training on HR practices and employment law, assisting clients with the implementation of effective human resource tools and strategies. Visit www.thinkei.com.

Top image: Times


Australia’s economic conditions are predicted by some to take a downward turn in 2013, meaning employers large and small are growing anxious about an economic slump and the potential for China’s growth to reverse. In retail, the growing trend for US stores to welcome Australian online shoppers with lower prices, free shipping and wider inventory is proving to be high competition for Australian retailers. There is also the productivity issue, relevant in all parts of the domestic economy, which requires more innovative solutions if we want to encourage growth.

What’s on the cards?

Interest rates
It is hoped that the Reserve Bank of Australia will commit to stability and a clear cut in interest rates. This follows the recent cut of 0.25% down to 3% on December 5, sparked by fears of a deteriorating economy; the rate has not been this low since 2009. Many major banking institutions are revising their forecasts and predicting as much as a 25 basis point cut for each 2013 quarter, bringing rates down to 2% by the end of next year in an effort  to try to ignite the current below-trend growth in the mining economy.

Unemployment rates
At close to 5%, unemployment rates are lower than in most other advanced countries, however, the ANZ job index shows eight straight months of falls as well as a drop in job advertisements in the resource dependant states. Macquarie Bank’s Brian Redican predicts unemployment to rise to 6.5% in 2013 with little strength in the resources sector.

Economic growth rates
This year Australia is predicted to record GDP growth of 2.9% but 2013 sees this fall to 2.1%; compared to 1.3% and 1.7% respectively for other advanced economies. This is a relatively strong growth prediction, but alongside it comes a wealth of potential hurdles and complexities for businesses.

What can business do to prepare?
With 2013 being an election year, things may become more politically difficult, nevertheless, the focus should still remain on productivity to ensure that Australia keeps pace with the global competition. When reviewing and planning for the New Year, remember that it is up to business owners to create their own bright futures, encourage innovation and improve productivity through innovative thinking. Yet the reality is, while small business owners may start the year with high expectations and hopes of what they will achieve over the coming year, the day-to-day activities of running a small business take precedence over the big picture.

Here’s a rundown of the top 3 points to bear in mind when preparing for 2013:

1. Review your compliance obligations:

This is crucial to success in business, ensuring you are up-to-date with any recent changes in legislation as well as anticipating any changes that are on the horizon. For example, understanding the changes to severance payment laws since the 2009 Fair Work Act, which introduced certain redundancy pay conditions to the NES. These changes have the potential to make significant impacts on businesses if they are ignored or overlooked and many employers are still unaware of the requirements. Compliance will avoid potential fines and mitigate risks; plus outsourcing time-heavy or complex elements of the business can allow more focus on the all-important big picture.

2. Implement flexible hours:

When driving up productivity, this is the first port of call and rights to flexible working arrangements are also part of the NES. For example, flexible hours can help with retention of staff on maternity leave, encourage higher employee morale and engagement, plus it allows employers to get more out their working hours by taking advantage of their most productive times of day.

3. Identify processes:

Put some processes in place. This will prepare businesses for growth without impacts on productivity. It also allows for shared task responsibility, frees up more time compared to manual processes, avoids the problem of “specialist knowledge” being limited to single employees and can help to identify operational weak spots.

The environment for business competition is now a global one, to measure up in the international market there is no room for limited productivity. Hindrance can stem from a lack of supervision over factors that can be very easily controlled with good management and compliance. Whilst Australia fared comparatively well in 2012, it is important to work towards creating the best possible position in 2013, so that if a downturn does occur, businesses are fully prepared.

Melinda is a HR Manager with Employment Innovations (EI), based in Melbourne; she primarily assists clients in the retail and hospitality industry. With over 10 years of experience in human resource management, Mel provides advice and training on HR practices and employment law, assisting clients with the implementation of effective human resource tools and strategies. Visit www.thinkei.com.

Top image: credit


Australia recently said goodbye to the office for a while, with the launch of the first ever National Telework Week in November. One of the aims of Telework Week was to highlight the benefits of remote workers (teleworkers) to employers; which include increased productivity as well as lower rent and amenities costs.

Plus, research by Deloitte has found that teleworkers experience fewer sick days and increased workforce participation, which in turn lifts employment rates and gross domestic product (It is estimated that it could add an extra $3.2 billion a year, the equivalent of 25,000 full-time jobs).

The research also shows that 73% of part-time and casual respondents would take up telework if it were made available. For employees, it means no more commuting, less stress and better work-life balance, leading to happy, engaged workers. It also facilitates greater participation for older workers, full or part-time carers and those with disabilities. 

According to a study by the University of Melbourne, Australia is well behind the global average when it comes to teleworking:

  • only an estimated 6% of Australians benefit from a teleworking arrangement*.
  • the global average for teleworking stands at 10% (these people work from home every day).
  • 20% of global workers are teleworking for employers overseas.

*(The aim of this government initiative is to increase this percentage to 12% by 2020.)

However, managing teleworkers is an issue in terms of processes, culture and legislation which should be fully assessed for possible implications before proceeding with such an arrangement.

Here are our top 5 tips for managing remote workers

  • Ensure the employee is operating in a safe working environment.
  • Create and implement a solid teleworking policy, which covers working hours, location and expectations in terms of productivity.
  • Technology is your friend. Use video and live chat as well as collaborative editing.
  • Create “Smart Goals” which are measurable and deliverable so that the expectations you laid out in your policy are easily monitored.
  • Group initiatives will maintain a team mentality, try creating quarterly goals and themes (we do it, it works!)

Successfully managing a remote workforce is no longer a future issue. Getting to grips with it now will benefit businesses in the long run in terms of growth, productivity, retention and recruitment.

Melinda Gibson

Melinda is a HR Manager with Employment Innovations (EI), based in Melbourne; she primarily assists clients in the retail and hospitality industry. With over 10 years of experience in human resource management, Mel provides advice and training on HR practices and employment law, assisting clients with the implementation of effective human resource tools and strategies. Visit www.thinkei.com.

Top image: Jeremy Levine Design


No matter the size of your business, understanding the benefits of effective policy building will be a benefit to you. The question you need to ask is: When are your workplace policies really policies? Do you enforce them-ensuring that if they are breached, appropriate action is taken?

The policies that you implement are put in place to protect you as an employer, ensure that you remain compliant and allow you to run your business effectively.

But how stringently do you uphold and enforce the policies that you employ?

Having a policy, but not enforcing it, can mean that when push comes to shove, it won’t hold up as grounds for discipline or dismissal, which is surely why you put it there in the first place?

2 Reasons why you should create then enforce workplace policy – laws in the workplace

Reason 1 – swearing at manager – Fair Work Australia

Earlier this year Fair Work Australia ordered that an employee who was terminated for swearing at his manager was to be reinstated; backing his claim of unfair dismissal.  The employee had reacted angrily and used profanities during conversations with his manager on two separate occasions on the same day, in response to his allocation to a faulty work vehicle. He was terminated the following day.

The employer in question did in fact have a “zero tolerance” policy on swearing in the workplace, but it was discovered that this policy was never really enforced and so swearing regularly occurred without the consequence of disciplinary procedures.

 A policy that it not upheld or enforced is not very useful when it comes to protecting your business

Reason 2 – excessive use of social media – Fair Work Australia

Another example can be found with the case of an architect who was dismissed by his employer for excessive use of social media during work hours, the allegations claimed he logged over 3,000 Google Mail chats in a three month period. Whereas the employee claimed he would not use any social media sites for more than 20 minutes each day.

Fair Work Australia found in favour of the employee’s unfair dismissal claim and awarded him compensation, as in this case there was not enough evidence to establish the claim of over-use. No allegations had been put to the employee before this point, or any warnings given with a chance for the employee to respond. There was basically, no establishment or enforcement of a social media policy leaving the employer with no evidence or procedure to fall back on.

In other words, a policy that it not upheld or enforced is not very useful when it comes to protecting your business. Of course, every employee is by no means a liability waiting to abuse the preferential guidelines set in front of them, but nevertheless, you are leaving yourself exposed if you are not careful to finish what you started.

Melinda Gibson

Melinda is a HR Manager with Employment Innovations (EI), based in Melbourne; she primarily assists clients in the retail and hospitality industry. With over 10 years of experience in human resource management, Mel provides advice and training on HR practices and employment law, assisting clients with the implementation of effective human resource tools and strategies. Visit www.thinkei.com.

Top image: Credit