13 Jul, 2020
Work and pandemics: lessons from the past

The history of pandemics offers lessons for how workplaces can respond to what’s happening during COVID-19.

In March, media outlets around the world saw Singapore as an example of how the spread of a deadly infection could be suppressed by a diligent government. On 18 March it recorded 47 new infections. Two weeks later, on 31 March, it recorded 47 again. The city-state seemed to have adeptly curbed exponential growth.

But then the curve arced upwards. Eighteen days later the country recorded 942 new cases. Two days after that daily cases peaked at 1,426. Singapore quickly went from role model to cautionary tale. Its failure was rooted in class distinctions. The new wave mostly affected Singapore’s community of one million migrant workers. According to reports, they are poorly paid and sleep in bunk beds in tiny rooms which can contain upwards of 20 people.

You could argue that a similar oversight, if nowhere near as severe, has happened during the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Melbourne. Vulnerable communities in public housing have been particularly affected.

In hindsight it seems obvious countries should have paid special attention to these communities. But hindsight of a different sort – a knowledge of the history of epidemics – might have offered them foresight. 

During the 1918 flu pandemic, in countries all over the world it was the poorer and more marginalised who suffered the most. Neglecting them ensured the virus lives longer in the population and increases the suffering of all. 

As Laura Spinney writes in Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World, “[I]t was bad diet, crowded living conditions and poor access to healthcare that weakened the constitution, rendering the poor, immigrants and ethnic minorities more susceptible to disease.” 

In Korea this meant ethnic Koreans were twice as likely to die as Japanese occupiers, even though their infection rates were similar. In France, it was servants, collected into cramped, poorly ventilated and unclean shared sleeping spaces, who suffered the most. A quarter of the women who died from the influenza in France were maids.

As long as humankind has walked the earth we have been dealing with disease. While so much is novel about this novel coronavirus, we can still look to the last 100 years for lessons on how epidemics affect work and workplaces.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, the governments of both China and the USA initially downplayed the virus to disastrous results. We have seen few workplace outbreaks in Australia, but wherever they happen all over the world, you can usually guess it was caused by some combination of ignorance, wilful ignorance and censorship. The desire to achieve some human goal – profits, morale, etc. – can blind people to the emotionless spread of the virus.

In workplaces, the need for transparency extends to job security. Some company leaders, in an effort to maintain employee mood, prefer to not give even a hint that restructuring is being considered. But this can backfire.

In an article for HRM, HR consultant and AHRI South Australia state president Susan Sadler CPHR said it’s detrimental to censor such issues.

“Because the next day the situation might change. And the solution to keeping everyone employed is getting their agreement to reduce their hours by 25 per cent. And you can only do that with agreement from the workforce,” she said.

“You want to flag it [job insecurity], while not worrying people. You want to keep them involved in and contributing to the solution if you can. Because you will get a better result.”

History backs her up. In John Barry’s The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, he writes that one of the most dangerous responses to the virus was censorship. In language similar to that which we heard from some parts of the world earlier this year, governments in 1918 were keen to downplay the deadliness of the virus. 

In the US, writes Barry, no national official “ever publicly acknowledged the danger”. The man overseeing health in the nation’s shipyards, Colonel Philip Doane, went so far as to tell the Associated Press, “The so-called Spanish influenza is nothing more or less than old fashioned grippe.” 

But it wasn’t ‘only the flu’, it infected a third of the world and killed somewhere between 17-100 million people (one reason we don’t know the number of deaths more accurately was the censorship itself). 

With World War One still being fought, the press held the state line on propaganda. The feeling was that ‘public morale’ must be maintained at any cost. So, Barry writes, just as the death of half an army unit would be described as ‘brisk fighting’ and a period of food and resource rationing was described as ‘a time of abundance’, the media either downplayed the seriousness of the virus or didn’t mention it at all.

It backfired. You cannot message a virus out of existence. Words can either add to trust and goodwill or they detract from it. Barry vividly describes how Philadelphia became a nightmare to live in as all sense of public mindedness was replaced by individuals’ need to survive. It might be the worst example of it, but the pattern was replicated worldwide.

As Barry writes: “Fear drove the people, and the government and the press could not control it. They could not control it because every true report had been diluted with lies. And the more the officials and newspapers reassured, the more they said, There is no cause for alarm if proper precautions are taken, or Influenza is nothing more or less than old-fashioned grippe, the more people believed themselves cast adrift, adrift with no one to trust, adrift on an ocean of death.”

The effects of sickness

Australia has been lucky to avoid too many total infections. But if the infection rate rises again, we would do well to remember that life or death are not the only outcomes of catching COVID-19.

In 1919, at the Versailles Peace Conference, then US president Woodrow Wilson caught influenza. Coughing so much he could barely catch a breath and experiencing a 39.4 degree fever and diarrhoea, he was incapacitated in bed for three days. Eventually, feeling somewhat better, he rejoined the negotiations from that bed.

Staffers and confidantes saw a changed man. And it wasn’t just that he seemed physically diminished. In Barry’s recounting, future US president Herbert Hoover, who was in France at the time, said Wilson had gone from “incisive” and “quick” to hesitant, stubborn and dulled. He said Wilson’s mind had lost “resiliency”. 

A lot of world history turned on what happened at the conference. Before his illness Wilson was playing hard ball. He was seeking a peace without victory – one that would let the world rebuild in a way that would prevent future conflict. He also wanted to establish democracy throughout Europe. “The only principle I recognize is that of the consent of the governed,” he said. He had made a serious threat to leave the conference unless this was achieved.

After the illness, he essentially caved to the demands of France and Britain. Even people that were there predicted its final outcome as being disastrous for long-term prospects of peace. The wide historical consensus is that they were right, it was a dominant cause of World War Two. It’s impossible to say what Wilson would have done if he hadn’t caught the illness, but Barry makes a persuasive argument that the epidemic wounded the world beyond the death count. 

We are lucky enough in the modern age that when we think about something with ‘flu-like symptoms’ we surmise that, if we’re young and otherwise healthy, we’ll be recovered from an illness within a couple of weeks. But a virus to which you have no natural protection can be far more damaging.

“Fear drove the people, and the government and the press could not control it.” – John Barry

In an opinion piece for the New York Times, member of its editorial board Mara Gay wrote about what it was like to catch COVID-19. The day before she had symptoms she ran three miles and walked 10 more. 

“Nearly a month later,” she writes, “I’m still sleeping on my stomach and still can’t go for a run.” Sleeping on her stomach was necessary to get enough oxygen flow while she’s in bed. She is 30 years old. 

The lessons we should be taking from these stories today is that if someone gets the virus, you should not presume they will return to work after their quarantine period is over. Nor should you expect that once they do return they will be able to operate at full strength. In many cases it would be appropriate to treat the virus as a serious injury and implement comprehensive return-to-work procedures.

If a leader gets the virus, it’s also important to remember that the ability to make sound decisions is tied to health. Illnesses are emotionally as well as physically exhausting. Letting people who’ve come back from COVID-19 know that it’s okay to not be okay, and consulting with them if their behaviour seems troubling, are appropriate courses of action.

Epidemics and diversity

Humans have a tendency to attach shame to sickness. It might even be instinctual, a primal way of ensuring social distancing happens. In March, when the news was getting worse by the day, we all experienced the fear of this instinct whenever we coughed and furtively glanced around to see how people would react. This instinct can be seen in the online shaming of people who are outdoors in groups. It’s not concern that is being expressed, it’s a form of disgust. 

Organisations should be aware of this human tendency, because it has real ramifications. It could lead to bullying or discrimination claims. In March and April, there were reports of racism where people were vilified or ostracised because they were believed to be Chinese. 

You can imagine other scenarios where workplace behaviour might step over a line. For example, someone might be directed to work from home or to take leave, without consultation, because they are immuno-compromised. While well intentioned, it could amount to adverse action, because physical disabilities are a protected attribute under Australian law.

The AIDS epidemic is the most vivid example of how this human drive to shame others because of a disease can manifest in ugly ways. 

In 1987, analytics and advisory company Gallup conducted a poll in the US. It found 51 per cent of Americans felt  it was people’s own fault if they contracted AIDS, and 46 per cent felt AIDS victims only had themselves to blame. Even more troubling was that 33 per cent felt employers should be allowed to fire staff with AIDS and 60 per cent felt people with AIDS should be forced to carry a card identifying them as carriers.

While its peak cultural impact in Australia and other developed countries was in the eighties, this epidemic isn’t just historical. Seventy-five million people have been infected with HIV since the epidemic began, according to the World Health Organisation. It’s an ongoing issue. As of the end of 2018, approximately 37.9 million people are living with HIV. 

Research from UK HIV awareness not-for-profit Avert examined the stigma still attached to a diagnosis. In Estonia eight per cent of people living with HIV have lost their job or source of income because of it, as did 45 per cent of people in Nigeria. Five per cent of people living with HIV in Mexico have been refused a job opportunity and in Malaysia 54 per cent reported being discriminated against by employers.

In 1984, Chris Smith became the first UK member of parliament to come out as gay. He did so at a rally against a potential ban against homosexaul employees in a town council. It was a brave, heroic decision in a time when hatred of homosexuality was very much a cultural norm. In 1987, Smith was diagnosed as HIV-positive. He did not reveal this fact until 2005.

There are two lessons in Smith’s story. The shame people attach to an illness is different from (and can be more piercing) than the shame attached to other differences. Secondly, that the shame attached to an illness is even harder to confront when you are already different.

If there is an underlying theme to these lessons it is that a desire to learn, honesty and empathy are needed to overcome the fear that epidemics place in our hearts. As long as COVID-19 is active and widespread the world will face ongoing uncertainty. To navigate it, it wouldn’t hurt to let history be our guide.

13 Jul, 2020
Schedule X extensions and other Award changes you should know about

The FWC decided to extend several important award variations at the last minute.

In June the Fair Work Commission (FWC) announced it would not be extending the Schedule X changes made to 99 COVID-19 impacted awards, or the variations made to the Clerks, Restaurant and Hospitality awards. However, in the final weeks of June, applications were received from various industries urging the FWC to extend the variations past the June 30 cut off. 

The FWC agreed to extend some of the variations, however, this was not a blanket extension. For Clerks, Restaurant and Hospitality awards the extension was applied but with some new guidelines on when the variations can be used. As for Schedule X, the FWC decided not to apply the extensions uniformly to account for the varying impact COVID-19 has had on different industries. 

Here’s HRM’s breakdown of the recent decisions.

Schedule X extension

Earlier this year the FWC introduced two key features into some modern awards: pandemic leave and double annual leave at half pay. These variations were called Schedule X.

For most of the awards (you can see the full list here) the Schedule X variations have been extended until September 30, 2020. This will align with the proposed end of JobKeeper. 

The Electrical Power Industry Award 2010, an award not included in the original variation decision, also had the Schedule X variations applied with the September 30 end date.

For the Fast Food Industry Award 2010, General Retail Industry Award 2010, Hair and Beauty Industry Award 2010, Storage Services and Wholesale Award 2020 – collectively referred to as the Retail Awards – the extension has only been increased only until July 31, 2020.

Two specific awards were singled out for the harsh impact COIVD-19 has had on their respective industries. The Air Pilots Award 2020 had the Schedule X variation extended until December 30, 2020, and the Live Performance Award 2010 was given a 12 month extension to June 30, 2021. 

A selection of nine awards, collectively referred to as the Health Sector Awards (full list here), have had the extension applied “until further order of the Commission,” according to the decision handed down by the FWC. 

The decision noted that many employees would need to continue accessing unpaid pandemic leave, especially considering the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria. Pandemic leave was the biggest announcement to come from the Schedule X changes and was the one variation that was not similar to the Fair Work changes introduced under JobKeeper. 

Along with unpaid pandemic leave, there are two types of sick leave alternatives for people working in Victoria and Queensland.

In Victoria, the state government introduced a hardship fund for certain employees. If employees are diagnosed with COVID-19 or forced to self-isolate workers can receive a payment of $1,500 if they are a casual employee or have exhausted all their sick leave entitlements. Queenslanders have access to a similar payment but only if they have tested positive for COVID-19. 

In both states the employees must not be receiving any other benefits or salary supplements, such as JobKeeper, in order to be eligible for hardship fund payments. 

Other Award Changes

As HRM previously reported, in April there were three major changes made to the Clerks, Restaurant and Hospitality awards, all designed to give employers and employees more flexibility during the pandemic. These included:

  1. Greater flexibility in job roles and duties
  2. Greater flexibility in arranging work hours
  3. Increased flexibility when it comes to leave

The changes were implemented to give employers breathing room in an extremely uncertain environment. When restaurants didn’t know if they’d be able to open their doors, the variations allowed employers to reduce staff hours, even if they were full time employees. They also gave employers the power to ask workers under those awards to take leave when there was no work available. 

The FWC agreed to extend the variations in the clerks award until September 30. The Restaurant and Hospitality award provisions will extend until September 27, however, the variations only apply in certain circumstances, so cannot be used by all employers. The stand out caveat is that the variations do not apply if the business is receiving JobKeeper payments or is eligible for JobKeeper. 

New variations have also been implemented into the Vehicle Repair, Services and Retail Award 2020. Unlike the other awards, the FWC did not extend the employer powers of roles and duties in this award, however it did extend the variations in relation to work hours and annual leave, so employers in the vehicle sector can now reduce the hours of full-time and part-time employees.They can also direct employees to take annual leave. 

The FWC noted that the combination of bushfires, the pandemic and an economic downturn had greatly impacted the motor vehicle industry and the variations aim to keep people employed during this tough time. 

With the end of award variations planned to occur at the same time as JobKeeper payments come to an end, September is likely to be a tough month for Australian employers and employees alike. 

Some experts believe hundreds of organisations are existing in a “zombie” state, meaning they’re able to pay their employees through JobKeeper but don’t have a high chance of sustaining this practice in the long-term.e. Even the Reserve Bank of Australia has backed calls to continue financial stimulus beyond the September cut off period to avoid further damage to the economy.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is due to provide an update on a possible JobKeeper extension on July 23.

29 Jun, 2020
No human is an island: unlearning isolation

For most of this year we’ve been learning how to lead our lives in isolation. How do we get through that from a psychological perspective? And how do we unlearn it?

More than 200 years ago in the United States, Quakers championed solitary confinement as the humane alternative to corporal punishments such as flogging. The thought was that instead of being beaten, criminals would sit with themselves and reconnect with God. These days, solitary confinement is widely regarded as one of the worst punishments for prisoners. It’s psychological torture and is supposed to be reserved for those committing the most heinous of offences.

“We are born to be social,” says Dan Auerbach, an organisational psychology consultant at “We live in care for longer than any other species. We spend a good 18 years in the care of other adults, and we learn to rely on those social interactions. That need for connectedness lasts throughout our life.”

There is a vast difference between the isolation everyone has experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the isolation imposed on prisoners. We’ve been able to enjoy some of the creature comforts of life – the view from a window, short trips outdoors and video calls with loved ones. And those of us with families or roommates weren’t so much as isolated but confined. 

The conditions we’ve been living in are less than desirable, but (for most of us) are in no way dire. But even this form of confinement and isolation has changed us because it’s so far removed from what human beings are used to.

Life is almost back to normal in Australia now. We can have groups of people in our homes, we can head to the pub with friends and most of the services we enjoy are back up and running. While this will make the world of difference, we’re not out of the woods yet. A second wave of infections could be just around the corner, infected people will continue to be quarantined and vulnerable people will choose to remain in self-isolation. So how should organisations be dealing with a workforce experiencing the short-term and long-term psychological impacts of isolation?

Lonely brains

Feeling isolated affects the human brain in many different ways. It can cause negative shifts in our mood, it affects how we sleep, and it has even been linked with death and increased exposure to disease.

Expert in social neuroscience, the late John Cacioppo, formerly a director at University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, studied the effects of isolation for decades. Much of his work was dedicated to differentiating between objective isolation and perceived isolation (loneliness). He found both to have significant impacts on physical and mental health, but the latter is far more damaging.

In a 2009 research paper, Cacioppo and co-author Louise Hawkley found that, when compared with the objective experience of isolation, the subjective experience of loneliness is a stronger predictor of changes in things such as life satisfaction, elevated blood pressure and peoples’ perception of their environment.

They point to other research which suggests loneliness is linked with a negative “lifetime change in IQ” and depressive symptoms, and it can even change gene expression.

In one experiment, Cacioppo and his team placed  participants under hypnosis and made them feel lonely.

He talked through the results in a video for No Isolation, a Norwegian startup that creates communication tools to help combat loneliness and isolation. He said they proved that when you make someone feel lonely, they can become more depressed, shyer and hostile. They can also develop poorer social skills and a greater fear of negative evaluation.

“The effect of isolation on mortality is four times larger than obesity and it’s more prevalent,” says Cacioppo. “So when you think about obesity as a major health problem, think about felt isolation having four times the impact on your health.”

While this research suggests those feeling lonely are worse off than those of us who are simply frustrated from being confined indoors, what happens when there’s crossover? It’s very likely that many cases of objective isolation will lead to loneliness.

“Perhaps during isolation you feel you didn’t have the level of contact or support that you needed,” says Auerbach. “Or perhaps you lost the skills or confidence to connect with the people around you. Going back into the social environment could lead us to develop that sense of perceived isolation.”

He says it’s interesting to look at the reactions of infants and young people to isolation to better understand the adult experience.

“When they lose connection with somebody who’s caring for them, they become very distressed. There’s an outcry and eventually despondency and a collapse into a catatonic depression. Adults have other ways of coping and of masking what’s going on inside. But we often go through similar stages of feeling very, very frightened when we feel isolated – we’re clamoring for connection. And if we don’t get it for too long, we also become anxious and potentially depressed.

“When you think about obesity as a major health problem, think about felt isolation having four times the impact on your health.” –John Cacioppo

“Our primary motive in life is to seek a good, functional relationship. Quality connectedness with others is essential for good mental health.”

Expert isolator

Isolation experiences vary. Those who are more introverted are perhaps relishing the alone time. But for those who are struggling, what makes for a better isolation experience? There could be plenty of answers to a question like this – a strong Wi-Fi signal, living with others, easy access to essential services – but what stands out as particularly important is meaningful work. This is the opinion of Canadian Chris Hadfield, a former International Space Station astronaut.

There’s isolation, and there’s being locked inside a tube and hurtling through the emptiness of space for months at a time. Astronauts (and a selection of animals) are the only ones to know this feeling. 

Hadfield says it’s a matter of perspective. From one point of view, our lives are much narrower than we care to believe. While being in isolation feels restrictive – and let’s be clear, it is – we already operate in a very limited portion of the world.

“You’ve not seen everything; you’ve not met everybody; you haven’t done everything. Even if you’ve travelled a lot, you have still only seen a tiny fraction of the huge variety of the world,” he says.

Hadfield has circled the planet from space about 2,600 times. When returning from his longest mission, his perspective was expanded both figuratively and literally.

“I got to be as far away from the little room I was born in as nearly anyone ever has. I was able to truly see the world for what it is. In that time, you get to see a perspective that becomes a part of you.”

Cultural and religious differences, which are often magnified on earth, fade away in space, he says. He returned to earth with an optimism about the “proven resilience” of both the planet and its inhabitants. He’s viewing the COVID-19 pandemic through this lens.

Things are abnormal right now, he says. “There’s this weird danger – a virus that no-one is immune to. It doesn’t matter if you’re Australian or an Intuit living in northern Canada, we’re all vulnerable to [the same thing] and that’s a weird position to be in. Everybody’s life is threatened… it’s like a creeping fog in a bad movie. That’s very unsettling.

“The beauty of it is, for one of those rare moments in history, the entire world has a common enemy. That means we can have a common purpose. That’s an immensely unifying thing,” he says.

Hadfield says he also returned from space with a new sense of time. That’s probably because he wasn’t up there laying around watching Netflix. He was engaging in rigorous scientific work. Doing that, he says, helped the hours, days and weeks to flow by seamlessly.

Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to have such meaningful work to do right now. Many Australians have been made redundant or their roles have shifted. 

Hadfield’s advice to those people is to make your own work.

“Keep busy with a million things to do, but make a bunch of those things fun or voluntary, so you look forward to each day. When we did that right on the spaceship, one of us remarked after a couple of months that it’s always Monday or Friday. That’s because we bought into the level of busyness and we balanced the huge workload with a necessary amount of ‘me time’ and sleep.”

Auerbach says that while work might play a role in helping some people get through periods of isolation, in Hadfield’s case, isolation was in the job description.

“If you’re an astronaut, part of your role expectation is to cope well in that environment. That’s part of your sense of meaning. In this pandemic, we’ve been thrust into isolation without choice and without it being part of our core identity,” says Auerbach.

For those of us who haven’t trained for decades to survive long periods of isolation, like Hadfield has, Auerbach says it’s important we ease ourselves back in slowly.

“In a crisis, people rally and become quite focused on trying to cope.” – Dan Auerbach

Unlearning isolation

Speaking generally, the clients Auerbach has seen tended to follow a similar pattern in their response to the restrictions. There was an initial sense of fear and panic in the thought of having to prepare for isolation, followed by a brief feeling of novelty in getting to slow down and try a new way of living. When the shine wore off, it was followed by a few weeks of frustration, despondency and hopelessness.

Now, he says, many people are emerging out the other end with a sense of acceptance for this new normal. But what happens when the ‘old normal’ reasserts itself? When workplaces reopen, employees will have to readjust and perhaps unlearn the behaviours they’ve developed over the last few months.

People might come back to work feeling less motivated, anxious or perhaps even depressed. They might struggle to work with others around them. Managers might notice a drop in the quality of their work. They might be more irritable than usual or have trouble meeting their deadlines. Workplaces need to ease staff back in, because isolation can cause aftershocks.

“When we’re depressed or socially anxious, we find it hard to reach out and be with other people,” says Auerbach. “That can deepen this sense of perceived isolation. This can spiral unless we slowly reconnect ourselves and practice getting reconnected with others.”

Even though we’ve been working in the comfort of our own homes, we may come back quite burnt out. Not just because of the impacts of living and working through a crisis, but also because of how we’ve learned to communicate with each other.

“Ironically, because of all the communication we’re having on Zoom and Skype, we’re getting very close to [our co-workers] on a face-to-face level, which isn’t very normal in a social interaction,” says Auerbach. 

“We don’t stare at each other constantly when we are in a group of four people. People are feeling a little burnt out from the hyper-stimulating interactions.”

People are saying we’re dealing with two crises at the moment: the physical health impacts of the virus and the economic fallout. However, some experts suggest there’s a third tier that we should be equally concerned about – the mental health impacts.

“In a crisis, people rally and become quite focused on trying to cope,” says Auerbach. 

“It’s not until the immediate threat is gone that we start to see the most profound mental health effects. We know that from looking at situations like SARS, siege scenarios and war zones. When our mind is vigilant, it’s operating on a very narrow focus around how to survive. When comfort returns to life, we see other emotions come forward for processing.”

This is a completely normal response, he says.

“We might see some people being less social, or having a change in mood. Managers, friends and peers need to be prepared for how to manage mental health concerns that won’t raise their heads until people emerge from isolation.”

Many workplaces have seen a positive shift in dialogue around mental health during the pandemic, and HR managers should keep an eye on whether or not this changes as we go back to work.

Employers also need to expand their bubble of care as staff trickle back into the workplace. While an employee’s wages might not have been cut, perhaps their partner’s have been, says Auerbach. Their individual mental health might appear to be okay, but their children could be struggling. These external factors will affect staff, employers need to be prepared for that.

Returning to Hadfield’s experience, if we think of ourselves as astronauts, and our family and co-workers as crew mates, what are we doing to make sure our mission runs smoothly? What are we doing to ensure we emerge from this situation changed for the better?

Hadfield says we’re operating in unprecedented times, and people need a plan. “On landing day, you want to be able to stand up next to your ship and say, ‘That was an amazing experience. We survived. We thrived. I learned a bunch of things and I saw stuff I’d never seen before.’” 

22 Jun, 2020
Minimum wage increase to hit retail in February 2021
Inside Retail

The Fair Work Commission has said it will raise the minimum wage in Australia from July 1 to $753.80 a week, or $19.84 an hour – a $13 a week increase.

The General Retail Industry Award 2010 will not be affected by the increase until 1 February 2021, due to the inordinate impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on the retail industry. 

FWC president Iain Ross said the panel had noted the polarised proposals from industry groups, and had been given little direction by the Government barring that it be cautious and prioritise keeping Australians in jobs. 

“The Australian economy is going through a significant downturn and is almost certain to enter a recession,” Ross said.

“The shock to the labour market has been unprecedented… and the form and shape of the pathway to recovery is uncertain.”

Ross said the approaching cliff drop of Government wage subsidy JobKeeper, as well as the risk of a second wave of COVID-19 cases as the economy slowly opens up, helped to push the majority of panel members to come to the decision. 

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said that it was a modest increase, and that the union was disappointed some awards wouldn’t see increases until November or February next year.

“However it is clear in the decision that this panel of experts recognise that cutting wages in the middle of this crisis would be a disaster for working people and the economy and they have rejected the arguments put by some employers to effectively cut wages by freezing the minimum wage,” McManus said. 

“Just about every cent a worker on minimum wages receives, they spend. This is money circulating to local businesses. It is the fastest and most effective form of stimulus we can have.”

According to the ACTU, almost 60 per cent of the economy relies on domestic spending – which is likely to go up as international borders remain closed.

“This is why we must not have wage cuts. Wage cuts are confidence killers which hurts business and job creation,” McManus said. 

National Retail Association chief executive Dominique Lamb said the decision was like Groundhog Day – retailers would wake up in February to find their concerns have once again been ignored, and that they are in a “continuing nightmare”.

“They will wake up to the recurring problem of widespread failure of retail businesses, which will be compounded by wage increases that many simply cannot afford,” Lamb said. 

“The bottom line is that businesses cannot pay money that they do not have and will likely be hit with two wage increases in February and July 2021.

“It is hard to reconcile this verdict with the events of the past six months and the current economic climate,” Lamb said. 

18 Jun, 2020
Five tips for a successful virtual coffee catch-up
Financial Review

Ask Stef Bradley about her secrets to a successful virtual coffee and the KPMG partner channels the advice her father would give her before a date.

Always have three conversation starters just in case there's an awkward silence.

"I used to have to think about these conversation starters and they would be tested with my dad," Bradley says.

"I always think about that more and more in the virtual world."

In the shift to remote work during COVID-19, professionals have to had to adapt their communication skills as meetings have moved to video platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

The office that workers once knew is unlikely to make a comeback any time soon and the same can be said for in-person meetings.

While the shift to online meetings has been a game-changer for some, experts say there is a craft to mastering the art of virtual communication – and that goes for the humble coffee catch-up too.

Although video meetings have been touted as far more efficient, they have their limitations. One of the biggest challenges is that it is much harder to read non-verbal cues such as body language over video.

1. Before you even meet ...

It can be useful to establish why you're meeting and provide a topic of discussion in your meeting invitation, says Jane Gunn, partner in charge of People and Change at KPMG Australia.

If it's more formal, it can be helpful to provide a short agenda to guide the discussion.

Fiona Roberston, leadership specialist and author, suggests going one step further and sending a 30-second introductory video before the meeting, especially if you haven't met before.

"Just to say 'hey, I'm me, really looking forward to seeing you'," she says. "That way people know what they're in for. That saves the sniff test at the beginning."

Just because you're catching up from the comfort of your bedroom or living room, doesn't mean you should treat it any less professionally than an in-person meeting, says leading body language and speech expert Michael Kelly.

He says ensure you have the basics down-pat before the meeting. These include dressing professionally, using a non-distracting background, directing extra light on your face, ensuring the camera is at eye level and putting a "do not disturb" sign on the door.

2. Make a connection

Regardless of whether the meeting is for business purposes or a social catch-up, Gunn advises starting the conversation by making a human connection to help engage everyone.

"Engage in small talk," she says. "What is your cat's name? How are your kids? Allow it to become a human connection rather a transitional, leadership interaction."

Robertson concurs.

"Always seek to connect before you convince," she says. "Particularly at this point in time when we've all got kids and pets and real lives that we haven't been able to hide. I think people really appreciate being able to meet the real human a little bit more than might have once been the case."

3. Follow the leader

If you've ever been in a virtual meeting with lots of participants, you have probably experienced the frustration of people interrupting or talking over one another.

Gunn recommends being clear on who is facilitating the discussion.

"It’s even more important in a virtual meeting because everyone is effectively at a distance," she says.

"Leadership is vital especially if it’s a ‘social connection only’ purpose meeting. Who is responsible for making sure everyone contributes?"

Gunn says it is important to know who is on the call and ensure everyone is involved. If you need to, write down everyone's names.

Put a tick next to their name when they make a contribution.

Gunn suggests making use of commentary tools – or even just the "group chat" functionality – where people can contribute.

"They can also record a comment or insight without having to actually speak," she says. "The main aim is to ensure everyone has a ‘voice’ – including more introverted participants."

4. Don't be anywhere else

Distractions are abundantly obvious during virtual communication, say experts.

"DBAE - don't be anywhere else," says Kelly. "It's so basic but it [works] because we all daydream, so you can even put a post-it note on your monitor and that seems to [help you] focus in the moment."

5. K.I.S.S (Keep it short and slow)

Robertson recommends keeping a lid on the length of a coffee meeting, especially in the virtual world.

"Human brains are not designed for interacting over screens, we're designed for face-to-face, so there's a whole lot of stuff that your brain does when you're in physically in proximity to another person," she says.

"It does all this stuff without us even being aware of it and when you're on the other side of a screen, brains get very confused because they see a person there but they can't do what they normally do and that's one of the reasons why Zoom meetings are so exhausting.

"It's like your brain is sending out a Bluetooth signal and hitting a brick wall. It's all much more stressful than if you were face-to-face."

Kelly says: "Being succinct is the currency of video meetings and that extends to coffee meetings."

Robertson says it's also important to slow down – especially when communicating virtually.

"Ask more than tell and allow silence to do more of the work because people need time to think and the social cues of who can talk when are much less obvious. Just slow the whole thing down."

Bonus tip: Keep smiling

"Smiling releases endorphins and makes everyone feel better connected," says Gunn.

Kelly agrees energy is a vital component to a successful – and memorable – coffee meeting.

"Energy is the secret sauce of virtual communication. Your energy is more memorable than your words."

18 Jun, 2020
It's no wonder we're all tired and irritable a lot of the time
The Sydney Morning Herald

If you didn't get COVID-19 and you didn't lose your job because of it, the worst part for most Australians has been the hugely increased cognitive load resulting from it.

On the surface it's been a time of diminished choice. You couldn't leave your house. You couldn't find toilet paper. You couldn't sit in the park.

But you still had to figure out what you would do, and that required conscious thought.

There were still 24 hours in the day, after all. And absent our usual routines, we had to make it up on the fly. Still have to.

In reality, we've all seen a dramatic increase in the number of decision points in the day requiring conscious thought. Things we once did on autopilot, like giving a hug or touching your face, have now become critical decision points.

And if behavioural economics has taught us anything, it's that humans generally suck at decision making.

Two concepts from the field - that of "decision fatigue" and "asymmetric loss function" – hold particular explanatory power to understanding the current sense of unease felt by so many.

The idea of decision fatigue is pretty much as it sounds and was coined by the American social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister.

His, and other numerous studies, have proved that decision makers make different decisions depending on how many decisions they have already made. Parole judges, for instance, are more likely to grant parole first thing in the morning, or shortly after a break. Doctors order more tests in the morning and fewer in the afternoon.

Decision making can alter in different ways. In some situations, decision makers delay making a decision, such as the parole judge effectively putting off the decision whether to release someone back into the community.

In other situations, decision makers become more impulsive, which explains all those chocolate bars at the checkout counter – retailers know you're more likely to cave in to a poor health choice after an exhaustive search of the grocery aisles.

Explanations vary as to why we're so bad at consecutive decision making. Psychologists have compared the concept of self-control – the ability to make optimal decisions for oneself – to a muscle, which fatigues with use.

While actual energy use by the brain fluctuates very little, different parts of the brain that require conscious choice require more energy.

Interestingly, studies have shown that small amounts of glucose, like fruit, can restore – at least temporarily – the ability to make good decisions. So that 3pm sugar craving might not be so irrational after all.

Overall, strategies to overcome decision fatigue include reducing the number of decision points in the day. Wearing the same outfit or eating the same meals each day are ways to reduce the cognitive load.

That new uniform of tracksuit pants and Ugg boots you've adopted while working from home during the pandemic is not so irrational after all – but a highly strategic coping mechanism.

But it's the second insight from behavioural economics of "asymmetric loss aversion" that really goes to the heart of the current malaise.

Not only are we making more decisions, but the consequences of those decisions are more dire than ever before.

One of my local bus shelters has an ad reading: "Save lives in your community, stay at home unless absolutely essential."

Every tiny decision we make these days, from catching a bus to ringing a doorbell to how far to stand apart in the coffee queue now comes with the potential to bring death to you, your loved ones, or those in our community with compromised health.

At times, there have also been severe financial penalties for breaking the rules.

And perhaps worst of all for a social animal, has been the sense that one might incur social shame or stigma if the decisions we make should spread the virus.

For many people who got COVID-19, the worst part was not the illness itself but the social shaming of friends or acquaintances who they may have exposed to the virus.

Each decision made in a time of COVID has been subject to an asymmetric loss function.

That is, the potential loss that could be suffered from any course of action was more extreme – that of death, loss and isolation.

Many decisions carry such an asymmetry of risks. Being 30 minutes late for a flight is way worse than being 30 minutes early. That's why we all spend so long waiting around in airports (well, we used to).

Getting caught in the rain without an umbrella is so much worse than the inconvenience of carrying around an umbrella unnecessarily. The greater the potential loss, the greater level of discomfort we are willing to experience to avoid it.

And even as the threat of the virus recedes, life is far from back to normal.

For every rule change, for every relaxation – or potential reimposition – of restrictions, we are forced to make a new set of decisions.

It will be some time before life is back to normal – if ever.

On the upside, the new way of life offers the potential – for some, at least – to eke out more optimal ways of living, such as continuing to work from home or spending more time with family. But the cognitive load imposed by having to re-imagine the minutiae of life remains.

You're only human, after all. But you're far from alone in that.

15 Jun, 2020
A new survey of Australian office workers has found we like working from home – but distractions and maintaining team culture are big concerns
Business Insider Australia

The remote work revolution has been promised for years now, and it only took a global pandemic for Australia to find out if it was actually ready to make the leap.

As coronavirus restrictions sent the majority of white-collar workers in Australia to their home offices – and kitchen tables – many have wondered whether this new arrangement might constitute a new normal. It’s clear many workers are capable of doing most (if not all) of their jobs out of the office with little disruption, giving executives some daring ideas on slashing costly real estate expenses within their enterprises.

A new report from productivity consultancy Building20, based on a survey of 423 Australian office workers between May 12 and May 22, has found most workers believe they are either more productive working from home or have maintained similar levels of productivity to when they were in the office.

According to the report, 45% of respondents think they’re more productive working remotely, while 32% think their productivity is about the same, and only 22% think their productivity has dropped. Overall, 51% of respondents said they preferred remote working, as compared to 23% who prefer working in the office and 26% with no preference between the two.

Most respondents wanted to at least spend more time working remotely after the coronavirus pandemic than they did previously. On average, those surveyed wanted to work remotely about half of the time, indicating that increased flexibility in working arrangements could be the norm rather than a truly radical change.

Interestingly, it is managers who are most eager to continue remote work arrangements, with 57% showing a preference for working from home, as compared to 45% among general employees. This rift suggests remote management may be slightly more preferable for those who are actually doing the managing.

The most popular reason for enjoying remote work was getting rid of the commute, followed by flexibility and saving money. Around a third of respondents also said it enhanced work-life balance for them, or allowed them to spend more time with family.

The challenges of remote work going forward

The discussion about how vigorously Australians can commit to remote work after COVID-19 is obviously a complex one which is not entirely in the hands of individual companies.

As John L.Swinburne from the Swinburne University of Technology writes in The Conversation, there are broader questions of urban planning at play – including, for example, how capable our internet infrastructure is.

For the average worker, the concerns are more immediate. 32% of respondents to the Building20 survey said distractions were a major challenge while working from home, with kids, noise and phone calls being tipped as particularly bothersome. Of course, as restriction on schools and daycares are further lifted, some of these concerns will be less severe.

But some problems are more pernicious. As many organisations are finding, work drinks over Zoom are not a full substitute for a robust team culture. About half of respondents to the survey said it was the biggest concern about remote work – ahead of technology, the second-biggest concern.

“Without face-to-face interactions, employees worry that workplace culture will slip,” the report reads.

The office as a space for in-person collaboration is one of the few areas remote work struggles to replace. Unispace global design director Simon Pole told Business Insider Australia the social, collaborative quality of offices would ensure workplaces never go entirely remote.

“Many clients have reported that the social isolation is having its toll on their teams,” Poole said. “Having Friday drinks on a chat is not the same, the office banter has stopped, the cultural reinforcement is left to fortnightly emails from the CEO, and the ad hoc knowledge sharing and problem-solving is not happening,” he said.

But the survey reinforces something which seems increasingly obvious as we navigate COVID-19 restrictions: workers don’t want to go back to the inflexible working arrangements of before.

11 Jun, 2020
A new survey of Australian office workers has found we like working from home – but distractions and maintaining team culture are big concerns
Business Insider Australia

The remote work revolution has been promised for years now, and it only took a global pandemic for Australia to find out if it was actually ready to make the leap.

As coronavirus restrictions sent the majority of white-collar workers in Australia to their home offices – and kitchen tables – many have wondered whether this new arrangement might constitute a new normal. It’s clear many workers are capable of doing most (if not all) of their jobs out of the office with little disruption, giving executives some daring ideas on slashing costly real estate expenses within their enterprises.

A new report from productivity consultancy Building20, based on a survey of 423 Australian office workers between May 12 and May 22, has found most workers believe they are either more productive working from home or have maintained similar levels of productivity to when they were in the office.

According to the report, 45% of respondents think they’re more productive working remotely, while 32% think their productivity is about the same, and only 22% think their productivity has dropped. Overall, 51% of respondents said they preferred remote working, as compared to 23% who prefer working in the office and 26% with no preference between the two.

Most respondents wanted to at least spend more time working remotely after the coronavirus pandemic than they did previously. On average, those surveyed wanted to work remotely about half of the time, indicating that increased flexibility in working arrangements could be the norm rather than a truly radical change.

Interestingly, it is managers who are most eager to continue remote work arrangements, with 57% showing a preference for working from home, as compared to 45% among general employees. This rift suggests remote management may be slightly more preferable for those who are actually doing the managing.

The most popular reason for enjoying remote work was getting rid of the commute, followed by flexibility and saving money. Around a third of respondents also said it enhanced work-life balance for them, or allowed them to spend more time with family.

The challenges of remote work going forward

The discussion about how vigorously Australians can commit to remote work after COVID-19 is obviously a complex one which is not entirely in the hands of individual companies.

As John L.Swinburne from the Swinburne University of Technology writes in The Conversation, there are broader questions of urban planning at play – including, for example, how capable our internet infrastructure is.

For the average worker, the concerns are more immediate. 32% of respondents to the Building20 survey said distractions were a major challenge while working from home, with kids, noise and phone calls being tipped as particularly bothersome. Of course, as restriction on schools and daycares are further lifted, some of these concerns will be less severe.

But some problems are more pernicious. As many organisations are finding, work drinks over Zoom are not a full substitute for a robust team culture. About half of respondents to the survey said it was the biggest concern about remote work – ahead of technology, the second-biggest concern.

“Without face-to-face interactions, employees worry that workplace culture will slip,” the report reads.

The office as a space for in-person collaboration is one of the few areas remote work struggles to replace. Unispace global design director Simon Pole told Business Insider Australia the social, collaborative quality of offices would ensure workplaces never go entirely remote.

“Many clients have reported that the social isolation is having its toll on their teams,” Poole said. “Having Friday drinks on a chat is not the same, the office banter has stopped, the cultural reinforcement is left to fortnightly emails from the CEO, and the ad hoc knowledge sharing and problem-solving is not happening,” he said.

But the survey reinforces something which seems increasingly obvious as we navigate COVID-19 restrictions: workers don’t want to go back to the inflexible working arrangements of before.

10 Jun, 2020
Is the biggest return-to-work challenge that people love working remotely?
HRM Online
HRM Online

This Flexible Working Day (10 June), it’s time to recognise that a lot of people – perhaps a majority – prefer working remotely. How should organisations manage this?

A Sydney-based professional services firm with 1000 employees had enacted its return-to-work strategy. The office was prepared. It was cleaned and rigorous social-distancing measures were put in place to ensure staff confidence. The company wanted to stagger days in the office so split its workforce into ‘A’ and ‘B’ streams. Due to ongoing social-distancing rules, going into the office wasn’t compulsory. On the first Monday back – the A stream day – less than 150 people turned up. The remaining 350-400 opted to work remotely.

This story comes from Paul Flanagan, founder of Life Street (who works with the above firm). But the company is not alone. All over the world employers are finding that the forced ‘global experiment’ in working from home has been very successful – perhaps too successful. Most organisations were up to the challenge of facilitating working from home, but many are now discovering a lot of employees are intransigent about coming back. 

Why is this the case and what should leaders do about it?

This is not just a health issue

It would be reasonable to surmise that a big reason the professional services firm had so few people returning was because many were still worried about the risk of infection. But survey after survey suggests that, setting aside health concerns, employees want remote working options. And, while the data is not conclusive, it seems like the majority prefer it over office work.

In the US, a Gallup poll of workers found 59 per cent wanted to “work remotely as much as possible”. In Australia, an NBN co survey found 67 per cent of workers “expect” to work remotely more frequently.

Data from before the pandemic has consistently shown that long commutes align with less job satisfaction. One study even found that adding 20 minutes to the commute had the same negative effect as a 19 per cent pay cut. So it makes sense getting rid of the commute entirely has made people happier about remote work.

Buffer and AngelList surveyed 3,500 workers from around the world (including Australia) and found 98 per cent want to work remotely at least some of the time “for the rest of their careers”. 

Of those surveyed: 

  • 57 per cent are currently working remotely 100 per cent of the time
  • 16.5 per cent are working remotely 76-99 per cent of the time 
  • 10 per cent were remote working less than 26 per cent of the time

Given this breakdown, it’s impressive that 70 per cent were happy with the amount of time they’re working remotely and 19 per cent wanted to work remotely more often. Only 11 per cent wanted to work remotely less often. It’s particularly astounding if you remember at the start of this year it was normal for companies to limit remote working opportunities. The convention in a lot of places was to prevent people from working from home as much as possible.

Now, there is a caveat to this data. A third of respondents either worked freelance (3 per cent) or worked for a company that had a fully remote workforce (30 per cent). So while two thirds were part of a blended workforce, those who have crafted careers around remote work are possibly over-represented in the sample. 

However, the survey also found data that doesn’t need any caveats. Ninety-seven per cent of respondents said they would recommend remote work to others. This is proof of a very simple truth that all organisations should never forget: people really like working remotely. 

Returning to the professional services firm, this was a group of people who had been working remotely for over two months. Knowing that remote work was still an option for the foreseeable future they had every reason to return to work, even if just to break up the routine. So it’s quite possible that COVID-19 was the secondary cause, and the main reason most didn’t return was because they didn’t want to.

Rethinking the challenge

As HRM has previously written, research broadly shows that individuals are more productive when working remotely, while teams are more efficient working in-office. Given this, for most organisations the future should likely involve a blend of both types of work.

This means there will be times where employees want to work remotely but the organisation would benefit the most from them being in the office (and vice versa). While each job demands what it demands, there are ways you can strike the right balance between employee wishes and organisational needs.

A good place to start is by figuring out why employees prefer remote work, and seeing if they can be satisfied in other ways. While different surveys produce different results, all answers to the question of why people prefer remote work can be broken down into two main reasons: autonomy and work-life balance.

If someone says they like remote working because it means they have schedule flexibility and the ability to work from anywhere (the top two benefits in the Buffer and AngelList survey), they are effectively saying they like the ability to have control over how they work. 

If someone says they like remote working because of the lack of a commute, meaning they get to spend more time with family (the third and fourth ranked benefits), they are saying they want a better work-life balance.

For those in the first group, there are ways to offer more autonomy while still having people in the office. The most obvious is giving them control over their hours – letting them choose, with their team members, what times will be most conducive to both lifestyle and productivity.

You can also collaborate with staff on job crafting, which has also shown to help organisations thrive in difficult times.

Lastly, new ideas in office design were already catering for different kinds of work that are emerging. Creating spaces for each is useful as it gives employees the ability to choose the right space for them within the office..

It’s a little more difficult to satisfy the needs of those in the work-life balance group. In the past, organisations have tended to view work-life balance as the only benefit of remote working (hence why it was seen as a privilege and not a right), and so haven’t worried about employees being upset about the lack of it. But now that so many people have gotten a taste for it, this approach may no longer be as sustainable.

Again, offering flexible hours is a good option. Another idea might be to reward staff who need to come into the office for longer periods with things that will encourage them to spend quality time out of work later – whether that’s extra leave or something as simple as a restaurant voucher for their family. For working parents, approaching them to collaborate on a schedule that fits with their childcare demands can be advantageous.

It is still too early to say conclusively that remote work is the ‘new normal’, but it certainly is front of mind for everyone right now. So, for the moment, an organisational policy that insists on mostly working from the office is a policy designed to deprive employees of something  they really like and that makes them individually more productive. As more and more organisations transition to the next phase after lockdown, they would do well to keep that in mind.

5 Jun, 2020
5 things keeping HR professionals up at night

AHRI’s latest pulse survey shows HR professionals are burning the candle at both ends and struggling to keep staff connected.

In Australia, COVID-19 is under enough control that lockdowns are continuously easing, but that doesn’t mean HR professionals’ jobs are getting any easier. In fact it means the opposite. Just as the huge move to remote work was unprecedented, so too will be the return to the workplace. For many organisations, this will be the hardest part of the pandemic.

AHRI’s first HR pulse survey – conducted in the first week of April – showed redundancies were a key concern for many HR professionals in Australia. In the second survey, which looks at HR’s sentiments during the first week of May, reintroducing staff into the workforce was respondents’ main concern (66 per cent), followed by loss of revenue (48 per cent) and a downturn in business (47 per cent).  

Looking more deeply into the results, it’s clear there are consistent challenges HR professionals are facing right now. Here are the five most important.

1. Workloads have increased but hours don’t reflect this

Nearly 85 per cent of respondents were working from home at the time they took this survey, as were many of their colleagues. So while getting back to the physical workforce might not be a reality just yet, it’s certainly a key item on HR’s agenda.

Formulating a return-to-work plan is time consuming. You have to factor in extra hygiene and cleaning practices, the psychological safety of employees who’ve struggled in isolation and the new legal obligations around social distancing and workplace signage.

So it’s not surprising that 30 per cent of respondents say they’re experiencing a 50 per cent increase in their workload right now, and only 17 per cent say their paid hours are reflective of this.

As one respondent explained it, “[There is] a greater demand on my time to connect with my team and others daily. Balancing home [schooling] of our three kids with a senior role is difficult. I tend to work longer hours and across the weekend to compensate.”

One person said they’ve started having to “play catch up at night” due to their increased workload. They worry that, as a society, we won’t be able to maintain this intense momentum.

“Cracks are going to show. I am working with my managers to [encourage] flexibility and understanding with their people, including me!”


2. Maintaining connectedness

Keeping employees connected with the organisation has been a challenge for 42 per cent of respondents.

While many people felt a greater sense of community and closeness during the initial stages of the pandemic – when we were all adjusting to a new reality – it seems that feeling is now waning. Forty-four per cent said that cultivating connectedness is harder now than it was pre-COVID-19.

It could be that the exhaustion from working through a pandemic and communicating in new ways is finally catching up with people.

HRM previously examined video call fatigue and the cognitive dissonance of a hyper-connected environment. This could be causing more people to shut off their video cameras during a call or opt out of virtual social events, therefore weakening the sense of togetherness they felt in the early days of lockdown.

But this isn’t true for everyone. Such social events are a lifeline for a lot of people.

“Some [staff] have openly discussed their surprise at their need for social connection through work – and the surprise factor for them is that pre-COVID they would have said they didn’t need work to provide connectedness,” said one respondent.

This tension between the need for connection and the pitfalls of social technology will be a long-term struggle for workplaces. We know the lines between home and work are easily blurred in a virtual workplace and it’s looking as if many organisations will continue remote working long after the pandemic is over.

3. Returning to work struggles

Understanding how to best reintegrate staff back into the office was a key concern for 66 per cent of respondents, and 39 per cent feel either ‘somewhat pressured’ or ‘pressured’ by their executive team to make this happen. 

Nearly 70 per cent feel their staff are somewhat or moderately concerned about the health and safety issues related to the return to the workplace.

As HRM reported earlier this week, a recent survey from the Australian Council of Trade Unions shows that this feeling is widespread. Less than 5 per cent of respondents in that survey said their workplaces had implemented extra cleaning initiatives and less than 10 per cent have been given access to extra personal hygiene products, such as hand sanitizer.

The main metrics which respondents to the AHRI Survey said they were implementing in response to the pandemic were health and safety tracking, pulse surveys and assessing staff preferences on flexible work and return to work plans.

4. JobKeeper struggles

Over a third of respondents say their organisations have signed up for JobKeeper payments. They report that the majority of staff paid under the scheme are likely to keep working their usual hours. 

Seventeen per cent of respondents are currently being paid on the wage subsidy themselves.

JobKeeper is proving to be quite helpful in retaining staff, as the graph below demonstrates.

However, HR professionals have some mixed feelings about the government program. A few respondents felt disappointed that they couldn’t support casual staff whose tenure didn’t quite reach the 12 month mark and expatriates.  

Others expressed concern about the lifespan of the subsidy, saying they forecast the financial impacts of COVID-19 to go way beyond September (when JobKeeper payments are set to end).

The recent news about the $60 billion JobKeeper miscalculation and nationwide confusion about the application process was also reflected in some of the comments left by respondents. 

One person said the administrative and legal aspects of the scheme were an issue for them. Another shared concerns about casual staff not working as many hours as the company needs as they recieve $1,500 each fortnight regardless of hours worked.

5. COVID-19 has shifted HR’s role

There’s both positive and negative reactions to how the pandemic has shifted HR’s role. 

Many professionals report feeling overwhelmed with the new set of responsibilities they have to quickly deliver on.

One participant said: “I am under extreme pressure 24/7. Working an average of 70 hour weeks to design, lead and implement changes such as redundancies and contract variations. In addition, I am responsible for formulating communications in these and other areas relating to coronavirus (i.e. leave, and how and when to use it).”

Another person said they’re feeling “lots of pressure to provide the full legal picture with all the issues/responsibilities in a rapidly changing landscape with no time to research. [And we’re] not allowed to utilise external legal advice due to the cost”.

Respondents said they’ve had to re-adjust plans to introduce new HR software. Like the respondent above, others are struggling to balance their normal daily tasks with keeping on top of new employment legislation and updates from Fair Work.

“It has meant my ‘day job’ has almost moved to the side,” said one respondent. “Initially, mobilising our workforce became a full-time role [involving the consideration of] government restrictions, employee health and safety, client experience and business performance. Now the focus is shifting to [managing] how and when to return our staff to the office and what the ‘new normal’ will look like for us.” 

One person said the pandemic has resulted in them “reverting back to a more transactional HR” and another said they’re learning how to “manage up” in ways they didn’t have to before.

This is happening in a fraught situation. As one respondent notes, the vulnerability of the job market right now can make it harder to challenge management as there’s a perception that “it’s easier for them to avoid or cut you”.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Many people have valued the raised profile the pandemic has afforded them. As HRM has said before, this has been a great opportunity for HR professionals to shine and show an organisation exactly what they can do. 

As one respondent said, “On the bright side, [COVID-19] has raised the profile of HR, which is a battle I have been trying to address for a number of years. Situation aside, it has been positive for my team to show what we can do to support the organisation.”

Moving forward, the sentiment of respondents was that a successful COVID-19 plan should aim to ensure minimal impacts on productivity and mental health while motivating and engaging employees.

“[I hope] that managers in the business use this time to step up and show leadership, support the business to be resilient and bounce back from where we were/are in a better place,” said a respondent. Organisations, they say, need to be innovative, flexible and responsive to change.

5 Jun, 2020
How the Coronavirus Has Changed the Future of Work

It only took a couple of months for the coronavirus to completely change the world as we knew it. But, if you’re patiently waiting for things to return to normal, I have some bad news for you: I don’t think that we’ll ever ultimately return to a pre-COVID-19 world.

So, how has the future of work been altered? Well, here’s a glimpse into what to anticipate going forward.

Permanent flexibility.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 5 million people were already working from home at least half of the time. Since then, according to research from Salesforce, 61 percent of the workforce is working from home. Even more astounding is that 53 percent of employees began doing so because of COVID-19. And, guess what? They’re more productive and communicative.

Because of this, expect flexible working arrangements to become the norm rather than just a trend. Twitter recently announced that most employees would be able to WFH permanently, and even more traditional companies like Barclays and Morgan Stanley have implemented this policy.

"It's obvious at this stage that remote working will be viewed with entirely new importance post-COVID-19," said Ben Rogers, president of platform and technology clients at the National Research Group (NRG). "Investments in platforms and technology will need to be made to maximize efficiency in this new paradigm.”

Does this mean employees will never leave their homes again? Of course not. They may visit the office one or two days a week for in-person events. Also, there will be some jobs where working remotely isn’t an option. But, we can be certain that the days of the traditional 9-to-5 daily grind are behind us.

Say goodbye to many in-person meetings.

Because of the coronavirus, virtual meetings have become more popular than ever. And just like remote work, expect the trend to become the new normal. We've seen Zoom pick up in a big way and many significant innovations with other virtual meeting platforms. COVID may also lessen a lot of business travel.

But, don’t just expect an uptick in video conferences. Anticipate replacing even more of your meetings with email and instant messages. No disrespect to face-to-face interactions, but these types of communications will likely be faster and more efficient. But, when it’s time to build rapport, rely on video conferences and try out team-building activities like virtual lunches.

Share employees in cross-industry talent exchanges.

“As leaders," say Ravin Jesuthasan, Tracey Malcolm and Susan Cantrell in HBR, "we must all ask ourselves: How can we tap into the broader ecosystem of talent to build the resilience of both organizations and people during these challenging times?”  

The answer? “One innovative response is to develop a cross-industry talent exchange.”

What exactly is this? Well, it’s where unemployed people, because of this crisis, temporarily work at “organizations that have an excess of work,” such as logistics. Why is this beneficial? It helps avoid “the frictional and reputational costs associated with letting people go while supporting workers in developing new skills and networks.”

Companies like Kroger, for example, have “borrowed” furloughed employees from the wholesale food distributor Sysco. “Months earlier in China, companies also creatively started sharing employees,” the authors add. “In these arrangements, the companies receiving employees define which skills they’re looking for,” explain Jesuthasan, Malcolm, and Cantrell. “They then work with the companies sharing their employees to define the length of the exchange as well as the implications for pay, benefits, and insurance.”

Adaptable, agile and innovative companies will thrive.

Which companies are going to come out of the pandemic relatively unscathed? It’s going to be those with a work-at-home model. Obviously, this is because they have limited fixed costs, such as real estate, and they’re light enough that they can change directions if they must.

But, it’s not all doom and gloom for businesses with physical locations or products. Case in point: distillers that have pivoted from making spirits to hand sanitizer. Or, clothing companies now making masks to meet the demands of customers. Another example would be offering online services. Take a gym, as an example. Clients could pay for virtual training sessions instead of physically going to the gym. 

Focus on outcomes, not time.

As we adjust to new working arrangements, there’s a temptation to monitor our team. Currently, employers are keeping tabs on their teams with keystroke monitoring, reading Slack messages, or analyzing what screens you’ve shared on Zoom. But, constantly monitoring your employees could backfire.

Employees may feel like their privacy has been violated. As a consequence, they may leave your organization. It also stifles innovation and signals that you don’t trust them, which decreases motivation and productivity. So, in small doses, this may work, but encouraging ownership may be the better option.

“The role of leaders will shift to further attention on empowering their employees, energizing them around a common mission, and measuring the outcomes of their work,” writes Bill George, author of Discover Your True North. “Instead of measuring employees’ inputs, companies will shift to results and forward-looking metrics like market share and customer feedback.”

Employee health and well-being will be at the forefront.

Team wellness is now at the forefront of employee and company priorities. While we are still in COVID and may be stranded for some time to come, keep working on making sure your team is doing well mentally and physically. Maintain team activities.

Depending on your industry, this will vary. But, if you’re expecting employees to physically return to the workplace, then you need to step-up your cleaning and sterilization game.

You may also have to implement mandatory on-thee-job screenings. Companies like Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks have been taking the temperature of their employees. There may even be an “immunity passport,” like the one being discussed in the UK.

Expect face masks to be worn around the office. Watch for the rebels and bullying that happens in the circumstances to make others feel foolish about their mask-wearing.

Additionally, you may need to assist your team with their mental health — regardless of whether they come into work or work remotely.

“On an individual level, unfortunately, there are some people who are going to face post-traumatic stress,” said Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School. “The encouraging news psychologically is over half of people report a different response to trauma, which is post-traumatic growth.”

“Post-traumatic growth is the sense that I wish this didn't happen but, given that it happened, I feel like I am better in some way,” explains Grant. “It might be a heightened sense of personal strength." Or, "it could be a deeper sense of gratitude; it could be finding new meaning, or investing more in relationships.”

To assist with this, show empathy and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. You should make sure that your insurance plan covers therapist visits, and you can refer them to teletherapists, apps like Headspace or crisis hotlines.

28 May, 2020
‘A rigid and outdated system’: ARA welcomes new approach to industrial relations, training
Inside Retail

Scott Morrison’s plan to overhaul industrial relations and vocational education in Australia is welcome news to the ARA’s new CEO Paul Zahra, who says the current systems are outdated and holding retailers back.

“We live in a world where Australians can choose to shop 24/7. Retailers need to be able to operate flexibly to meet the demands of their customers. When they are constrained by outdated regulation and training, it negatively impacts Australians, retailers and their employees,” Zahra said in a media statement after the prime minister spoke to the National Press Club on Tuesday.

The address outlined two key points in Morrison’s so-called “JobMaker” program: industrial relations and vocational education.

The prime minister said the current industrial relations system is not fit-for-purpose, especially given the scale of the jobs challenge that Australia now faces as a nation.

“Our industrial relations system has settled into a complacency of unions seeking marginal benefits and employers closing down risks, often by simply not employing anyone,” Morrison said.

“The system has lost sight of its purpose – to get the workplace settings right, so the enterprise, the business can succeed, so everybody can fairly benefit from their efforts and their contributions.”

Zahra agreed that the current Retail Award is not working for businesses or their employees.

“The current Retail Award has us locked into a rigid and outdated system of inflexible hours.  where retailers are unable to honor the working needs and preferences of their teams,” he said.

Zahra said the ARA would like to see more allowance for flexibility and a more pragmatic and balanced approach on issues such as penalty rates and trading hours.

“The complexity of the current Award system is creating a substantial amount of the challenges that we are seeing. There are hundreds of rates of pay that can apply under the retail award, related to such areas as: the role the employee is performing, their tasks, their age and, most critically, the way they work their hours,” he said.

On the topic of job training, Morrison said vocational education should have more input from industries about the skills future workers really need and be more transparent and consistent across states.

“We need Australians better trained for the jobs businesses are looking to create,” he said.

Under his plan, there would also be greater consistency between the vocational education and training, and higher education sectors.

The National Skills Commission will provide detailed labour market analysis and other up-to-date data in a bid to identify emerging skills shortages.

Zahra said the ARA welcomes a renewed focus which links funding with the skills that businesses really need.

“COVID-19 has accelerated retail transformation as we are operating in a consumer landscape that is active 24/7 through online and social channels and with multiple paths to the delivery of products and services. As businesses adapt to this new reality, they need a workforce that is equipped and ready to address these new opportunities,” he said.

Morrison also rejected calls for government to play a major role in recovery over a longer period of time.

“At some point, you’ve got to get your economy out of ICU,” he said.

“You’ve got to get it off the medication before it becomes too accustomed to it.”

7 May, 2020
How safe is public transport right now?
HRM Online
HRM Online

Many won’t consider returning to the workplace until they know it’s safe to get there.

A lot of employees do not have the luxury of driving to work. According to the 2016 census, on any given day 488,012 Australians get the train to work, 323,201 catch the bus, about 70,000 get a train or ferry, and another 404,220 take multiple forms of transport (so car then bus, for example). So as we begin to consider returning to work as social distancing restrictions ease, the commute is going to be an area of concern for workers of all stripes.

At the time of writing, exactly when and how we come out of lockdown is yet to be determined, but as we move forward it is still worth considering how we can remain safe as we return to the office.

People will be looking to their workplaces for guidance, research shows. So over the coming months HR will probably get asked about the safety of public transport. What do we already know about the current risks? And how can you help employees plan their trips to work? 

What the states are doing

State governments have stepped up cleaning processes on buses and trains to improve hygiene. However, there is still an onus on passengers to protect themselves. 

The NSW government recently announced a $250 million stimulus package for cleaning services, including increasing cleaning staff for public transport. Queensland has also hired additional sanitation staff for its trains. All states have committed to increasing sanitation on stops, stations and on other hard surfaces such as handrails on public transport.

Public transport passengers are also being urged to use cashless options. The Northern Territory has removed fares for buses to reduce cash exchanges. In Tasmania, buses are free until the end of May. In Western Australia, bus passengers can pay with cash, however, payment must be made into a locked cash box and no change will be given. 

All states have increased protections for drivers, some going so far as to remove the front seats of buses to keep a buffer between passengers and drivers. 

Health authorities are urging passengers to continue social distancing on public transport, though that’s easier said than done. If possible, allowing staff to travel outside peak times would likely make trips safer and ease anxieties for those who cannot drive,  ride or walk to work. 

You could also encourage staff to carpool with each other or allow them to expense ridesharing to the organisation if it’s essential for them to be on site. Other workplaces are creating staggered return to work programs. So different segments of the workforce would have different days (or hours) that they work in the office and at home. 

What the research says

Anxieties around travelling on public transport are likely to persist for a while yet. These concerns are not unfounded. A 2011 UK study found bus and tram users were up to six times more likely to catch an acute respiratory infection. However, occasional transport passengers were at higher risk than habitual users, as the latter are more likely to develop antibodies from repeated exposure, the researchers found. 

Unfortunately, developing immunity is not necessarily a feasible idea in the current climate. From what we understand of COVID-19, patients can develop a short period of immunity directly following recovery from the disease, but the data around reinfection is too limited to understand how safe recovered patients are from reinfection.

One lesson we can take away from the 2011 study is how commuters at busier stations were more likely to contract an infection. Virus hot spots, like Sydney’s Central station or Melbourne’s Flinders Street, are riskier due to the increased number of people and shared surfaces. If employees can alter their travel route to avoid busy stations then this could decrease their chance of getting sick.

Despite its publication in 2011, the authors’ conclusions echo a lot of what we’re hearing from experts today. The researchers’ urge passengers to exercise good hygiene when travelling and refrain from using public transport while unwell.

What you can do

As we return to our routines, the best advice is to continue following the hygiene guidelines recommended by medical experts. When catching public transport, commuters can take some steps to protect their health:

  • Keep a distance between yourself and others when possible
  • There are differing opinions on wearing masks in public (experts can even disagree on the same research) but it can make some staff feel safer, so it should not be discouraged
  • Use contactless payment options, such as Opal, Myki or payWave
  • Avoid touching hard surfaces
  • When pressing buttons try to use your elbow, or try to create a barrier with your sleeve or a tissue
  • Travel with hand sanitizer and tissues, and use them often. 
  • Practice coughing and sneezing etiquette (that’s coughing into your elbow and away from others)
  • Avoid touching your face

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to say public transport is one hundred per cent safe, but for many people, it is the only option. What HR can do is listen to the concerns of staff members and accommodate them where possible.

5 May, 2020
Culture is key to recovery
Inside Retail

Needless to say, individuals, companies and countries alike have been hurt by the coronavirus. 

Although most of us aren’t able to develop a vaccine or treatment, we can all be part of the solution – one that is founded in the way we think. 

In the context of the workplace, many companies are faced with difficult decisions, including standing down staff. 

Who should you continue to employ, what skills will you need going forward and how much will it cost to pay those you keep on, are all questions executives need to answer. Numbers and cashflow are only some of the strategic factors you need to consider. 

Determining the cultural attributes of the workforce necessary to get through this crisis is what will pave the way to eventual recovery. In the words of business guru Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. 

Adapting to change

I often think about the virtues of self-restraint and common sense. This applies to individuals as well as corporations.

The workplace of tomorrow has no place for precious, seniority-obsessed, ego-centric individuals. Anyone who considers themselves entitled to special privileges should stay home (or move to LA with presumably self-funded security detail in tow).

The workplace of tomorrow will require people with not only intellect and skill, but also the right kind of attitude, high-quality thinking and behaviours, to get out of these murky waters. We will need people who are highly adaptable and flexible, which means that unless senior management genuinely know their people as individuals, these traits will be hard to identify. 

Time for new practices

Working from home is also a new way of operating. Managers’ ability to lead a remote team cannot be assumed. Keeping staff motivated, aligned and focused is a challenge, especially given the uncertainty and technical glitches that are unavoidable. 

The current times also mean that many best practices have become way too old-fashioned. It is time for some new practices. The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the fragility of our systems, our overt reliance on foreign supply chains and erosion of local manufacturing. 

The good news is that some weaknesses, in a given context, may be tweaked and become strengths. During these days of solitude we may certainly take the time to think and introspectively reflect on how we may improve. 


As per Darwin’s theory of evolution, it is not about survival of the biggest or the most intelligent, but of those most adaptable to change. 

No matter whether we are running a business, a country or simply as CEO of our own lives, it is the culmination of resilience, tenacity and adaptability that will see us through. 

Like many catastrophic phenomena in history, this is also one that will pass. This has not just been a time of immense frustration, pain and tragedy, but also one that has opened our eyes to seeing the many facets of truth behind who we really are as individuals, as businesses and as a nation. This revelation is indeed valuable. 

4 May, 2020
Upcycle, upskill and unite – three ways for leaders to survive COVID-19
Inside HR
Inside HR

Looking at different organisations a business can partner with is an innovative way to extend resources through other expanding networks, keep business going and open new avenues of opportunity that can exist for years to come, writes Aaron McEwan

As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds the old adage of adapt or die has never rung truer.

For the business world, each day sees new limitations enforced and different challenges rolled out to leaders trying to keep staff in jobs and to continue to support customers’ needs. Each choice and decision made during these difficult days will have serious implications for their staff, customers, corporate reputation and even financial survival.

Organisations must be open-minded during this unprecedented experience and adapt to a new normal of challenge and opportunity.

According to a recent Gartner survey, CHROs have been implementing arrange of cost-management measures to survive COVID-19:

  • Seventy per cent report plan to cut costs by making the most of the technology available to them
  • Nearly half of organisations plan to freeze new hiring
  • Most are prioritising work for internal staff; with one-fifth of organisations planning to stop or limit spending on consultants and contract workers
  • Encouragingly, only 10 per cent of employers’ plan to reduce working hours and just six per cent report asking employees to take unpaid leave

While some cost-cutting will be inevitable, those who protect and invest in critical talent will win in the long term. Now is the time to innovate and explore new thinking.

Upcycle skilled workers via internal exchanges and redeployments
As companies implement hiring freezes, the next action will be to select and deploy internal talent from areas of low demand to support work critical to business continuity.

For example, an organisation might redeploy customer service representatives to support an overwhelmed IT or customer helpline.

When companies redeploy workers with specific skills around the business, they maximise the skills and capabilities already available to them whilst simultaneously expanding employee skills.

Each choice and decision made during these difficult days will have serious implications for their staff, customers, corporate reputation and even financial survival.

Commit to upskilling the workforce
Before COVID-19, 46 per cent of HR leaders had reported to Gartner that their employees lacked the skills necessary to drive future performance.

For most organisations, face-to-face training currently isn’t an option with over 80 per cent of organisations have cancelled, or planning to cancel, in-person training.

Maintaining access to learning and development in this challenging environment will be crucial to surviving the pandemic. More so, organisations will never have a better opportunity to leverage flexible work arrangements and employee downtime to reskill.

Organisations must prioritise the virtual delivery of learning and development opportunities to maintain staff engagement and develop essential skills that will see the business excel in these difficult times and into the future.

For example, Melbourne based Learn2Learn is offering free access to their evidenced based continuous learning app for organisations and individuals who wish to use this crisis as an opportunity to relearn and reskill.

Seek new business partners and opportunities to collaborate
As a result of the spread of COVID-19, many organisations have had to think outside of the box to address the spike in demand for front-line staff including those in healthcare, supermarkets, call centres, cleaning and delivery services.

For example, when QANTAS was forced to stand down 30,000 of its staff members as the COVID-19 pandemic brought travel to a halt, discussions took place to offer temporary employment at Woolworths; where there is an immediate need for staff.

Looking at different organisations a business can partner with is an innovative way to extend resources through other expanding networks, keep business going and open new avenues of opportunity that can exist for years to come.

  • Fratelli Fresh recently took this approach and utilised existing services to grow business during a period of little activity. The Italian restaurant is delivering ready-made meals and pasta sauces as well as grocery items and household essentials such as toilet paper, hand soap & alcohol.
  • Newcastle-based Earp has repurposed their gin distillery to produce hand sanitizer.
  • Stagekings Australia, a concert and festival stage production company are now building and supplying inexpensive and easy to assemble desks to support the huge spike in remote working.
  • Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association chief executive Alison Verhoeven said many workers stood down by airlines and gyms due to travel bans and social distancing shutdowns had basic first aid training and could be upskilled and re-deployed in the health sector.

While some cost-cutting will be inevitable, those who protect and invest in critical talent will win in the long term. Now is the time to innovate and explore new thinking.

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to take months to resolve and the world will certainly be changed by it. Organisations must be open-minded during this unprecedented experience and adapt to a new normal of challenge and opportunity.

27 Apr, 2020
Recession-Proof Your Career With These 3 Skills

After a record-breaking streak of job growth, the unemployment rate is now at the highest since the Great Depression. Some forecasters predict a 12-15 percent unemployment rate well into 2022 and possibly beyond.  

If you’re lucky enough to still have a job, you are probably worried about holding on to it. And if you’re currently out of work, you want to bounce back as quickly as possible. You can’t control how this shock to the economy affects employment prospects. That means it’s more important than ever to refine the number one thing that will get you ahead in any career: your ability to communicate and make deep human connections. 

According to the Carnegie Foundation, only 15 percent of your professional success is causally related to your technical proficiency and knowledge. The rest of the pie is made up of what we might call “soft skills” — your personality and your ability to communicate, negotiate and lead. In a word: your connectability. Most of us spend our entire academic and professional careers exclusively focused on the 15 percent and largely ignore the 85 percent. The problem is that in almost any job, your co-workers probably also have the right knowledge, experience and technical skills: They’re the price of entry. So in order to differentiate yourself — to ensure you’re seen as indispensable —you must master the art of connectability.

This career-defining skill is based on three key communication strategies: the authority you exhibit, the warmth you convey, and the energy you exude and bring out in others. 


We know it when we see it. We know it when we hear it. Authority stands up tall. It’s competent and commanding. Whether it’s delivered softly or loudly, it sounds confident. The most successful salespeople, businesspeople, broadcasters and politicians — all people — embody authority. There are a few key elements of authority: voice, presence, body language, dress, alignment and detachment. First, consider the quality of your voice. Is your pitch properly placed? Are you too nasal? Resonant? Does your accent obscure your message? Do you use too many filler words? Do you speak with a sense of purpose, or do your comments and questions trail off?  Now consider your physical appearance. How’s your posture? Your attire? Do you make eye contact when you’re speaking to someone? When you present with authority you feel it internally and you recognize it externally based on how people respond to you. 


Warmth is communicated through humility, vulnerability, empathy and by your attentiveness — your listening ear. That’s because effective connection isn’t just about output, or projecting your message outward into the world. Input, how you receive the crowd, group or single individual you’re communicating with, is equally important to making an effective connection. Warmth is necessary to create trust, as well as relatability, which is crucial to solidifying your position on a team. To assess your warmth, ask yourself a few key questions. Do your colleagues trust you? Do you make them feel acknowledged in your interactions? Do you welcome feedback from others so they can feel open enough to challenge your ideas? Do you listen when others are speaking? Does your body language belie your interest? Pay attention to the signals: Your life provides all the answers to these questions.


This is that dynamic quality that gives you power. The more energy you have, the more power you have to influence, illuminate, educate or engage. Authority earns other people’s respect; warmth earns their affection and trust. Energy compels people to follow. The components of energy are conviction, enthusiasm, engagement and emotional commitment to your message. When you believe in and trust what you’re saying, your audience inevitably will, too. You must be genuinely all in — present, authentic and fully engaged. Your emotional commitment makes an emotional connection that can be extremely memorable, impressionable and persuasive. That doesn’t mean you always have to be “on.” There are benefits to high and low energy; what matters is how it’s communicated and received. How’s your energy? Do you overpower people by talking too fast? Too much? Not pausing to let others have their voices heard? Do you truly listen in a way that makes others feel energized by your interest in them? Again — all you need to do is pay careful attention to the way people react to you and you’ll know if you’re energizing or deflating. 

Google’s Project Oxygen, which researched its own pool of top employees since the company was founded in 1998, surprised everyone when it reported that out of the eight qualities considered most important, STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math) came in eighth. Absolutely last! Hovering at the top were qualities like good communication and empathy. Google knows there are many candidates who can code. It’s more rare to find someone who can code and collaborate with others, lead a team or follow someone else when needed. Someone who can do any and all of those things and code really well is not a commodity. They are indispensable.  

You may not be a software engineer, and your job has its own specific challenges. But what is clear from the research is that every job requires authority, warmth and energy. The business world will likely be permanently changed as we emerge from this crisis, and there will be a Darwinian thinning of the workforce. Will you be fit to survive in this new reality? That answer will depend on how you act now and nimbly adapt to the uncharted future that will emerge. 

23 Apr, 2020
When can you direct an employee to take leave?

There have been a lot of questions about how leave operates during this pandemic. HRM outlines the essential rules and breaks down some recent state and federal changes to leave entitlements.

The country seems to be settling into the new socially distanced world order, but no one can deny the changes to workplace legislation have been rapid and in some cases rather complex (see JobKeeper). To make matters worse, many changes have come so quickly that people have struggled to keep up. HR has not been immune to this struggle, especially since so many of the regulation variations pertain to workplaces. 

HRM recently covered the changes to COVID-19 affected awards, but questions still remain about when an employer can actually direct an employee to take leave, and what types of leave should be taken if an employee or their loved one contracts COVID-19.

This article will cover four types of leave:

  1. Personal and Carers leave
  2. Pandemic leave
  3. Annual leave
  4. Long Service leave

The advice in this article generally pertains to workers who are not under an enterprise agreement (EA). Organisations with an EA may differ, so it is important to check those agreements before directing staff to take leave. 

1. Personal & Carers Leave

A full or part-time employee who has contracted COVID-19 is obviously allowed to use personal leave if they have enough accrued. The same goes for an employee who is caring for a COVID-19 afflicted family member. The Fair Work Act outlines that staff (including casual employees), if they have exhausted paid carer’s leave, can also take two days of unpaid carer’s leave each time a household or immediate family member requires care or support.

Personal leave can also be taken when an employee needs to care for or support a member of their immediate family or household due to an unexpected emergency. School closures due to a COVID-19 outbreak are considered an “unexpected emergency”, according to the Fair Work Commission.

Employers are within their right to ask for evidence from an employee if they cannot attend work due to coronavirus or a COVID-19 related emergency.

Of course, if an employee runs out of personal leave, but still requires time off, they may request to use accrued annual leave.

2. Pandemic leave

In some cases, an employee may be eligible for unpaid pandemic leave if they’re required to isolate themselves. HRM previously covered pandemic leave, but it’s worth reviewing here briefly as it is open to full time, part-time and casual employees.

Pandemic leave can be taken if an employee has been directed to quarantine on medical advice or by the government. This option only applies to certain awards. You can see the full list of affected awards here. 

If an employee has recently returned from overseas and has to attend a quarantine facility for two weeks, and is unable to work during that time, pandemic leave could be applied. 

Pandemic leave can only be taken until 30 June 2020 (unless further variations are made). It is okay if the leave extends beyond 30 June, but it must start before.

Employees do not need to exhaust other leave options, such as annual or sick leave, in order to take pandemic leave. 

3. Annual Leave

Before COVID-19 there were already some instances where employers could ask staff to take annual leave, usually during a shutdown period (like Christmas) or if an employee has excessive leave (this only pertains to certain awards). 

Recently, the FWC expanded the powers for employers to ask some workers to use their accrued annual leave. Under some awards (see HRM’s article), employers only need to give workers one week’s notice before asking them to use their leave. However, the employee must have two weeks leave remaining after the direction. Employers are obliged to consult with the employee and are asked to consider the employee’s personal situation before directing them to take leave. 

The FWC changes also give some workers and their employers the ability to agree to an arrangement where twice the amount of annual leave is taken at half pay. This applies to certain awards and all employees who are getting JobKeeper.

4. Long Service Leave

Long service leave (LSL) is regulated by the states, meaning the circumstances in which an employer can direct a staff member to take long service leave vary across the country. So far only NSW has changed their LSL regulations to adapt to COVID-19. 

In all cases, a period of notice must be given if an employer directs an employee to take their LSL. This can range from one month to three depending on which state the workplace operates in. 

Employers and employees are recommended to come to an agreement before LSL is taken, especially if the employer wishes the employee to take LSL at a certain time. It is also usually encouraged for eligible workers to take LSL as soon as practicable for the organisation. 

Here is a brief state-by-state breakdown on where an employer can ask a staff member to take LSL, and how much notice they have to give (list excludes NSW because it has recently implemented COVID-19 changes):

  • NT – Two months’ notice 
  • ACT – 60 days’ notice 
  • QLD – Three months’ notice 
  • SA – 60 days’ notice 
  • TAS – No, however, WorkSafe Tasmania can direct an employee to take leave by giving at least 6 months’ notice if the employer and employee cannot come to an agreement. 
  • VIC – 12 weeks’ written notice
  • WA – No, an employer cannot force staff to take LSL.

The Australian Industry Group provides a more comprehensive breakdown of state rules around forced use of LSL on their website. 

In New South Wales, the government recently relaxed rules for long service leave. Previously, four and one-third weeks’ notice was required when directing an employee to take LSL. Now, employers can provide less than a months’ notice as long as the worker agrees to the truncated notice period. Employees may also take a shorter period of leave, less than one month, if their employer agrees. The legislation is in effect for six months from today with the possibility of an extension to one year.

The Fair Work website has done a good job of outlining all the changes to awards. Be sure to check it before making decisions that impact your employees.

31 Mar, 2020
Remote leadership: 6 tips for removing the blindfold

In times of uncertainty, we often look to our leaders for guidance. But COVID-19 has caused such unique challenges, they’re scratching their heads too. Here’s how HR can help.

Knowing how to effectively manage staff from afar might be a skill leaders of global companies have, but leaders of local companies are learning on the job. 

HRM speaks with two experts about how to help your leaders adjust management of a workforce that is operating remotely. Spoiler alert, a lot of it comes across as simple, but the trick is all in commitment and execution.

This article is broken down into five sections:

  1. The power of listening
  2. Performance management
  3. Is that conflict, or something else?
  4. Reframing recognition efforts
  5. Strategic meetings
  6. Assessing wellbeing

1. The power of listening

“There’s no playbook for this,” says Steve Bennetts, psychologist and head of growth & strategy, employee experience solutions, APJ a Qualtrics. 

Most leaders have never dealt with such a sudden shift. Like us, they’re learning how to do their job differently, while at the same time figuring out how to help the rest of us do ours. 

What’s imperative, Bennetts says, is that leaders are listening to what their people need. If they don’t, he says they are “just throwing darts in the dark”. And it’s not just about giving your people an outlet, you have to give them a voice – you have to follow up on the feedback they’ve provided. Bennetts points to research Qualtrics recently conducted which shows organisations that turn feedback into action have much higher engagement rates (78 per cent) than those that don’t (39 per cent).

“During change, our results show people want [leaders] to listen even more. Our old way of listening, like an annual engagement survey, probably isn’t suitable right now.”

Their results also found that organisations that formally checked in with staff at least every quarter saw engagement levels of 63 per cent. That dropped by 13 per cent when feedback was only sought once or twice a year.

2. Performance management

Should you expect the same level of performance from employees at the moment? Bennett doesn’t think so. Everyone is adjusting to a shocking new reality, and we have to give them time.

“One of the key things we need to remember is that this wasn’t a planned situation. When you ask to work from home normally, you would set up a work environment and baby sitters etc. so you can continue to work as effectively as you would in the office. Unfortunately, right now that’s not the case.

“Leaders might be managing people who are having to do four hours of homeschooling before they can start their work day,” he says. “I know that I’m only going to get 50 per cent productivity out of them, and I just have to adjust to that.”

Not only will their performance temporarily shift, so too will their participation rates.

“It’s not work-life integration anymore, it’s a work-life overlap,” says Dr Jacqui Abbott FCPHR. 

“The people you’re speaking to aren’t necessarily in a quiet environment at home. There could be children or animals around, or there could be more than one person in the house trying to work from home.”

Abbott says employees might feel highly anxious about a daily meeting they’re meant to attend because they’ve got things going on around them – screaming babies or nagging teenagers. She says leaders need to step in and say something like “that’s okay, we’re all doing the best we can”. They need to make this imperfect way of working acceptable.

It’s also important leaders are having very clear conversations about output, she says.

“If you’re clear about what you’ve got to do, how you’re going to do it and the hours you’re going to do it in are secondary. When you set clear boundaries for your staff, you’re setting achievable tasks.”

All of this isn’t to say that normal performance issues won’t arise. There is a small portion of workers who might use this time at home to slack off, or perhaps they were already experiencing issues. 

When this happens, do you reach for regular HR tools, such as a performance improvement plan? Or should we be implementing new approaches such as a performance re-engagement plan to get them back on the straight and narrow? The answer is determined on a case by case basis, says Bennetts.

Abbott points out that you might even find that those who were previously underperforming start wanting to step up and contribute more. That could be out of fear of losing their jobs – research suggests discretionary efforts can increase during a crisis – or it could be because they feel a sense of loyalty to the company and want to see it succeed through the crisis. 

3. Is that conflict, or something else?

The internet has always been rife with bullying and harassment, but with more of us heading online to work, we could very likely see this increase. 

It’s hard for managers to keep their eye on this behaviour without having the victims speak up. As we know, many forms of workplace bullying can be subtle or difficult to identify, such as workplace gaslighting.

Considering the strange state of the world at the moment, people might be more likely to act out – especially those who are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety.

“From a psychosocial perspective, there are a number of people who go to work to escape home,” says Bennetts. “People might have anxiety or depression, and they might use work as their downtime. [Those worlds) are now being interlaced for them. There are some mental health issues that can come out and it’s important managers talk about those with the individuals involved,” says Bennetts.

He adds: “What might be coming across as bullying or harassment might actually be a result of someone under a lot of stress or strain.”

Leaders can preempt these situations, he says, by being open with their teams and saying ‘we’re going to be communicating through video/email more often, so let’s be more accepting of people; just give everyone a moment.’

And you might have to remind people of this now and then.

4. Reframing recognition efforts

Employees can feel they’re working in the shadows when not in the office. It’s nice for leaders to issue a blanket statement acknowledging staff efforts, but what about those smaller individual efforts that go unnoticed? 

Managers can witness the blood, sweat and tears that go into a project when they’re physically overseeing it, but it can be harder to detect the time and effort put into a task when multiple people are working on the same thing from afar.

Instead of the pat on the back staff might be used to, leaders have to come up with new approaches. That might be implementing an ’employee of the week’ program; it could be calling out a job well done in your virtual company meetings; or creating a specific online space for shouting peoples’ praises (in my workplace, we have a dedicated Slack channel for this called #bloodygoodworkmate).

Bennetts says for any of the above to be effective, it’s first important that managers put clear frameworks in place to help staff define what success looks like in their specific role.

“If managers don’t do that, their employees will probably flounder during this time. Because they’re not sure what success looks like. 

“What we’ll see is a lot of organisations adopting something that we’re seeing in the world of tech, which is OKRs (objectives and key results). So that’s about outcome driven results and putting clear metrics up for what people need to achieve. Set a goal that’s attached to a result and make sure it’s easy to measure.”

5. Meetings

Have a clear agenda for your meetings, says Abbott. We’ve heard this tip before, many times in fact, but no longer is it just well meaning advice – it’s a business critical fact. In trying times, you need your people to be as productive as possible, and inefficient meetings will eat away at that productivity.

“Rather than putting out lots of information, a [virtual] meeting is an opportunity to ask questions, to seek understanding… so everyone is very clear about direction and people have an opportunity to voice their concerns.”

She also encourages leaders to take the lead on setting up non-work related online gatherings.

“I’ve heard of a group that has people come online to do The Age quiz together at lunch time. Another idea is to do virtual walking meetings. So you can connect while doing other things.”

Taking a diversity and inclusion lens to meetings, Abbott says it’s important for leaders to remember that people operate differently.

“It’s important that all voices are heard. If information can be disseminated beforehand, do that.  If one person is doing all of the talking, it can be hard for people to take in all that information. It needs to be broken down into smaller chunks.”

Bennetts adds that your choice of communication platform is crucial.

“Say you’re opening a Zoom meeting, the loudest people will get the most voice in that forum. But if we go out and get everyone to complete a feedback survey, you’re giving all of your people the chance to share their thoughts, and that feedback is treated equally.”

One question Bennetts suggests leaders ask during their end-of-day meetings is ‘what has your experience been like today?’

“Someone might answer, ‘I feel like we’ve had a lot of meetings. It’s feeling hard to get my work done’. And you can talk about how to adjust that.”

6. Assessing wellbeing

HRM has published plenty of articles on how to create a mentally healthy workplace, and there are also lots of great online resources out there about how to emotionally support employees in a virtual world. But one thing you might not have considered is setting up a strategy for how you check in.

“There needs to be a back end process to this. You don’t want three different people checking in with you within ten minutes and then you don’t hear anything from anyone for three days,” says Bennetts.

Leaders need to coordinate their approach and put together a plan for how they’ll support each person in their team. That might be daily check-ins from a direct manager, followed by weekly check-ins from the CEO and HR lead.

“I like the idea of having cross-team check-ins. Leaders might check in with people they’re not used to speaking with. You might discover new people or talents, or new resources amongst each other.

“This is a period of flux, and we will come out the other side. We just need to be human with people as we go through.”

18 Feb, 2020
The leadership development challenges of 2020

The pace of business change has never been faster. But you can’t abandon the core principles of leadership development.

The best way to understand what’s happening in leadership development is to talk to the people who are conducting it. For this article, HRM spoke to some experts and discovered there were some common themes in their thinking. 

Learning in complex environments

Leadership must now be based on continuous learning in order to keep pace with evolving circumstances, says Jo Saies CPHR, the owner and director of PB Performance and Development. Private and public sectors are both grappling with the volume, speed and scale of information within increasingly complex environments. 

Saies says that while the leadership skills required in these sectors differ, “both sectors are moving toward each other, as the public sector recognises the need for commercial acumen and the private sector starts to be more aware of its social responsibilities.

“The big shift in leadership is the skills that people need to have in order to lead in this environment of increased complexity.” 

Saies insights come from working in HR roles within organisations as well as coaching. One barrier, she says, is that too many people try to do the impossible. In her experience, “Trying to maintain control over our environment only leads to ineffective leadership.

“There is the need to be continuously re-learning things rather than having all the answers, and this means showing vulnerability. It is a real leadership challenge to let go of the need to know all the answers.”

Evette Tattam has worked in executive level HR roles within the banking, legal and energy sectors. She  has also seen how difficult it is for leaders to be vulnerable – to express a desire to listen and learn – within cultures that continue to view talent through a very narrow frame of reference. 

“Curiosity is underestimated as a leadership capability,” says Tattam. “We need to be better at recognising less commonly appreciated elements of great leadership, such as the ability to listen and have a conversation rather than focusing on our own responses and opinions in an attempt to show how much we already know,” she says.

Developing the right way

Openness to learning might be the first step. But the all important second step is developing capabilities. In this space too there are real challenges.

“Agile, resilient and productive organisations need agile, resilient and productive people,” says Chris Phillips CPHR, CEO of Grey Matta Solutions.

Despite the hyper-connected environment digital advancements have created, Phillips is adamant that “the future of work is human”. 

“People want to be heard, feel psychologically safe and be valued,” he says. And that’s true regardless of the sector, industry or company.

Mel Egginton, former manager HR business partnering at Townsville Hospital and Health Service, has worked in the higher education, mining, health and local government sectors and says the greatest challenge for senior leaders is understanding the value of developing leadership capabilities throughout the organisation. There is a temptation, as the volume of available data increases, to spend more time analysing it.

Mel Forbes, formerly of AGL and now the founder of Dott Group, says we have to think about the design of leadership development programs. She believes they need “freedom within framework”. That’s a framework that provides a solid structure while simultaneously allowing for more diverse and targeted development.

“Communication is also a key capability gap,” says Forbes. “Dealing with complexity and change through digital communications has reduced our ability to have effective conversations that have context and content.” 

Forbes says she is seeing a return to communication strategies that re-engage people and reduce the expediency of a digital directive culture. Leaning too heavily on digital mediums is just not as effective in managing communication across teams and outside of hierarchical reporting lines.    

 Most industries in Australia are moving towards a greater level of social responsibility. Forbes has seen a shift in organisations towards more community-minded approaches, where they insist on having greater awareness of the fact that their products and services are also a part of their employees’ lives within the community. Because of this she says leadership development should also be taking into account what communities need and expect. 

A move towards understanding

Talking about modern organisational challenges with HRM last year, Atlassian’s work futurist Dominic Price said that as more and more people switch away from manual labour, we need to address the fact that the ‘calluses’ caused by work are no longer on our hands.

He said: “The calluses are now appearing on your brain and we can’t see them. So how do we collectively take ownership for our peoples’ wellbeing?”

The expectation that leaders are in charge frequently creates the impression they are exempt from mental health issues. “The ‘lonely at the top’ sensation is still real today,” says Saies. 

But this way of thinking has everything backwards. Indeed, making sure leaders are better able to engage more of their whole selves in work may be an antidote to the rise in mental health challenges facing employees and leadership. 

Many of the HR professionals interviewed for this article say that  policies and procedures introduced to improve wellbeing in the workplace are only as effective as the leadership capabilities of the implementers. They see the need for leaders to become more self-aware in order to develop a better understanding of how their actions, thoughts and behaviours affect their own experiences as well as the experiences of those around them. 

One of the main wellbeing challenges for leaders, says Phillips, is the expectation of having to be constantly connected and  ‘on’ all of the time.

“The expectation to be always connected has resulted in an associated anxiety when we try to disconnect. People struggle to mentally detach from work, which leads to feelings of overwhelm, job dissatisfaction and eventually burn-out.” 

Moving ahead

It’s all well and good to outline what leaders should be doing, but how can you turn the theory into practice?

Phillips says it’s critical that there is consistency of action and messaging in leadership. He recognises it can be challenging to maintain the message of ‘people first’ when ‘business’ gets in the way. However, Phillips implores organisations to set metrics that measure more than the financial aspects of the business. 

Saies agrees, saying that it is “people acumen that is both our greatest challenge and greatest opportunity.”

Chrystie Watson is the founder of Learn Leadership.

11 Feb, 2020
Fixing the ladder: how this company overcame its retention issues
HRM Online
HRM Online

By honing development training and peer-to-peer support, this business was able to bust through significant growth barriers.

You have skilled, capable managers working at the top level of your organisation. They know what needs to be done and get it done quickly. But when the time comes for them to move on, or they get poached, the people working at the level below them aren’t ready to step up, or they don’t want to. What do you do? 

Scott Quinn CPHR had to answer this question when the scenario played out at Retzos Group, a franchisee of KFC. The company was facing retention issues with its restaurant managers (5 per cent above average turnover rates) and assistant managers (15 per cent above average). On top of that, only 19 per cent of assistant managers had the necessary skills to progress to a manager role.

The situation was hamstringing the business and making it impossible to achieve its key objective of expansion, and as the head of HR and development manager, Quinn knew he needed to fix it. He also decided to use this challenge as the basis of his project to achieve HR certification through AHRI’s Practising Certification Program.

Hierarchy gap

Retzos Group’s retention and training issues went hand in hand, and Quinn says the business wasn’t taking a strategic approach to progression. The typical hierarchy of a KFC restaurant has the area manager at the top, followed by restaurant managers, assistant managers, supervisors and team members. At Retzos Group, everyone below the first tier needed a clear progression plan because, as it stood, there was little planning around this.


“It was like, ‘That person has the ability to do the hours? Great, give them the job,’” says Quinn. “But they often didn’t have the ability. This is what caused our retention issues. The person who accepted the role couldn’t cope. They didn’t have the experience, the training and development, or the support they required, to succeed. So they would leave. 

“The cost of losing just one key employee, according to management consulting firm Korn Ferry (formerly the Hay Group), exceeds 60 per cent of the departed employee’s annual salary. Quinn estimated that in 2018, Retzos Group had lost up to $950,000 in retention costs.

“That’s factoring in things like job advertising, interviewing, orientations,  training, compensation during training and lost productivity.”

This was an alarm bell Quinn was determined to answer.

“The strategy was to go back to the beginning and understand what kind of development plans could be put in place to identify the right people coming through the business and support them to move up in the business.”

Training and development

Quinn looked to other businesses who’d been in similar situations and analysed their strategies. US retail giant Walmart offered a perfect model. In 1990, it had a massive 70 per cent turnover rate. Its solution was recruitment training for managers and making sure managers were part of the onboarding of new staff members.

To get the ball rolling on a similar strategy, Retzos Group created a new position, a training development manager. Part of this role was to appoint area trainers into each region.

“The area trainers are existing restaurant managers who still have a normal day to day job with the company. But two or three days a month, they go out to other restaurants in their area to support and develop the younger assistant managers.

“Not only did we improve the development of our assistant managers, but it also helped in developing the restaurant managers. And now those restaurant managers are able to progress to an area manager role.”

Driving culture

Crucial to the success of the overall strategy was the implementation of a new resource. The company developed a 360 culture development tool that was used by everyone in the business, from top to bottom. It allowed all employees to take an active role in their own development. Through the data gathered by this tool, Retzos Group was able to develop individualised development plans for all staff. Quinn says this had the most significant impact in improving retention rates across the business.

“Anyone can create a culture and development tool, but it’s what you do with it afterwards that really matters.”

This focus on data wasn’t limited to the culture tool. The strategy called for existing sources of data to receive greater attention. This meant really listening to, and then recording, the comments made in exit interviews. 

Quinn and his team also conducted a simple survey for assistant managers, at zero cost to the business. They asked questions such as, Do you feel you have the systems and tools necessary to do your job? Do you feel you had enough training and development to do your role? And, Do you feel the workload distributed across the management team is fair?

“We did this because we were losing more assistants than restaurant managers. So we asked them to rate their work-life balance based on their management-rostering system. We wanted to know if they felt recognised for the work they did and then asked them to rate their happiness in their current role.”

From the survey results, Quinn was able to see there was an uneven workload distribution. This wasn’t something they’d tracked before but the remedy was simple.

“We were able to quickly change the rosters. We now track who does nights, weekends, days, closing shifts and the ‘unsociable’ shifts, such as Saturday nights. Now we have a rotating roster that’s fair to everyone in the organisation.

Getting results

This new workforce management strategy, based on the Korn Ferry research, will save the business a projected $210,000 in turnover costs across 2019. Restaurant manager turnover has reduced from 14 to 10 per cent, and assistant manager turnover has dropped from 24 to 16 per cent. 

The strategy has been a success, but Quinn doesn’t want to give the impression that the 30-week project was solely responsible for the increased retention rates. The growth strategy was in its development stages before Quinn began the project. Also, its results were enhanced by the implementation of various culture development tools. The advantage of the AHRI certification program was the structure it gave the process.

A big lesson Quinn took from this experience was the importance of rigorous workforce planning and structure. “I used a Gantt chart, and I used it effectively. It’s a time-and-action chart which tells you at which point you have to do specific tasks, from week one to week 30.”

Another key takeaway was managing stakeholder expectations.

“As results were improving, the expectations got higher, and ended up going beyond our original goal. Some people expected those rates to keep rising. I had to keep managing that by saying, ‘Remember what our original goal was. Remember where we’ve come from.’

“With projects like this, there’s a natural burst of improvement, and then it will slow down and you’ll start to get more consistency across retention,” says Quinn. 

His final piece of advice to anyone considering a business change is to not to be short-term in your thinking. The bigger the change, the more important it is to give yourself the time to get it right. 


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