16 Sep, 2021
Why Employee Retention Is More Important Than Ever Before in the Technology Industry
Entrepreneur Asia Pacific

According to a Microsoft survey of 30,000 workers globally, 41% of workers are considering quitting or changing their professions this year. In April, a record 4 million people quit their jobs, with another 3.9 million in June. This is what has been dubbed as the "Great Resignation." 

Why the Great Resignation is happening

The pandemic has facilitated a shift in priorities for most people. It has served as a wake-up call for most workers as they have been somewhat less engaged at their workplaces. This has given them a chance to explore the infinite opportunities available. This could be a dream job, better pay, more flexibility, better culture or even a more suitable location. The motivations are numerous, and as most organizations are requiring employees to go back to the office, people are re-evaluating their options.

The relationship between the Great Resignation and employee retention

According to a recent survey by Monster, a whopping 95% of employees, motivated by the Covid-19 pandemic, want to seek a change in terms of their job and life in general. The survey has unearthed the following as the core reasons for this shift:

  • More flexibility: After working from home for months, employees are seeking more flexibility and freedom in terms of where they work from. Most people — especially young folk — want to work from home for a couple of days a week instead of commuting every day of the week.
  • Better quality of life and wellbeing: Most employees have enjoyed an improved quality of life while working from home during the pandemic. Hence, they aren't willing to resume the monotony of the office environment.
  • Burnout and fatigue: Sometimes, employees experience fatigue and burnout when balancing a 9-5 with family life.
  • Bad treatment: For some, the decision to leave their jobs is due to poor treatment by their employer throughout the pandemic.

While employee turnover is normal, the Great Resignation can blindside companies if they do not seek to understand and address the individual motivations driving this shift.

Why employee retention is critical in the technology industry

It has been reported that resignations in the technology industry have increased since the onset of the pandemic. A major problem with the technology industry is the scarcity of talent, with the industry giants having snatched a huge chunk of the best talent. The tech industry is very competitive, with companies competing for the same talent. Even with the economic shifts caused by the pandemic, it's imperative that technology companies focus on retaining their current talent. With the specialized nature of this industry, losing talent not only comes at a high cost but also means losing unique skills and talent that may be hard to find. You may also lose employees to your competitor's advantage.

How can companies combat the 'Great Resignation'?

1. Extend remote work opportunities

For most employees, the past year is proof that they don't have to be at the office to be productive. While most may be missing the opportunity to socialize with their fellow workmates, a huge number have no intention of working from the office every day of the week. One survey indicates that 39% of employees surveyed would consider quitting their job if their employer doesn't avail an opportunity to work remotely. And the figure goes up to 49% for Gen Zs and millennials. This has forced companies like Twitter to offer an opportunity to work from home perpetually.

2. Invest in supporting your distributed workforce


Even for organizations that extend a remote work option, transitioning to a hybrid work environment can be challenging. Though the technological infrastructure may be in place, lots of shifts are required to successfully support this new way of working. The first step should be training managers to lead hybrid teams successfully.

3. Re-evaluate career development policies

World-changing events like the Covid-19 pandemic are enough to make anyone re-evaluate their priorities in life. You may not be able to retain every employee, but you can take significant steps to help employees make meaningful career decisions. As an employer, employees should feel free to discuss their career and life goals with you.

It's important to note that employee turnover is inevitable. However, it is a problem when companies are unable to retain their best talent, which is bound to negatively impact their bottom line. With industries like technology being heavily impacted by the 'Great Resignation', every company must devise strategies to retain talent.


13 Sep, 2021
The Most Successful People in the World Ask Questions Constantly. Here's How to Master the Art of Asking Questions

We ask questions all the time. When is the presentation? Did you get my notes from the meeting? These are straightforward, fact-finding questions, and they get straight-forward, fact-based answers. (It’s at 3. Yes.) It shouldn’t be surprising that my company, JotForm, sees more than two million user questions per hour.

But a thoughtful, well-posed question has tremendous power; opening the doors to innovation, building cohesion among team members and shining light on the dark corners of misunderstanding. 

Even so, many of us still shy away from asking questions, despite how invaluable they can be. Experts offer several explanations for why this is: Some people are egocentric and more interested in sharing their own points of view. Others are overconfident, assuming they already know the answers. Then there’s the other end of the spectrum: Those who worry that they’ll ask the wrong question and be perceived as incompetent. 

“There are so many vulnerabilities surrounding this,” Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question and The Book of Beautiful Questions, tells Forge. “It can really feel like questions are a dangerous thing.”

In fact, the opposite is true — the most successful people in the world ask questions constantly. If you’re not a natural question-asker, learning how can seem daunting. As the mathematician Georg Cantor points out in the quote above, asking good questions is an art. And with practice, it can be mastered. Here’s how to get started. 

Be specific 

Before you ask a question to someone else, it’s important to first figure out what you’re trying to learn. If you’re not sure, it’s unlikely that the person you’re asking will either. 

Most questions can be divided into three types: Factual, opinion or request. Each carries its own message. Asking a factual question shows that the other person has information we don’t; asking an opinion indicates we value their perspective; and making a request implies that we need help. Once you’ve gotten to the heart of what question you’re asking, consider who you’re asking, and whether they’re in the right position to answer it or not. 

As a leader, asking questions can feel like a giveaway that you don’t have all the answers. Which, obviously, you don’t. But far from projecting weakness, asking questions is actually not only a great way to gather valuable information; it shows your team that you respect and trust them. 

Don’t be afraid to clarify 

It’s often the case that asking a single question isn’t enough. Maybe the answer was overly technical; maybe you realized that you didn’t ask the precise right question after all. It happens! 

If the answer you receive leaves room for ambiguity, you’ll need to clarify. Usually, these questions are either open, in which you ask the speaker to elaborate on part of their point; or closed, in which you repeat the ambiguous part of the message back and ask for confirmation that you understood it correctly. 

When asking for clarification, make it clear you’re simply trying to understand, rather than blame the answerer for answering poorly. After all, you’re both working toward the same goal, which is to understand each other. 

Conversation vs. interrogation

There’s a fine line between showing your interest in what someone has to say and making them feel like they’re being bombarded. Rather than asking questions at a machine gun clip, take some time after you’re answered to consider what you just heard. Remember, it’s a conversation, not an interrogation. 

Keeping questions open-ended is a good way to avoid “yes” or “no” answers, and also allow for more creative responses. According to Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John, both professors at Harvard Business School, these kinds of questions can be “wellsprings of innovation.” 

On the other hand, survey design research has shown that “closed” questions can introduce bias and manipulation — leading the witness, so to speak. In one study, in which parents were asked what they considered  “the most important thing for children to prepare them in life,” 60 percent chose “to think for themselves” from a list of possible responses. In contrast, when the same question was asked in an open-ended format, only about five percent of parents gave a response along those lines. 

Find the right tone

Different circumstances call for different modes of questioning, and how you ask a question can be just as important as what you ask. Overly direct questions that seem to come from out of the blue can make people clam up, but beating around the bush can lead to frustration on both ends. Brooks and John found that people are actually more willing to reveal sensitive information when questions are asked in a decreasing order of intrusiveness — as long as the first question isn’t too sensitive. It’s a balance. 

The same goes for context. If you’re making an important request, you’ll want to pick a time when the other person isn’t in the middle of something else or in a noisy, crowded environment. 

Keep quiet

In general, it’s a good idea not to interrupt people while they’re talking to you. This becomes even more true when they’re trying to answer a question that you asked. Interrupting sends a clear message that you don’t value what they’re saying, and also keeps you from hearing what they might have said. 

If the conversation seems to be meandering from the topic you want to focus on, gently guide it back. There’s a difference between doing this and cutting someone off mid-sentence because you had a thought of your own to add. Save your own thoughts and questions for when the answerer is done talking — then, wait a beat beyond that to make sure they’ve truly finished their thought. Sometimes that extra pause yields the most important thing a person was going to say. 

People who ask questions have higher emotional intelligence and a greater understanding of the world around them — plus, people like them more. If you become a good question asker, there’s no end to the knowledge you have the power to unlock. 


13 Sep, 2021
Supermarket giants have topped Australia’s most-trusted brand list, as a JobKeeper backlash sees Harvey Norman sink in the rankings
Business Insider
  • Woolworths and Coles have topped research firm Roy Morgan’s new June quarter list of Australia’s most-trusted brands.
  • Department stores also litter the top ten list, Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine said.
  • The massively profitable Harvey Norman was an outlier, following its now-reversed decision not to repay the JobKeeper subsidies it accrued.

Australia’s supermarket giants have maintained their place as the nation’s most-trusted brands, with beleaguered whitegoods retailer Harvey Norman nearing the bottom of the pack.

Those are the findings of Roy Morgan’s new June quarter brand perception report, which found Woolworths and Coles retained the respective #1 and #2 spots they notched in the March quarter ranking.

Building supplies giant Bunnings and supermarket competitor ALDI Australia also came in at #3 and #4, respectively, matching their rankings from a month prior.

Kmart, Qantas, Myer, Toyota, insurance giant NRMA, and BIG W rounded out the top ten list.

The prominence of department stores and supermarket players on the list reflects current spending patterns, Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine said, with many Australians still choosing to make big-ticket purchases to improve their homes.

“All four lifted their rankings with Myer and Big W entering the top 10 most trusted brands as many retailers enjoyed record sales as Australians prevented from travelling and enjoying live entertainment such as sport, music, theatre and the like redirected their spending into the retail industry,” she said.

The same pattern can be seen outside of the top ten, with Target and JB Hi-Fi ranking #13 and #20, respectively.

With whitegoods retailers making good on those lockdown dollars, Harvey Norman proved a notable exception.

After founder Gerry Harvey repeatedly insisted the company would not repay the $22 million in JobKeeper wage subsidy funding it received while banking massive profits, Harvey Norman last month said it had coughed up $6 million.

That repayment proved too little, too late for the June report, which found Harvey Norman swimming around with scandal-hit Crown Resorts and tech titans Amazon, Google, and Twitter towards the bottom of the list.

The ranking “illustrates again the brand damage than can accrue to a business that is perceived to not be looking after the interests of its customers and the wider community,” Levine said.

JobKeeper handling aside, other challenges may soon face Australia’s most trusted brands.

With looser public health restrictions all but contingent on rising vaccination rates, companies are considering making vaccinations mandatory for their workforce.

Qantas has already confirmed it will make the jab mandatory across its workforce.

Simultaneously, the federal government has signaled that vaccine certificates will be the ticket to eased restrictions moving forward, including access to international travel, shops, venues, and sporting events.

“The big question facing retailers is how they manage the questions of ‘vaccination mandates’ for staff and ‘vaccination passports’ for customers without destroying the trust they’ve built up over the past year,” Levine said.

Woolworths, Coles, and ALDI Australia have also signaled the most recent COVID-19 outbreak has impacted store operations, with shop staff and distribution centre workers forced to self-isolate after being listed as potential COVID-19 close contacts.

While the vast majority of stores nationwide are unaffected, it remains to be seen if intermittent product shortages and online order substitutions will colour future trust rankings.

Roy Morgan, which asks approximately 1,800 Australians each month for their brand opinions, says it will outline further insights regarding the June top 20 list next week.

7 Sep, 2021
3 strategies to combat maternal penalties at work
Entrepreneur Asia Pacific

Studies and statistics have shown time and again that women are not represented in the private sector in leadership positions like men. For example, in Fortune 500 companies, only 8% of executives are women. Out of 500 CEO positions, only 41 of these CEO positions are held by a woman. Even more alarming is the small number of mothers who have a chance to climb the corporate ladder. This may be influenced by the phenomenon of maternal penalties, the maternal wall, prejudice and discrimination against mothers.

The maternal penalty explains that mothers, compared to women without children, tend to receive a penalty in their salary, perception of low competition and little accessibility to corporate benefits for each child they have. The difference in salary is so high that it sometimes exceeds the amount of difference between the inequality of pay between women and men. In addition to this “maternal penalty,” mothers in the workplace tend to face job losses where they are seen as people without dedication to their work, without dependency, without authorship, and more emotional than other women without children. The important thing to emphasize here is that these are prejudices, not that this is necessarily the reality.

Harvard studies have reported that mothers tend to be discriminated against in the workplace in the following ways: women without children tend to be promoted 6 times more than mothers, mothers tend to be passed for a promotion 8.2 more than women women without children, and also mothers tend to go through more job scrutiny where managers are always pending if they arrive on time with more constancy than men and women without children.

These are one of the reasons why some women have been forced to choose between corporate success or success as mothers. Many of this type of discrimination towards mothers comes from the same society. This study, where 1,835 people interviewed, reported that society prefers that women not have children or postpone having children if they want to be successful professionally . Indra Nooyi, the Ex-CEO of Pepsi, has communicated how she had to hide her children under her desk or they had to sleep in her office in order to carry out her job and lead Pepsi . Even though being a mom didn't stop her from being a great leader it has multiplied Pepsi's earnings by more than 84%. Motherhood and leadership is seen in society as mutually exclusive even though we know that traits such as compassion and empathy that can be developed in motherhood are of great importance to be effective leaders.

This Wall Street Journal report shows that more recently during COVID-19 we can see the terrible reality of the lack of social and corporate support that mothers have. More than 1.5 million mothers have still not been able to return to work after resigning out of obligation for reasons such as the closure of children's schools, the closure of daycare centers and the lack of flexibility and support of their workplace for them to be able to perform. your job and babysitting at the same time.

If your company is trying to be more inclusive and promote more women to leadership positions, I will give you 3 strategies for you to help mothers become part of your executive cabinet.

Strategy 1: Offer flexible scheduling

Schedule flexibility is necessary if you are trying to create more gender equality in leadership positions. Not only does schedule flexibility reduce work stress , it has also been shown to create more employee loyalty to the company, more focus, and satisfaction. This is not only beneficial for mothers, but for all staff who have other responsibilities outside of their jobs. Schedule flexibility also reduces the number of times an employee is absent from work because the employee tends to adjust their schedule rather than absent altogether.

Strategy 2: Help remove the maternal wall debuff

Women in general face many prejudices and discrimination on their way to leadership, such as the glass ceiling , where regardless of their credentials and their preparation, many women encounter an invisible ceiling in the company that prevents them from developing as professionals and many times they stay stuck in one position for several years.

Mothers often do not even come close to that ceiling, or the possibility of developing their career. This is due to the damage and perception towards mothers classified as the maternal wall , where they are victims of how employers assume that mothers are not competent or do not have enough time to work in their place of employment. In a Harvard Business Review article , she explains how this stereotype affects mothers' trajectory in the company, where mothers are seen as housewives rather than professionals. They also stop being promoted, trained, and hired on the assumption that they don't have time to be mothers and be excellent workers. To promote more mothers to leadership positions, we must eliminate these prejudices and do not assume that a mother does not have time to dedicate to her work. You can combat this

in your company, creating effective communication links between managers and mothers so that the promotion of the mother is not interrupted by an assumption. Rather, it is recommended that managers proactively look for ways to offer support to help mothers who want to advance their careers to do so with institutional support.

Strategy 3: Make networking or networking event during work hours

In order to promote gender equality in leadership positions, in your company it is necessary that you have work events such as networking during the hours that the person usually works. When we hold events outside of business hours, the usual 9-5 hours, we leave out the possibility that people with responsibilities outside of work as mothers can attend. Networking events , where workers connect with executives from their company and their industry, are crucial for their professional development. At

these events, employees can share with other workers, learn more about their role in their company, and connect with highly influential people who can become their job sponsors.It is of great importance that companies create mechanisms to help normalize mothers in leadership positions and not let their personal decision to have children prevent them from climbing the corporate ladder. If companies are not dedicated to eliminating prejudice and proactively creating systems to help women and mothers climb the corporate ladder to leadership positions, society will continue to put mothers at a disadvantage as they pursue professional development. Corporate support where companies can promote the potential of mothers on their way to leadership can help create more role models and close the gender gap in leadership positions.

7 Sep, 2021
6 Habits That Help Successful People Maximize Their Time
Entrepreneur Asia Pacific

Everyone gets the same 24 hours in a day, but it's what we do with those 1440 minutes that separates the successful from the stagnant. 

If you want to edge out the competition, hit your goals and achieve more than the week should allow, these following clock hacks should help...

Think like a lazy person

Is it quicker to load a dishwasher or to personally scrub every single utensil? The result is the same, regardless of how you get there, but the effort involved is drastically different. Josephine Cochran's 19th century attempt to first apply water pressure to plates wasn't just innovative, it was lazy. She didn't want to hand wash every single spoon and found a way to do it more efficiently.

Instead of simply sitting down to do tedious work, see if you can find a way to make the work less tedious. Create workflows, automations and innovations that allow you to do more with less effort, then use that time tackling the next problem. By the time you take a break to look back you will realize that you are miles ahead of the competition.

Don't do your tasks in order

The risk with to-do lists is that most people assume they must be completed linearly. When it comes to these chores, it isn’t wise to simply start at the top. Instead, apply time estimations to every item. Find yourself with ten minutes between meetings? Knock-off a tiny task. Plane delayed by two hours? Tackle a larger item. Do what you can when you can and be amazed by what you can accomplish throughout the day.

Maximize transit time

 Instead of staring out your cabin window on a plane, scrolling through Instagram in an Uber, or people-watching on the subway, make travel work for you. Commuting can be great for replying to emails, prepping for upcoming meetings and, when all else fails, continuing education. Skip the in-flight movie and listen to a podcast, make your way through a leadership book or read some articles written by experts. The idea is to treat every moment spent sitting as an opportunity. 

Consider the ROI

Every time you think about committing to something, consider the potential return on investment. Grabbing a drink with an old friend may sound like a good use of time, but is it really? If getting buzzed with a buddy takes away from your work, family or education, it may not be worth the investment. Ask yourself if the reward justifies the cost. Rest and relaxation is, of course, important---but anything you do strictly out of obligation may not be worth the time spent, and it is ok to say "no" when the ROI is not favorable.

Outsource the rest

Most business leaders want to think that they need to be heavily involved in every aspect of their ventures, but the cold reality (and hacky cliche) is that trying to be a jack of all trades makes you a master of none. Instead, figure out what your superpower is and develop that until absolutely no one can do it better than you. Do not concern yourself with the things you do not naturally excel at. Find people that excel in areas that you are weak and let them fly. Something magical happens when you find what you are good at and outsource the rest---everything moves faster! When you get the proper people in the right roles, no one will be bogged down by things that challenge them. Everything gets streamlined and the results can be truly astounding. .


7 Sep, 2021
It’s not just you. Many people are dealing with ‘lockdown brain’
HRM Online
HRM Online

Feeling more forgetful right now? Are you putting off tasks? Does everyone around you seem more irritating than usual? You might have a lockdown brain. 

Your to-do list likely feels more important to you these days than ever before. 

For those of us still in lockdown, it can feel like your brain is functioning at half capacity, and a to-do list can act as a guiding light to get you through the work day. 

I cannot get a thing done these days unless the tasks are written in front of me in giant letters, yelling at me like a drill sergeant. I know I’m not alone. And there’s a scientific reason as to why so many of us are feeling this way.

HRM has covered the cognitive impacts of remote-work and COVID-19 before, but this time we’re unpacking some of the common things people are experiencing as a result of long-term isolation, and what HR can do to help.

We are more forgetful

Do you feel like your ability to retain information has disappeared at the moment? Are you regularly doing that thing where you walk into a room and can’t remember for the life of you why you’re there? Don’t worry. It’s not you, it’s lockdown.

 Lockdown has given rise to greater rates of depression and anxiety, two illnesses that can damage memory. 

Not only does this hamper our ability to remember why we went into the kitchen, it can also mean we lose the important touchstones that jog our memory. 

 A relatively modern theory called contextual-binding theory outlines how our physical and mental states influence our memory and perception of past experiences. The theory suggests that we link memories with the context they occurred in.

For example, imagine you’re on your morning walk and see a clown juggling at your local park. The context is the physical space – the park – and your mental state, likely surprise and possibly fear (if you’re me). When these things are linked together it means next time you’re at the park or you see a clown you’ll find it easier to recall that rather strange memory of a clown juggling in the park.

But here’s where it gets tricky. Let’s say you start seeing clowns at the park every day. The context is the same (park, surprise, fear), so even if it’s a different clown each time, because they’re all linked to the same context, the memory becomes diluted and the specific clowns will become harder to distinguish in your memory. 

If you’re working at home every day, having the same meetings from the same position in your house and likely experiencing the same emotions (curiosity or, dare I say, boredom), differentiating those meetings in your memory is going to become much trickier. 

But this is only part of the problem. As lockdowns continue and our stress levels continue to rise, the cognitive impacts on memory become more severe. In the ABC article, Roswell refers to it as “entering a rudimentary state of cognitive ability”.

Prolonged stress and anxiety can stop us from forming new memories because cortisol (the stress hormone) is tampering with the hippocampus, our brains’ centre for memory and learning. 

Stress inhibits our ability to form pathways quickly, meaning we find it harder to retain the things we’ve just learnt or seen.

We can continue to do our daily activities, says Roswell, but when we try to think outside the box or try something new, our brain simply cannot form the pathways to enable higher level thinking.  

What can HR do?

To escape this Groundhog Day feeling, we need to break up our days. 

 This pandemic might be a marathon, but we should be working in sprints, says Karen Gately, Founder of leadership and people management consultancy Corporate Dojo.

“If we are just stuck at our desk working, we’re going to lose focus and productivity,” she says. 

“Working in one-to-two-hour blocks is much more likely to keep us focused and help us to retain information.

“People are entirely better off working for a short period of time, and then taking a break. That could be just walking around the house or getting out in the fresh air.”

Employers also need to give workers the flexibility to potentially start earlier or work later, and allow them short periods where they’re uncontactable so they can get into deep work, says Gately.

We are more likely to make risky decisions

Prolonged periods of social restrictions can also impact our decision-making skills. 

In a study released earlier this year, researchers questioned nearly 5000 participants in Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom about their decision making during COVID-19 restrictions. 

 The researchers found that participants experiencing harsher lockdown conditions were more likely to make riskier decisions and poor choices, such as being less altruistic and developing a desire to punish others.

“Instead of being more careful because they were in a pandemic, they were taking risks, because they couldn’t take it any more,” said co-author Francisco Lupiáñez from Italy’s Open University of Catalonia in an article for Eureka Alert. 

They found that people were more willing to make difficult decisions without weighing up the potential social costs of their actions, such as not wearing a mask in public.

“It seemed as if the world was coming to an end and people preferred to benefit today, immediately, without thinking about tomorrow.”

 This lines up with older research that suggests social isolation can lead to people making risker financial decisions, often seeking immediate satisfaction and rather long-term rewards. Part of this was linked to the dopamine cravings created by isolation (if you’re someone who has fallen victim to the clutches of online shopping during lockdown, you’ll be familiar with this feeling).

 In the workplace this could manifest as employees making poor financial decisions on behalf of the business. A less extreme example could be someone chasing quick wins to replicate the dopamine they’re missing from social interactions. That might mean they cut corners or fail to work as collaboratively as is needed, for instance, resulting in decreased quality of work and potentially damaging important relationships in the process.

 What can HR do?

 You could try finding alternative ways to keep employees’ dopamine levels high. A good place to start is through consistent recognition and reward for a job well done.

“When I feel respected and valued, these things give me energy and give me the brain chemistry that’s good for the health of my mind,” says Gately.

 “It can be tempting [for employers] to just focus on what’s not happening, so we might have to be more deliberate and purposeful about reaching out and letting people know what we are happy about [in their work].

“HR can be going to the business owner or CEO and saying, ‘Hey, by the way, Mary has been doing a brilliant job. She has been working around the clock. Could you reach out and say thank you?’ Simple as that.”

We feel more irritable and intolerant 

Last year, the overwhelming feelings we shared were grief and anxiety. As the pandemic continues and this new round of restrictions weigh on us, the feeling is different. Grief and anxiety haven’t gone away entirely, but it has been surpassed for many by anger. 

 It’s easy to understand why we feel this way. Lockdown is an experience outside of our control, and when that lack of control meets the uncertainty of not knowing when your freedoms will be reinstated or how safe it is to be outside, it can result in anger and frustration. 

 Research on mice has shown aggression levels increase when they are subjected to isolation. In humans this often manifests as a low tolerance for those around us. 

 On a cognitive level, anger narrows our focus, limiting our ability to take on new information. Even if the source of our anger passes, we can remain on edge and are more likely to get angry at other people or incidents. 

 This can create a vicious cycle. Conflict may arise between employees and, depending on their agreeability or response to conflict, this could cause it to spread like other forms of emotional contagion.

 What can HR do?

 The number one thing HR and other leaders can do right now is lead with empathy, says Gately.

“You don’t have to accept bad behaviour to empathise with the underlying reason for it,” she says.

“You need to create a space where employees can put their hand up and say, ‘I’m struggling’ not just when they’re feeling overwhelmed, but when they’re frustrated too.”

This is where creating a psychologically-safe culture is really important.

There are small changes workplaces can make too. 

“Employees need the tools to recognise their emotions and the ways to short circuit those feelings.

 “Make self care a priority,” says Gately. “Whether that’s taking frequent breaks to walk around the block, taking time off to recalibrate, or calling someone you can vent to.”

2 Sep, 2021
5 surprising impacts of rudeness in the workplace
HRM Online
HRM Online

It won’t just put you in a bad mood. Rudeness in the workplace can even affect our creativity, memory and decision-making skills.

Imagine a world where rudeness didn’t exist. Your neighbour didn’t give you the side-eye as you crossed paths in the morning. Your barista didn’t huff at you when you mentioned that your coffee wasn’t hot enough and no one sent you emails IN ALL CAPS.

It would be bliss. But that’s not our reality.

While you might think a rude colleague is just part and parcel of the work experience, if incivility runs rampant it can have significant impacts. 

It can reduce morale and engagement levels, increase intention to quit, and lead to mental and physical health concerns.

These are the common impacts of rudeness in the workplace, but there are some not-so-obvious consequences that HR professionals need to be aware of, such as how it can impact our memories, creativity and decision-making skills.

HRM dives into some fascinating research and offers thoughts on how to combat each impact of rudeness in the workplace.

Effect 1: It reduces creativity and impacts our memory

Rudeness in the workplace can dampen our creativity because it affects our memory. 

Creativity isn’t about having a single eureka moment. It is usually an amalgamation of several ideas over time. When we think creatively, we pull ideas from our long-term memory and hold them in our working memory.

An experiment from 2007 shows that when the study’s participants were exposed to someone who was belittling them, they came up with 39 per cent less creative ideas than those who hadn’t experienced rudeness. 

Rudeness impacts our cognitive functioning, meaning we have less emotional energy to reach our full potential.

“On the cognitive side, we know that exposure to rudeness takes up a portion of individuals’ working memory, which is our limited ability to hold information,” explains Binyamin Cooper, Postdoctoral Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

“This happens because following exposure to rudeness individuals engage in rumination – consciously reflecting on the event, and attempt to understand the reasoning behind it and the meaning of it.”

How to combat it:
The best defence is to disrupt the rumination process. Tools such as mindfulness can serve as a distraction in these instances. 

Mindfulness aims to slow the brain down and bring you back to the present moment. A simple method is identifying three things you can hear, see and feel. This can act as a circuit breaker for your thoughts and help you think more clearly.

Effect 2: It impacts our decision-making skills

A 2021 study, led by Cooper and published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, revealed that rudeness can lead to a decision-

making bias called ‘anchoring’.

Cooper explains anchoring as similar to spotting a bear while hiking. In that moment you focus on the danger ahead (the bear) and your brain will filter out the information you’re capable of taking in from the surrounding environment, such as the trees surrounding you or the sound of a distant bird. It’s as if you put up emotional blinkers.

“Essentially, as part of our fight-or-flight response, we have evolved to focus on the cause of the arousal, so that information that is central to the source of the emotional arousal can be encoded,” says Cooper.

“While obviously not a bear, the rudeness-induced high arousal negative effect is sufficient [enough] to cause this narrowing and subsequent anchoring, making individuals more likely to rely on limited information when making their subsequent judgments.”

In Cooper’s study, medical students were asked to diagnose a patient. Prior to the diagnosis some students witnessed a rude interaction between their instructor and another doctor. Those who saw this altercation were more likely to misdiagnose the patient based on the first piece of information they found. 

The students who didn’t witness this event were more likely to take on additional information and correctly diagnose the patient. 

Even if you’re not making life or death decisions, it’s important to utilise all the data you have access to. Anchoring restricts that ability. 

How to combat it:
The best way to reduce this is through information elaboration, says Cooper. This means consciously seeking additional information. 

For example, here’s how information elaboration could look in a salary negotiation where the person who makes the first offer usually sets the ‘anchor’ for the negotiation (i.e. they put an offer on the table for the person to accept or decline). 

“We asked our participants to think about three pieces of information that they would like to get from their negotiation partner before they had to make a counteroffer,” says Cooper. “We found that this exercise reduced the likelihood of anchoring taking place.”

“This happens because following exposure to rudeness individuals engage in rumination – consciously reflecting on the event, and attempting to understand the reasoning behind it” – Binyamin Cooper, Postdoctoral Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

Effect 3: Virtual rudeness can be worse and harder spot

When we are communicating with our teams solely online, a phenomenon called ‘toxic online disinhibition’ can occur. This means we forget our real-world social etiquette due the lack of  connections we form with virtual beings – i.e. our inhibitions are lowered. 

The term is predominantly used to describe cyberbullying and online trolling, the idea that anonymity can lead to a reduced sense of accountability because the perpetrator doesn’t perceive the person on the receiving end as a person.

What’s worse is that new research published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology suggests rudeness in the workplace is harder to spot in a virtual setting. This incivility can range from general rude behaviour, withholding information, arriving late to meetings or interrupting or ignoring a colleague, the researchers found.

“People have gotten used to not having to engage in interpersonal communication as much and that can take an already distressing or tense situation and exacerbate it because people are out of practice of not having to have difficult conversations,” Larry Martinez, study Co-Author and  Associate Professor of Industrial-Organisational Psychology at Portland State University, told ScienceDaily

How to combat it:
Martinez suggests that when employees have more autonomy in their roles, they are less likely to engage in workplace incivility.

Another solution could be simply keeping your camera on during video calls. Anonymity has long been seen as the main cause of toxic online disinhibition, but research suggests that a lack of eye-contact is actually the biggest contributor. 

Although we might be feeling the effects of video call fatigue, keeping cameras on (at least some of the time) could help remind employees there are other people on the receiving end of their communication. 

Effect 4: It increases perceived rudeness

Once we experience rudeness in the workplace, we start to see incivility everywhere. 

Let’s say someone comes up to you and, in a neutral tone, says, “Nice shirt”. This can be interpreted a myriad of ways, but if you’ve recently experienced a rude encounter you’re more likely to believe that the person was being sarcastic or mean.   

Trevor Foulk, Assistant Professor of Management and Organisation at the University of Maryland, explains this concept in more depth in an article for The Conversation. But here’s a very simplified version of what’s happening in our brains. 

Imagine a bunch of switches in your brain. Different experiences can switch them on or off. Seeing a smiling face can flick on our happiness switch and activate positive emotions. Uncivil behaviour flicks on our rudeness switch, and gives us what Foulk calls ‘rude-coloured glasses’. While that switch is turned on, we continue to experience and perceive rudeness. Foulk’s research has demonstrated that this switch can continue affecting us for up to a week. 

How to combat it:
So how can you turn off that switch? Perceived rudeness is an assumption made about the other person’s intent. To combat it, we need to try to see things from their perspective, without wearing rude-coloured glasses.

Perspective taking is the act of imagining what the other person is feeling or thinking and, in Cooper’s experience, it’s shown to help alleviate some of the impact of rudeness.

“We tested this by having participants visualise what a person thinks and feels at work, by ‘looking at the world through their eyes’ and ‘walking through the world in their shoes’,” says Cooper.

Perspective taking also puts distance between you and the strong feelings you’re having about the situation, preventing them from overwhelming you, he says.

Effect 5: We infect others with our rudeness

Rudeness begets rudeness. This point is particularly troubling, as it perpetuates the cycle, meaning all the other impacts mentioned above continue to poison a workplace’s culture.

In a 2016 study, psychologists tracked employees’ behaviour through the work day. Those who experienced incivility in the morning were more likely to lash out at colleagues later in the day. 

We know emotions and arrogance can be contagious – it’s a phenomenon known as emotional contagion – so it’s not surprising that rudeness is too. 

“Exposure to rude behaviors has been shown to activate a semantic network of related concepts in individuals’ minds,” says Cooper. That’s those switches mentioned earlier.

“In turn, this activation influences an individual’s behaviors to be more hostile toward unrelated others.”

How to combat it:

The worst part of emotional contagion is it can come from outside the workplace but still harm your employees. This makes it hard to eradicate entirely. 

However, Cooper suggests two approaches that employers can implement, one is proactive and the other is reactive.

  • Proactive: Implement structured interventions that promote civil interactions. This can include creating rules of etiquette for your organisation and rewarding employees who call our rudeness or uncivil behaviour.
  • Reactive: “A manager should strive to improve interpersonal relationships in the workplace and actively monitor and be able to identify problematic relationships that may lead to rude behaviors,” says Cooper. “In turn, they should be able to intervene to encourage or teach positive ways of communication.”
  • “Over time, these interventions can improve the organisational culture and discourse regarding rude behaviors, and help reduce their occurrence,” says Cooper.

2 Sep, 2021
How this four-stage onboarding journey improved productivity
HRM Online
HRM Online

Once you find the right candidate for a role, what is the most effective way of embedding them into your team? Make sure you have a comprehensive onboarding process in place. 

How should you go about overhauling an onboarding process that causes confusion, wastes time or accelerates turnover? 

Raminta Kymantas CPHR faced this challenge two years into becoming senior learning and development consultant at Colliers UK, an international real estate company. 

Having held a variety of roles across a variety of countries, Kymantas has a strong understanding of the various ways a company can welcome a new employee. By the time she landed at Colliers UK, she was able to put that knowledge to use.

Colliers UK’s onboarding processes had room for improvement. So as the foundation of her AHRI Practicing Certification project, Kymantas decided to create some practical and impactful changes.

“Information for new starters was delivered at a range of times and there was not enough focus on engaging new starters in regard to how to get involved, build important relationships or understand the value of their role,” says Kymantas.

Furthermore, qualitative data gathered from monthly evaluations showed that new starters lacked knowledge about the brand, IT systems and finance processes. 

One employee requested “more information about business growth and direction”, while another wanted “more explanation about the different teams”, as well information about “the opportunity to collaborate” with others.
The onboarding process had two noticeable areas for refinement. First, it needed to reduce the time it took new starters to reach full productivity. Also, it contributed to voluntary attrition rates in the first year of employment, which, in 2019, was higher than Colliers was comfortable with, so that needed fixing.

Four-stage journey

To kick start the project, Kymantas had to put herself in the employees’ shoes. 

“In contrast with the previous series of scattered [onboarding] tasks, we developed an onboarding journey which builds new 

joiners’ understanding of the business as they need it, helping them to achieve productivity quickly.”

The journey comprises four stages. 

Firstly, upon signing their contract, the employee watches a welcome video from Colliers’ UK CEO, which is displayed alongside a webpage containing details about the company – such as its mission, values, employee benefits and business expectations, plus more.

Secondly, on day one of employment, the new starter receives a host of essential information, including who’s who in HR; instructions for navigating the intranet; employee benefits; and tips for physical, mental and financial wellbeing at work. 

In the third stage, which occurs throughout the probation period, further information is drip-fed to the new joiner, such as training on finance and IT systems. In the final stage, after one month in the role, a second induction provides more context on the business, including its workplace culture and tips for becoming collaborative with your team. 

“Understanding the Colliers context really improves employee engagement rates. Our senior leaders present to the new joiners about what makes Colliers a great place to work, emphasising that it’s not what we do that matters, but how we do it”.

Measurable impact 

The success of Kymantas’s new onboarding journey bears out statistically. 

Over six months in 2020, new starters reached an average 75 per cent productivity rate within three months of employment, in contrast with the five or six-month industry average. Voluntary attrition rates within the first year decreased by 50 per cent compared to the previous year. 

Fifty-three per cent of new starters rated the quality of Colliers’ communication before they began their role as excellent (compared to 25 per cent before the transformation), 67 per cent agreed the onboarding process helped them understand their job (compared to 57 per cent) and 96 per cent rated their onboarding trainer 5/5, a 10 percentage point jump.

Overcoming obstacles

These successes didn’t mean that the transformation was entirely challenge-free.

“The project relied on many stakeholders. Plus, there were some minor unexpected changes, such as the adoption of a new digital email platform, which meant some stakeholders required extra management to ensure deliverables could be made on time.”

Also, the COVID-19 pandemic hit midway through the project, forcing the onboarding process to be conducted remotely. 

“To overcome this, we added essential information on day one, such as tips for working remotely, as well as demonstrations of new IT systems, to ensure every new starter would be up to speed quickly.

“However, although this has helped to accelerate productivity, it hasn’t solved the problem of not being able to build relationships face-to-face, so there’s more to do in this area.”

Kymantas says that, for her own part, the project’s challenges and outcomes will hold her in good stead in the future. 

“This project developed me as a HR professional. I’d always found it challenging to be an advocate for both the employee and the business at the same time. This helped me understand the importance of both sides.

“Gaining AHRI certification is an additional way for my employer to trust me as an expert to consult on future HR business problems that might arise. 

“I have demonstrated that I can deliver a project from plan to implementation to evaluation, even during the most difficult time of a global pandemic when priorities are constantly changing.”

Quick tips to improve your onboarding experience

Raminta Kymantas CPHR shares some of her top tips, including:

  • Consider what a new joiner needs at every point of the onboarding journey – including before starting, upon starting and after the probation period – and create touch points accordingly.
  • Start with baseline data, by collating feedback from new starters and line managers regarding their experiences of the onboarding process. This will help generate ideas.
  • Replace a task-based approach with a focus on the employee experience, remembering it begins the moment they sign their contract, not on the first day.
  • Create an engaging welcome video, including a message from the CEO on what new joiners can expect on their first day and in the future.
  • Provide an online community, such as a hub or website, which new starters can use to refer to important information or to network.
2 Sep, 2021
How Working Parents Can Strategically Prioritize Their Time
HRM Online
HRM Online

We often talk about the “balancing act” of managing work and parenting, which assumes that the solution is a combination of compromise, multitasking, and choosing an understanding employer. But there are limits to compromise, and multitasking is exhausting. And we do not all have the good fortune or opportunity to choose a flexible and understanding employer. Even if we do, this choice can be undermined by the inherent demands of the work or the realities of who gets promoted, whose role is made redundant, and who gets pay raises.

An alternative approach is to think about parenting more strategically and prioritize demands more rigorously: What do I, as a parent, need to do that is unique? What adds the most value to my children’s lives, and how they will develop into happy and well-adjusted adults? What can be done by other people, with minimal impact, if I am not involved?

Every working parent will answer these questions differently. But in general, we can break down parenting into four different types of work, based on how strategic the work is and how much it requires direct parental involvement:

  1. Pastoral care: the intellectual and emotional engagement with your children
  2. Decision making: deciding what is best for your children, problem solving, and navigating trade-offs
  3. Logistics: transporting children, asking them to do their homework, following through on decision making, and organizing activities
  4. Household support: all the tasks required for running the household, such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, and errands

Most studies and principles of effective parenting suggest that the latter two need significantly less direct parental involvement, and can safely be left to friends, nannies, or other support without guilt. Prioritizing pastoral care and decision making can have the greatest positive impact on children while requiring far less time — about six hours a week. Yet spending disproportionate amounts of time on logistics and household chores can leave parents drained of the time and energy needed to focus on the more strategic aspects of parenting and to advance their careers.

But you can readjust your priorities, so you can feel confident that the time you do spend at home is making the biggest difference. Here’s how.

Pastoral Care

The consensus from studies on good and effective parenting include concepts such as showing love, communicating, supporting, teaching values, and setting boundaries. While the vocabulary may differ from one parenting expert or study to another, these concepts can collectively be named as “pastoral care.” Pastoral care requires parents who have the emotional energy and headspace to connect with their children and, according to numerous studies, has the highest priority in terms of parental engagement.

To ensure you’re prioritizing pastoral care, find at least half an hour of focused, calm time every day to spend with your children without a specific agenda. It could be during breakfast, or before or after dinner — whenever it is possible to set aside some downtime on a regular basis. It is difficult to provide pastoral care if a parent is bogged down in multitasking, errands, and chores, so clear your schedule for those 30 minutes and only focus on your kids. Pastoral care becomes even more important as children grow older, so for older children, consider choosing a time after younger ones have already gone to bed.

During this time together, ask open ended questions. Be curious and interested. Ask them questions like: How was your day? What happened with a sporting event today? Can I help you with anything? What did you think of the new teacher? And show affection; praise, a hug, or words of support can make a big difference. Even teenagers appreciate it in quieter moments (although they often won’t show it).

Decision Making

Decision making can create a heavy weight of responsibility. Some decisions require research on previously unknown topics, such as medical issues or college financing options; others involve difficult trade-offs with unpredictable consequences. Which subjects and activities should my kids be encouraged to pursue? If there is an incident at school, what’s the best way handle it? Do I need to hire a tutor to help my child? When is the right time for my child to be able to do things independently with his friends outside the home?

Depending on the nature of your decisions, the required level of parental involvement can vary. Where the issue involves pastoral care or medical issues, there is obviously a higher need for parental involvement. But in other instances — such as choosing which extracurriculars to take part in or whether they can go on that sleepover — you may be able to delegate. Designate another adult, perhaps a spouse or partner, family friend, godparent, or extended family available via Zoom (someone in your “parenting ecosystem”) to help with the less critical decisions. In addition to the help this provides to the parent, studies have found that involving another adult in a parenting ecosystem is also beneficial for the emotional well-being of children, especially when they grow into adolescence. Be sure to check in with these people regularly to make sure you are aligned. And as your children grow older, ensure that they take greater ownership of these decisions, as well.

In addition, teach your children problem-solving skills: how to stay calm, assess options, and consider potential consequences. This can help them make confident decisions that are age appropriate, without your involvement in each one. For instance, a 10-year-old can check the weather and decide if it is a good idea to wear a coat to school without your needing to make the choice for them.


Logistics include all the planning, transportation, and timetabling involved in getting your children to school, activities, and social events — as well as your own commitments as a working adult. It also includes much of the operational aspects that come from decision making. If a child is joining the swim team, for instance, someone must then purchase needed supplies, manage the schedule, pay invoices, and transport the children back and forth.

It is generally acknowledged that overloading children with activities can backfire, while organizing all those extra activities will increase the parenting workload. To combat this, prioritize activities that are most important and enjoyable for your children, and don’t worry about whether they are missing out on the rest. In addition, get as much support on the logistics as possible: family members, friends, carpools, and bus services. As you make these arrangements, prioritize those aspects of logistics that can have a pastoral care element. For example, many parents find that if there is a sufficiently long drive to an after-school activity, it may be a good idea to do that drive themselves, so they can talk to their children about what is going on in their lives. But a 10-minute drive between art class and soccer practice may be something you can delegate to a friend, especially if their child is also participating in those activities.

Household Support

This is the least strategic aspect of parenting, but one that can be incredibly time-consuming. The New York Times recently estimated that parents spend 6.5 hours a day on housework. It is highly important to reduce the less value-adding aspects of this, in order to free up energy and time for pastoral care, or to convert some of this effort into something that can be shared with children. After all, kids who do chores learn responsibility and generally enjoy greater success in life.

Offload this as much as possible. Outsourcing can include getting help from extended family and friends or hiring help. Additionally, consciously decide which work simply does not need to be done as well or as often. For this part, you’ll need to resist the idea of being judged. There is a lot of social pressure to maintain a “clean” house in order to feel successful as a mother especially, but very few children will experience trauma from dirty dishes being left out overnight.

Turn housework into something everyone does together and challenge your thinking about your children’s capabilities. Create a disciplined environment where children are asked to take responsibility for chores on a set schedule. As a friend of mine tells his children, “Chores are not cleaning up after yourself, but what you do for the household.” A young child can put out food for pets on a daily basis. A preteen can put everyone’s towels in the laundry machine once a week. A teenage driver can do the regular trip to the store for milk and other necessities.

In order to create the headspace for what is important, parents need rigorous prioritization of how their time and attention should be directed. It is much more difficult to engage a child in a calm conversation about a bad day at school or focus on an important presentation at work when a parent is tired from cooking and chores at home. As much as we all love the idea of home-cooked meals and clean houses, an evening of pizza delivery and a messy living room can create a better environment for quality parenting to take place.

2 Sep, 2021
Australia’s gender pay gap has widened to 14.2%, with advocates calling for women not to be left behind in the long COVID-19 recovery
Business Insider
  • Australia’s gender pay gap has grown to 14.2% or $261.50 a week for full-time earners, new analysis shows.
  • Advocates warn women could fall further behind through the slow COVID-19 recovery.
  • August 31 marks Equal Pay Day, the point past the end of the financial year that women must work to earn the same annual amount as their male counterparts.

The average Australian woman’s weekly full-time pay is 14.2% or $261.50 below that of the average man, new analysis warns, amid fears the COVID-19 pandemic may put working women even further behind their male counterparts.

August 31 is Equal Pay Day, marking the point past the end of the financial year women must work to earn the same annual mount as men.

To mark the date, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) has highlighted its fresh analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, quantifying how the gap has changed.

The pay gap has grown 0.8% in the past six months, analysis shows.

Full-time average weekly earnings for adult males sat at $1,837 in May 2021, up 1.4% since May 2020, when Australia first did battle with the coronavirus pandemic.

But Australia’s full-time earning women accrued $1,575 a week in May 2021, up 1.1% on a year prior.

Both ABS and WGEA data shows full-time working men earn more in every industry and occupational category, but the agency states the construction industry experienced an outsized uplift in recent months.

The spike in earnings for full-time earning men “is due, in part, to the growth in earnings in the Construction industry, a male-dominated sector of employment,” the WGEA states.

The difference is even starker when considering all earners, including part-time and casual staff.

The average male employee earned $1,555.30 a week, up 1.1% on a year prior.

For women, that figure stood at $1,069.10, marking a -1.3% dip over the twelve months to May 2021.

While lockdown restrictions eased over the early months of 2021, lengthy business closures across NSW and Victoria have ravaged the retail, hospitality, and tourism industries.

Given the high proportion of women working in those fields, it is likely casual and part-time working women could see their take-home earnings slip further.

Anti-domestic violence advocacy group Our Watch states women may be further impacted by business closures and job losses in the early childhood education and care, health care, and aged care sectors.

There are tangible links between inequality and violence against women, Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnsersly said, calling on Australian employers to proactively address the gender pay gap.

“Making sure that women are not left behind in the economic recovery from COVID will benefit the whole of our community,” she said.

In the 2021-2022 federal budget, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg introduced $3.4 billion worth of measures designed to address gender inequality — which advocates said did not go far enough.

Responding to Equal Pay Day, Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil today said “the Morrison Government can and must do more to address all these issues.”

“It is a disgrace that women have to start each year effectively $13,500 worse off on average than men,” she added.

WGEA has provided free resources it says can help companies identify and respond to gender pay gaps.

2 Sep, 2021
CEOs hiring but frustrated by closed borders
Australian Financial Review

The chief executives of Australia’s biggest companies want to employ more people but are struggling to hire IT specialists, engineers and teachers because of locked borders and skills shortages.

Wesfarmers CEO Rob Scott said the conglomerate, which added 6000 people to its workforce last year, was employing more data and digital specialists, but was finding there was “a very tight market” for technology experts and engineers in Western Australia.

“We are starting to suffer from the lack of skilled migration in some of these areas,” Mr Scott said. “Technology and engineering development skills are two areas where Australia has really benefitted from skilled migration.”

Nearmap CEO Rob Newman said the market for technology specialists was highly competitive but argued that the aerial imagery group’s “exciting growth story” helped it attract talent.

Megaport CEO Vincent English said the network group planned to hire at least 40 people by October, including salespeople, while online outsourcing group Airtasker is looking for engineers and marketing specialists.

2 Sep, 2021
Struggling to motivate remote employees? Keep the three Ps in mind
HRM Online
HRM Online

Setting up a social event over Zoom isn’t enough to motivate remote employees. To create a truly engaged virtual workforce, you need these three foundational elements.

Are you noticing employees’ eyes glazing over during virtual meetings? Getting less attendees than usual for your after work trivia sessions? Is the quality of people’s work starting to wane?

If you answered yes to any (or all) of these, chances are you’ve got a demotivated workforce on your hands. This isn’t necessarily a reflection of how they feel about your company per se, it’s a product of the world we’re living in. People are over the pandemic, and some might be over remote work, which could mean they’re a little over work in general.

As the HR manager or leader, it can be frustrating when you try everything in your power to reignite employees’ spark: you encourage them to take time off; you facilitate more social events; you ease the pressure by reducing the amount of in-house meetings. 

Still, your efforts are fruitless. Your people are still bringing a lacklustre energy to the virtual workspace everyday, which can lead to a long-term decline in their adaptability, creativity and work quality.

This doesn’t necessarily mean employees don’t need more time off or social events to connect with their colleagues. It could just mean that you’re missing out on the foundational elements needed to motivate remote employees: play, purpose and potential.

Before we dive into what each of these points mean, it’s worth understanding some of the research behind why motivation levels decrease in a remote environment as this can help you design solutions that will actually work.

Want to skip to the part that interests you most? Here’s what we’re covering:

  • Research to demonstrate why motivation levels are low right now (no, it’s just because we’re living through a pandemic).
  • The definition between tactical and adaptive work, and why you need to strike the right balance.
  • How to think about purpose, play and potential to motivate remote employees.
  • Quick tips to put our expert’s insights into action.
  • A call to action for HR to treat this as “the single biggest trend in work right now”.

Less choice, more rules

Put simply, when you take away employees’ choice about where they work, motivation levels drop. This was the finding that Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor, Co-Founders of Vega Factor, arrived at when they surveyed 20,000 global employees between 2010-2015.

Remote workers who chose to work from home already experienced lower motivation levels than their in-house counterparts, they found. However, the difference in motivation levels between those who had no choice about whether they worked remotely or in-house was even more significant (see graph below). When employees’ autonomy is low, so too is their motivation.

“The pandemic has essentially stripped away [employees’] choice,” says Doshi, who is also a former Partner at McKinsey & Co.

Most employers don’t have an intentional strategy around employee motivation, says Doshi. In the physical workspace, we encountered a lot of accidental motivational factors.

“Learning, for example, is a big driver of enjoying your work. In the office, people might have learned through eavesdropping,” he says. 

“They hear the person next to them say something interesting or they have a random conversation in the hallway… all of our accidental strategies are no longer viable. So we need to replace them with an intentional strategy. That’s missing in too many organisations.”

Motivation is highly predictable in driving performance for all employees, says Doshi. The universality of this should signal to employers that they need to take this seriously. So why does formal structure around motivation fall to the wayside? It’s because we’re designing work in the wrong way.

Tactical versus adaptive work

When working through a crisis, employees tend to hunker down and focus on their tactical work. What they need to be doing, however, is spending at least 50 per cent of their week engaged in adaptive work, says Doshi.

Doshi and McGregor describe the difference between the two types of work in this handy 2-minute video. Tactical work is how well you stick to your strategy, and adaptive work is about how well you can deviate from your strategy to create an environment where new ideas can flourish.

“Imagine you’re cooking and following a recipe to the letter. That’s tactical performance,” says Doshi. “Novice cooks, like myself, have to stick to a recipe because [we] don’t know how to adapt, but a master will adapt all the time. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have all the ingredients because they’re experimenting. That’s adaptive performance.”

Too much tactical work prevents people from feeling inspired to try new things (and feel motivated as a result), but too little can impact employees’ ability to produce consistent work at scale. 

“Without the adaptive [work] you don’t solve problems, you don’t innovate or grow. There’s no creativity… but in moments of genuine crisis, tactical work [allows you to] know the path out.”

Doshi uses the example of a building fire. You don’t want someone to empower you to find the exit, he says. You just want to get out.

“The issue is that many organisations misdiagnose the moment they’re in. They always think the building is on fire.” 

And so they might become overly prescriptive, double down on rules and potentially start to micromanage, which is highly demotivating.

What they should do, according to Doshi, is present the facts to people. Tell them you’re facing a big challenge to work through in a relatively short period. Be honest that you’re not entirely sure of the way out, then invite people to engage in collaborative work to arrive at a solution. Make your end goal is clear, so they have a vision to work towards, but let the in-between problem-solving come from them.

Purpose, play and potential: ingredients to motivate remote employees

Doshi’s last point on co-creation speaks to the three Ps: play, purpose and potential.

Play isn’t about the destination but the journey you took to get there. It’s about curiosity, novelty and experimentation.

“If you feel like you have a job where you can try new things, see what works, try again and feel creative, you will be much more motivated to do that job.”

Doshi and McGregor’s research shows how powerful experimentation can be. The graph below demonstrates a dramatic increase in motivation levels for both remote and in-house employees when play is factored in. And Doshi says it has not only helped to create a highly engaged workforce, but also to encourage employees to come up with revenue-generating ideas.

A highly motivated team also needs a strong sense of purpose.

Purpose isn’t necessarily reflective of company goals that align with employees’ personal beliefs – although that’s important. In this case, it’s about people believing that the work they do matters. By inviting them to co-create solutions to pressing challenges, you’re giving them an opportunity to feel like part of the bigger picture. 

When employees feel fungible, they’re not going to give 100 per cent. While certain industries risk higher levels of fungibility – such as call centres or production lines where employees have a set script or process to follow – it’s still present in other roles too. Think of the employees who are constantly engaging in menial administrative work.

Doshi encourages leaders and HR managers to help employees find novelty in their roles. Do they have to stick to the script all the time? Or could they help to redefine the script from time to time? Even if their work is relatively tactical, could they be looped into side projects that require them to tap into their adaptive thinking? 

“Now more than ever, we have to get this right. Not just because of the pandemic, but if you look at the secular trend of work, tactical work is getting automated at lightning speed. All that’s left for people is the adaptive [work].” – Neel Doshi, Co-Founder Vega Factor.

The third P, potential, is a longer term motive. 

“It’s something you do because you value the eventual outcome,” says Doshi.

“Take running for instance. Play is saying, ‘I enjoy running’, independent of outcome. Purpose might be, ‘I’m running to get somewhere or I’m part of a running club and I like the sense of community I get from it’. Potential would be, ‘I’m running because I want to stay physically fit.”

That’s why something like sticking to a diet can be so hard, he says, because the motivating factor present in this situation is potential. It’s the weakest of the three main factors. This is why you don’t just want to focus on the long-term benefits that employees will contribute to, it might not be enough to maintain the motivation to continue doing a good job.

Putting motivation into action

To get you started on improving (or starting) your motivation strategy, Doshi shares the following tips.

1. Teach everyone to understand the common language and framework for motivation and performance. Use this as an opportunity to both educate your people as well as listen to their ideas on what would increase their state of play or purpose.

“Don’t feel the need to throw out everything you’re doing. If you did that, paralysis would prevent you from ever changing. Just start small with some experimenting. People will see those experiments and get excited to try it themselves, then you get momentum to keep going.”

2. Don’t be overly prescriptive with rules. Put up guardrails instead that allow for optionality and flexibility.

“A world with no rules is just as stressful as a world with overly constraining ones. There has to be a world in the middle, [and] that has to be built on choice… while also creating the right degree of team-to-team interoperability and collaboration.”

“If we didn’t have any guardrails, we would all be working in ways that are so arbitrarily different from each other that collaboration across the organisation would disappear.” 

3. Bring learning to the fore. Don’t tie bonuses, promotions or firing decisions to performance metrics. Instead, set learning goals that allow employees to take the reins of their own upskilling experience. This will result in far more innovative ideas as people aren’t holding back due to fear of punishment.


4. Move away from too much tactical work. If tactical work is currently taking up a solid chunk of your people’s time, you might consider redesigning how you ask your people to approach work. To start this process, Doshi suggests the following:

Step one: Every team should have clarity on their near-term goals.

Step two: Recognise that those goals are going to change.

“Often businesses set annual goals only to find that three weeks into the year most of [those goals] are obsolete because the world changes.”

Step three: Develop habits. They’re a great way to motivate remote employees without creating pressure.
“One of those habits needs to be around constant, continuous weekly goal clarity. The goals aren’t going to change 100 per cent each week, but they might by around 5 per cent.”

Step four: Distribute work in a way that gives people time back to engage in adaptive work. This can be done by helping them priortise the tasks that align with their goals through rank ordering, and delegate or pause work that doesn’t ladder up to those goals.

“Prioritising isn’t the same as planning – that’s tactical work; it’s too micro – and prioritising is far more important but done far less often.

“When we focus on planning, we’re taking more autonomy away from individuals. This is employees’ opportunity to think creatively, so let them take the first stab at the plans, says Doshi, so you’re “building skill [and] creating choice, which will drive motivation and eventually lead to a higher degree of ownership and performance.”

5. Don’t leave it up to leaders. Perhaps the reason formal motivation strategies are few and far between is because there’s a misconception that the responsibility lies with leaders alone.

Everyone is responsible for motivation at work, says Doshi. Leaders play an important role, but teams and individuals need to buy into it too.

“[Play and purpose] are the most powerful drivers of motivation, but they’re specifically driven by the work you do. They’re not driven by your company’s mission statement. They’re not driven by HR policy. And so, they are definitionally local, so they have to be managed locally. But organisations don’t equip their teams or leaders to manage motivation locally.”

6. Remember what motivates people. Excluding the personal impacts of an individual’s emotions or exhaustion levels, shifting motivation isn’t usually about their company, their leader or themselves, because those things don’t usually change. What does change, however, is the type of work they’re engaging with. That’s what influences the ebb of flow of motivation.

“This is the biggest motivational blindspot for most organisations. It’s the piece of the puzzle that has been missing for eons. When you crack that code, you solve for motivation of scale.”

Why you should act now

For organisations with high levels of burnout, attrition rates are rising, says Doshi. HRM points to this research often, but it bears repeating: Microsoft has found that 40 per cent of the global workforce is looking for a new job this year. What are you doing to make sure your people aren’t part of that statistic? 

“Now more than ever, we have to get this right. Not just because of the pandemic, but if you look at the secular trend of work, tactical work is getting automated at lightning speed. All that’s left for people is the adaptive [work]. That is the future of human work. That’s a good thing. At the end of the day, that’s the fun stuff.”

“As long as we teach people how to do the fun stuff properly, that’s an incredible future of work. The old tactical, sweat-shop style of working is done. We’re going to be done with it in a matter of years,” he says.

“If you’re not learning a motivation strategy [and] if you’re not starting to experiment, you’re missing the single biggest trend in work right now. You won’t be behind, you’ll be out of business.”

2 Sep, 2021
Top 10 Employee Engagement Strategies That Matter
Entrepreneur Asia Pacific

In 2021, employee engagement is one of the most important aspects of managing employees. Employee engagement helps you understand whether your employees are genuinely driven towards work and are motivated enough for your organization.  

Why is employee engagement important?  

  1. Happier employees.  
    Employee engagement equals happier employees. Gone are the days when employee needs were limited to higher salaries and promotions. Today, the needs of employees include flexibility at work, working remotely, and much more. Catering to these needs helps you keep your employees happy and more engaged.  

  2. Higher productivity  
    High employee engagement is directly related to high employee productivity. When an employee is genuinely driven and motivated to work, they tend to work harder, increasing the overall productivity within your organization.

  3. Improved mental health  Sound mental health is extremely important. High employee engagement leads to the improved mental health of your employees as they feel more motivated towards working with their peers. Ultimately, sound mental health leads to higher productivity and an improved work atmosphere.  

  4. Reduced absenteeism  
    Engaged employees are often connected with the organization's core goals and want to help the company attain the same. High employee engagement leads to lower absenteeism as employees do not want to skip a day at work and are willing to give their best every day.  

  5. Greater employee retention  
    High employee engagement allows an organization to retain more employees. If your employees are motivated and driven for work, they are less likely to leave your company or switch jobs. Engaged employees tend to stick around.

  6. High employee loyalty                                                                                                Employee loyalty is often overlooked when it comes to keeping your workforce engaged. High employee engagement often leads to employees being loyal to their organization. This implies that they will not leave the company when a better offer comes their way.

  7. Improved customer relations  
    When your employees are engaged, they take better care of your customers and build healthy relationships. Especially in customer-facing jobs, high employee engagement leads to improved customer relations and better customer support.  

  8. Higher work satisfaction  
    Organizations often confuse productivity with work satisfaction. Your employees can be highly productive even if they are not satisfied. Higher employee engagement results in your employees being genuinely satisfied with their work and enjoying what they do. This, in turn, leads to high productivity at work.  

2 Sep, 2021
Bosses shy away from discussing mental health at work
Australian Financial Review

A fortnight ago Hayley Breen found herself sitting in front of her computer for 10 hours a day unable to focus. Simple tasks became overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. Almost 200 days in lockdown, homeschooling and working in an industry that has been “absolutely decimated” since March last year had taken a toll on the Melbourne-based professional.

By Wednesday afternoon, Ms Breen, head of people and culture at BlueFit, which operates gyms and pools around Australia, told her boss and her team she was struggling and needed the rest of the week off.

“I have an obligation as a senior executive in the business to call it out when I’m struggling so that others know they can do the same,” Ms Breen said.

“I almost felt my team exhale. They said ‘I’m so glad that she’s done that because I think I feel like that sometimes too’. Everybody is battling in their own way.”

More than 50 per cent of Australian managers say they have not had a discussion with their direct reports about their mental health since the pandemic began despite the added mental strain the lockdowns have placed on workers, a survey commissioned by Allianz Insurance found.

The results come as Allianz published new workers’ compensation claims data which show active psychological claims increased by 5 per cent in the last financial year, compared with the previous 12 months.

Although the bulk of workers’ compensation claims relate to physical injuries, Julie Mitchell, chief general manager of Allianz’s personal injury division, said the number of workers claiming compensation for medical treatment and lost wages for mental health reasons will continue to grow in the coming years.

The most common causes of primary psychological claims were work pressure and work-related harassment mainly leading to anxiety and stress disorders, and anxiety and depression, the data showed.

The rise in mental health problems caused by the lockdowns in Victoria and NSW have already cost $1 billion in lost productivity, according to modelling from Sydney University and Lifeline has recorded the three busiest days in its 57-year history last month.

Ms Mitchell said the survey of 1000 workers and 500 managers showed the pandemic had helped break down the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace.

“The latest research does show that employees and employers actually do want to be having the conversation around mental health now. So there’s been a shift in a positive direction,” Ms Mitchell said.

Since the start of the pandemic, 67 per cent of managers have already implemented new mental health initiatives and 83 per cent say employee mental health will be more of a priority in the next five years.

“One of the most powerful ways you can break down that stigma is by having senior leaders talk about and role-model their own experiences around mental health, and show that vulnerability within their own workplace.

“That will then encourage people to feel more open and that it’s a safer environment to have those conversations around mental health with their leaders in the workplace.”

Ms Breen encouraged senior leaders to build strong relationships with their employees, to make it easier to have difficult conversations about mental health.

“I think it’s the little things you do all the time that make the changes. It’s the little phone call you have, it’s that awareness of your team and what goes on in their personal life so you can tell if something is a bit off.”

As an HR professional, Ms Breen hoped the stigma attached to talking about mental health in the workplace would continue to decline but noted attitudes vary across workplaces.

“I still think that there is an attitude out there that’s ‘what have you got to complain about - you’re employed’,” she said.


23 Aug, 2021
How many job interviews are too many?
HRM Online
HRM Online

An applicant had gone through three interviews when he was asked to attend six more. At that point, he backed out of the race. HRM unpacks how too many job interviews could backfire on your company.

Having made it through three rounds of interviews for a director-level position, the candidate’s prospects of securing the job looked promising.

The pay matched his expectations, he loved the sound of the role, and he believed in the company’s mission.

But soon after the third interview, he says the company contacted him to schedule another six interviews.

That’s when he decided enough was enough; he wasn’t going to hang around for another six rounds with no guarantee that he’d even be selected for the job at the end of it all.

Jaded and frustrated by what he deemed to be an unnecessarily long-winded process, the candidate took to LinkedIn to air his grievances.

“It should not take nine interviews for any role. You have trial periods,” he wrote.

“Companies think they are building processes that ensure picking the right candidate. I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s due to fear of picking the wrong candidate. I think it’s fear they will not find the next unicorn. I think it’s fear of wasting time that ends up wasting more time.”

His post subsequently received hundreds of comments from fellow job-seekers, who were equally aggrieved by similarly strung out interview processes.

“I just had a very similar experience,” a LinkedIn user wrote in response to the post. “Six interviews involving six different people, IQ Test, Personality assessment – the process took over three months to complete… I can’t even count the number of times I’ve started the interview process and been ghosted after being told they would like to move forward.”

HRM has previously reported on the phenomena of companies ghosting and breadcrumbing employees, but the situations mentioned above indicate that breadcrumbing and ghosting in a professional context aren’t just confined to those who’ve already been hired.

Rebecca Houghton, Founder of BoldHR, and Jessica Bilston-Gourley, Founder and Director of Positive HR, weigh into the topic and explore how employers can conduct a comprehensive interview process that ensures candidates want to stay in the running.

How many is too many job interviews?

There’s no magic number, but Bilston-Gourley recommends aiming for 2-4 interviews.

“Interviewing does not have a one-size fits all approach,” she says. “The number of interviews should be dependent on the nature and seniority of the position. Anything above four interviews could drag out the process, creating a poor candidate experience and you’ll be guaranteed to lose great candidates.”

Houghton similarly recommends aiming for 3-4 interviews.

“One is too light – you’ve hardly got to know them. Two will validate what you thought you knew from the first interview, and the third will enable you to discover some new things you didn’t know already,” says Houghton.

The fourth interview might entail a peer interview, technical assessment, or be conducted in a more informal social setting that allows an employer to see how a candidate interacts in a more relaxed environment with the wider team.

There’s research to support Bilston-Gourley and Houghton’s recommendation to cap interviews at four.

When Google’s staffing team analysed five years worth of interview data, they concluded that four was the golden number needed to predict a candidate’s future success with an 86 per cent confidence level.

Once the number of interviews starts climbing higher than four, the company likely isn’t presenting itself in the best light, and it isn’t fair on the applicant either, especially if you don’t outline it upfront.

“You start to present to your candidates as being unplanned, and it sends them a message that you are unsure. They will read it as you being unsure of them,” says Houghton.

Because we are hardwired to protect ourselves – particularly in situations that might lead us to feel vulnerable – Houghton warns that a disorganised and long-winded interview process will likely trigger a heightened emotional response to a perceived threat.

“The candidate might start to wonder, ‘What will they be like for my promotion, for my performance review, or if I want to take parental leave?’ You are beginning to set the reputation that you can’t find your way out of a paper bag.”

The trigger might also lead a candidate to turn inwards, and hamper their confidence levels.

“They might start asking, ‘What’s wrong with me? Why can’t you make a decision about me? What do I lack?’

“They start to self-doubt and they will probably opt out of the job.”

This means your company runs the risk of losing excellent talent, or if the candidate decides to keep their hat in the ring, their confidence may have been dealt a blow and they might not perform at their best in subsequent interviews.

Best practice for interviews

While assessing a candidate’s skills and expertise for a role and their overall fit in a company, is a company’s primary reason for conducting interviews, it’s also important to create a seamless interview experience that will leave a candidate feeling motivated and inspired to nail any future interviews and secure the job.

With this in mind, here are some tips from the experts to follow:

  1. Signal your expectations. “Say at the start of the interview process that this will involve three stages, and after that we will be taking references, for example,” says Houghton.

    “That’s the least you should do because this individual needs to plan and balance their offers. You need to give them the courtesy of telling them what to expect.”

    It’s okay to stray from your plan, says Houghton, provided there’s a good reason for doing so. For example, if the candidate has made it through three rounds of interviews but one interviewer is unsure about their fit in the company, then explain to the candidate that they want to conduct another interview to ensure they’re the right cultural fit.
  2. Don’t wait for the unicorn, says Bilston-Gourley.

    “Understandably, you want to pick the most qualified person for the role, but even experienced professionals will have flaws. Don’t hold out for a flawless candidate – they do not exist. You will lose strong candidates in the meantime.”


  3. Prepare, and then prepare some more. Houghton has observed that interviewers often “go along blindly to interviews” by turning up to the interview and asking some open-ended, unstructured questions without having gone through a thorough planning process. This unplanned approach might mean interviewers leave an interview feeling they haven’t built the detailed understanding of a candidate that they require, and it’s more likely to mean further interviews are needed.Expanding on this point, Bilston-Gourley suggested that interviewers have an interview guide with questions or themes prepared to help make sure you ask all the necessary questions,” says Bilston-Gourley. “But also make sure you leave room for a real conversation.”

Tipping the scales

In decades gone by, an employer might have been able to conduct six or seven interviews without turning an applicant off the role.

But in a tight labour market with a shifting balance of power that’s tipping further towards employees, the “era of the 10 interview process is coming to a close”, says Houghton.

“In Australia, now that we have closed the borders, we are in a talent tight marketplace… So the concept that someone will put themselves through 10 interviews and feel lucky, engaged, motivated and inspired through that process is getting gazumped by the fact that they can get as good a job in one day because other employers have moved more quickly.”

“Recognise that the go slow movement is no longer competitive or appropriate,” says Houghton.

“It may come back in vogue but that will be a labour market shift. If you’re not on top of that, you aren’t listening to your talent base.”

23 Aug, 2021
4 pillars to ensure that our business thrives
Entrepreneur Asia Pacific

In Mexico, women still have the typically exclusive role of housework and childcare , which is why female entrepreneurship has become one of the only alternatives that women turn to in order to have an income of their own. This number of women who today have their own business has been growing and today represents 26% of the total number of employed women in the country, according to figures presented by the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness AC

However, it is a total delusion to think that female entrepreneurs have an easier or more comfortable path. It is a fallacy to think that we will have more time for ourselves or that the business will magically walk without our work and constant daily involvement. And coupled with this, continue with our social role of being "head of the family" and of maintaining a house with everything that is required. My respects to the women who do all of this, without the support of a partner or someone to team up with.

The women who are undertaking today will agree with me that, although it is a path of great personal satisfaction, it entails many more challenges than one could envision before starting. Many have jumped from the corporate world to entrepreneurship, with strong knowledge in some areas of the business, which can benefit operations, but a total ignorance of others, which they will learn along the way. In my experience, I am in this scenario. I went from managing millionaire budgets for a company, to a few thousand for my own business. This is where we truly learn the meaning of the word "prioritize" and "get the most out of it" down to the last weight.

Others have started from scratch, without knowledge and with an overwhelming sum of new responsibilities, from the purchase of inputs or raw materials for what the product or service requires, to delivery logistics. Because yes, the market demands it and to have satisfied customers, today we have to be ready to give a full service to our customers.

But how can we make life easier for ourselves, or ensure that our business thrives?

There are four pillars that I have been able to identify, and that can prepare all women who are thinking of making this quantum leap towards entrepreneurship, whether it is a woman who jumps out of the corporate world, or who starts from zero, for pleasure or necessity.

1. Training

School is not over. Training is one of the most important pillars for an entrepreneur. Updating on the issues that most concern the business will allow us to generate new ideas, reinvent the value proposition, and improve decision-making. In my experience today I could say that there are 4 axes in which we must train: Marketing or promotion of our products or services. The operations, that is, the manufacturing or elaboration process of the products or services. Finances, which will ultimately be the most objective indicator of the performance of our business and sales, because without sales, there is no income, so there is no business.

2. Community and bonding

Business is definitely not done alone. We need to surround ourselves with valuable people who contribute something to our business. For example, having a good lawyer, to register trademarks or copyrights, and a good accountant to support us with the tax return, are vital allies for any business. In my experience, I have always looked for allies in what I know I am not strong, I do not pretend to know everything, but I do know that decisions must be informed, that is why it is invaluable to have a network of allies and build community with other women who are in our situation, that they are going through a similar path, probably a few steps ahead and that they save us some mistakes

3. Visibility

How difficult this has become! It takes more and more dedication and more budget to be relevant in a sea of content, brands and products being advertised. In addition, that we compete with the greats many times, and that the vast majority of entrepreneurs do not have a website. My advice is to look for specialized sites to advertise, which make it easier to explain what I do, why I do it, where they find me, and what other clients think of me. These are the four triggering questions of any customer.

4. Financial digitization

It is no longer an option. Accepting various types of payments, from cash to electronic means, is a must. Electronic payment methods allow us to access more customers, since we give more options to close a sale, and the closing of a sale occurs only and exclusively when payment is received. Remember that credit cards are not only an electronic means of payment, they are a method of financing in the short term. Your client does not pay for your product or service at the moment, he will pay it about 40 or 50 days later, and you, if you receive the funds immediately, giving you liquidity to continue with your operations.

Women who formalize their operations obtain more than double the income than those who do not, according to figures from the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, AC And formalization occurs precisely like this, seeking mechanisms for growth, product promotion, and portfolio recovery. I have always said "it takes us the same time to do it well than to do it badly" and by saying "badly", I mean that there is always the opportunity to learn, train and make better decisions, which will invariably take us to the place we want: To be a support for our families and to be full, independent and fulfilled women.


23 Aug, 2021
Men earning $260 a week more than women as gender pay gap widens
The Sydney Morning Herald

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency has estimated the new national gender pay gap at 14.2 per cent, an increase of 0.8 percentage points over the past six months, based on biannual Australian Bureau of Statistics average weekly earnings data.

The pay gap was previously 13.4 per cent.

Women working full-time earn $261.50 a week less than their male counterparts on this measure. The ABS records women’s average weekly full-time earnings at $1575.50 and men’s at $1837. The calculation does not compare like-for-like roles and instead looks at women’s collective position in the paid workforce.

The increasing gap was driven mainly by a rapid rise in men’s pay, at 1.8 per cent, while women’s increased 0.9 per cent. This was the second time since 2014 men’s earnings had rapidly outpaced women’s and the change emerged in the early months of the year when the economy was rapidly recovering before the latest lockdowns.

Workers in the arts and recreation industry had a 5.4 per cent boost in average earnings in the six months to May 2021 after suffering declines during the pandemic, while the construction industry had a 4 per cent increase on the back of significant government programs to increase activity in the building sector.

Women were hardest hit at the height of the pandemic and a range of economists, think-tanks and analysts encouraged the federal government to focus funding on female-dominated industries, such as childcare, rather than solely traditional recovery projects such as transport infrastructure and residential construction.

WGEA director Mary Wooldridge encouraged all workers to question the pay gap in their workplaces to help bridge the divide on Equal Pay Day. This has been set for August 31, based on women needing to work an extra 61 days after the end of the financial year to keep up with men’s annual pay.

“Equal Pay Day is an ideal opportunity to remind employers around the country that one of the key levers of change is through gender pay audits. These audits help employers identify and address discriminatory pay, to ensure that women are equally compensated and valued,” Ms Wooldridge said.

“Research proves that regular audits close pay gaps faster,” she said.

She said women’s average full-time wages were lower than men’s in every industry and occupation in Australia and, on current trends, the gap would take 26 years to close.

“The gender pay gap signifies that the work of women is still not treated as being of equal value to that of men,” she said.

“Start a conversation with your colleagues and friends about the gender pay gap, what it means to you and to them and how you can help to close it. We can all work together to eliminate gender pay discrimination,” she said.


23 Aug, 2021
Nine entrepreneurs set to forge the future of Australian business
Australian Financial Review

Australia owes much to corporate legends such as Westfield founder Frank Lowy, Brian McNamee, who built biotech company CSL, and mining magnate Lang Hancock, all of whom played a critical role in helping to shape the business landscape over the past 70 years.

We will surely owe as much to a new crop of innovators and business builders who will make their mark on the local and international scene. As part of The Australian Financial Review’s Platinum 70 Year, we have selected nine businessmen and women who look set to take the baton passed by Lowy and others as they find gaps in new markets and have the wherewithal to fill them.

They are likely to do it faster than previous generations.

A string of Australian entrepreneurs launched companies in the early 2010s that are already worth more than $1 billion.

Take Afterpay. The buy now, pay later company made its first pitch to investors in 2015. Six years later its founders, Nick Molnar and Anthony Eisen, agreed to sell the business in a deal valued at $39 billion when it was announced, making it the biggest acquisition in Australian history.

Young companies have access to venture capital like never before. They can buy critical business services, such as accounting and customer relationship management, rather than having to build the functions themselves, and there is no pressure from financial backers to be profitable.

Critically, most have software at their core, which gives them immediate access to a global marketplace and means they can acquire customers efficiently.

“These are software-driven businesses,” says Paul Bassat, co-founder of online recruiter Seek and venture capital firm Square Peg. “The great thing about a lot of these business models is that you build it once, and it’s the same product over and over and over again. And so these companies are very, very scalable.”

By contrast, notes Bassat, to increase rental income Lowy had to keep building shopping centres, which required huge amounts of capital and could not be done overnight.

With distance no longer the tyranny it was, the ability for Australian business visionaries to transform global markets has arguably never been greater.

Melanie Perkins

One of those will surely be Melanie Perkins, co-founder and “creative genius” at Canva.

“I genuinely think Canva will become the most valuable technology company we’ve ever had. There’s no reason it couldn’t be worth hundreds of billions of dollars,” says Daniel Petre, co-founder and chairman of venture capital firm AirTree.

The graphic design software giant that helps users create social media graphics, presentations, posters, documents and other visual content is thought to be worth $30 billion.

“What they’ve tapped into is quite extraordinary. It’s providing tools to let normal humans create beautiful content,” Petre says. “Suddenly, a 16-year-old in Cambodia who has access to the internet can use Canva to create beautiful designs that could be then used by others in other parts of the world. It is the democratisation of the creation of beautiful content,” he says, pointing to the scope for other services and products to be added.

As for Perkins, she had a bold vision from the get-go.

“Since day one, we’ve had a two-step plan. Step one, to build one of the world’s most valuable companies, which we’ve been making strides towards, but of course, still have a long way to go, and step two, to do the most good we can,” she says.

“Our mission has always been to enable people to easily take their ideas and turn it into a design with as little friction as possible. As the world becomes an increasingly visual place, we hope over the years to come that Canva will be able to literally empower the whole world to design,” Perkins says.

Mike Cannon-Brookes, Scott Farquhar

They are the founders of team collaboration software behemoth Atlassian. Listed on the Nasdaq in the US, the company is capitalised at $US84 billion ($114.4 billion) – and rising.

Atlassian’s portfolio of software allows companies to manage workflows, share information and collaborate, and is in the right place at the right time, given the trend towards remote work and the acceleration of technology adoption thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Atlassian will continue to grow. There’s no question. It’s going to grow fast,” Petre says.

Cannon-Brookes told investors in late July: “We’ve kept our heads and made sure we’ve made smart, long-term, thoughtful decisions that are driving the pace of Atlassian’s growth.”

Outside Atlassian, Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar are individually likely to play significant roles in the business landscape.

Cannon-Brookes is passionate – and outspoken – about climate change and renewable energy. He has poured millions into renewable energy projects, including a project to build the world’s biggest solar farm in the Northern Territory and a giant battery to supply Singapore with renewable electricity via an undersea cable.

Farquhar has an interest in healthcare and medicine and has invested in medtech firms such as skin cancer detection start-up MetaOptima via Skip Capital, the venture capital firm he owns with his wife, Kim Jackson.

Didier Elzinga

Didier Elzinga founded the corporate culture analytics platform operator Culture Amp in 2009.

With companies increasingly focused on culture and looking for ways to track the morale of staff who are spending less time in the office, Culture Amp is set for a big future.

“I think the legacy that I want to leave is that we helped companies solve a problem that I care deeply about, which is creating a better world of work,” Elzinga says.

In July, Culture Amp raised $US100 million in a so-called Series F funding, valuing the business at $2 billion. Almost two-thirds of the revenue is derived from the United States, while Australia accounts for less than 20 per cent.

“There are amazing domestic businesses, but I’ve just never looked that way. I’ve always thought: ‘I’m going to build a global business’,” Elzinga says.

“I’m happy to live here and I love running it from Australia, [but] we don’t want to be a great company for Australia, we want to be a globally great company that happens to be based here.”

Jack Zhang, Lucy Liu

Bassat argues that if any young company is going to join the likes of Atlassian, Afterpay and Canva as global technology players, it is likely to be Airwallex, co-founded by Jack Zhang and Lucy Liu. Airwallex, established in Melbourne in 2015, is an online payments company aimed at digital-first companies operating globally.

“Their vision is very, very big in that context,” Bassat says.

Airwallex is one of Australia’s fastest-growing companies. Backed by Mastercard and Salesforce Ventures, it has raised more than $US500 million since inception, with a series D funding round this year valuing the company at $US2.6 billion.

Simon Griffiths

Simon Griffiths is the founder of profit-for-purpose toilet paper company Who Gives a Crap. The purpose of the business is to help solve one of the world’s biggest challenges – that 2 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation. To that end, Who Gives a Crap donates half its profits to help build toilets in developing countries.

Griffiths’ ambitions are big. To make a “significant dent” in the sanitation problem, he reckons he will need to expand Who Gives a Crap to be the size of US personal care product manufacturer Kimberly Clark, which last year recorded revenues of $US19 billion. To get there, Griffiths plans to expand the group’s product range, which will probably require the introduction of new brands, expand its distribution channels beyond online direct-to-consumer, diversify its sales geographically and potentially raise capital from outside investors.

“The end goal for us is to be where our customer wants to buy us,” Griffiths says.

Petre says: “I think what’s interesting is that these guys have got to massive scale and they’re growing fast.

“That’s interesting because your unit costs go down, and you’re giving away more and more profits. So for [a rival] to be able to chase you down, they’re going to have to chase you down on your economics, which the big [personal care companies] can, but they can’t chase you down on donating half the profits, because their businesses are built on huge profits going to investors.”

Griffiths will not disclose Who Gives a Crap’s financial figures, but last year it donated $5.9 million after sales more than doubled in the 12 months to June 2020. The handout represented a 750 per cent increase on the year before.

Nick Hazell

In August, v2food, the plant-based “meat” company backed by the CSIRO’s venture capital arm and Rich Lister Jack Cowin, raised $72 million capital to accelerate a push into China and Europe.

V2 already has a foothold in New Zealand, Thailand, the Philippines, Japan, and Korea, along with its home market of Australia where the products are sold in Woolworths and Coles supermarkets and IGA stores.

Founder Nick Hazell told the Financial Review in early August that alternative proteins were still “at an early stage in Australia”. But with significant potential for growth here and offshore, given changing consumer preferences and concerns over climate change, v2 has been signing manufacturing deals to enable plant-based mince and burger patties to be produced at sites not owned by v2food.

The latest fundraising valued v2food at $500 million.

Bridget Loudon

Last year Bridget Loudon, founder of employment marketplace Expert360, was appointed to the board of Telstra.

At just 32 years of age, Loudon became the youngest independent director of an ASX top 200 company, demonstrating the extent to which her skills and knowledge are already in demand - and the influence in the highest circles of corporate Australia she is already having.

Back in her day job, Loudon has aims of being one of the world’s biggest jobs platforms for skilled non-permanent professionals.

Expert360 is already the biggest jobs marketplace in Australasia and has just acquired project services consultant LPS in New Zealand.

Helping companies grapple with skills shortages and employ the right expertise to transform their businesses, Loudon looks set to be a big player in the employment market.


23 Aug, 2021
Cashed-up Redbubble is ready to grow after lockdown boost
Australian Financial Review

E-commerce player Redbubble is cashed up and ready to grow, with $99 million sitting in the bank after a record year of T-shirt, mug and face mask sales.

The company said sales revenue jumped to $657.3 million in the year ended June 30, up from $416.3 million previously. It reported record earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of $52.7 million, up tenfold.

Redbubble shares climbed 11.1 per cent to $3.40 by lunchtime on Thursday. It did not declare a dividend.

Chief executive Michael Ilczynski said he was most proud of the fact the company had generated more than $100 million in artist revenue for the year, a milestone that had taken the business 11 years to achieve.

Melbourne-based Mr Ilczynski joined the company in January from job ad platform Seek, and said his biggest challenge had been not being able to meet over half the team abroad because of travel restrictions.

“What’s really interesting for us, if we go back six months when I joined, one of the big questions about Redbubble and a number of other companies was once this COVID surge of consumer demand passes, what would happen?” he said.

“The exciting part for us is what we saw in quarter four is that outside of mask sales, which have obviously come off a lot and we benefited a lot from last year, we’re holding our level of sales that we had during that COVID surge.

“So, we’re coming out into that post-COVID consumer environment at a substantially higher position than we were pre-COVID.”

In a year when many companies raised venture capital in the fight for fresh consumers, Mr Ilczynski said Redbubble was in a good position because it did not need any outside investment to carry out its growth strategy, announced in April.

Go-to platform

The ASX-listed online marketplace works by connecting independent artists with consumers or businesses that want to buy bespoke products, such as T-shirts, phone cases and home decor. It makes money by taking a clip of each sale.

Redbubble’s overarching goal is to become the go-to platform for artists wanting to monetise their works, meaning that it competes in both e-commerce with Etsy and Amazon and more broadly in the “creator economy”. More than 90 per cent of the company’s revenue is generated outside of Australia and New Zealand.

Traditionally, its marketing team focused on “right place, right message, right time” digital marketing rather than splashy brand campaigns. However, the company announced plans on Thursday to bolster spending on branding. Redbubble advertises across Google Shopping and Google Search as well as all forms of social media, including Pinterest, Snapchat and TikTok.

Redbubble this year also snatched up two female executives to help finesse its site and improve the customer experience, with its chief of supply chain Stacey Wallace coming into the business after 14 years at Amazon, and chief product officer Nicole Brolan, who worked up the product ranks at Seek over seven years before a brief stint at Xero.

The company told investors it would keep a keen eye out for merger and acquisition opportunities with other e-commerce players or strategically aligned businesses.

23 Aug, 2021
Why Tim Cook thinks Australia is a perfect tech breeding ground
Australian Financial Review

When Tim Cook took over as CEO of Apple, almost exactly 10 years to this very day, it was akin to following on from Jesus Christ.

The iPhone, unveiled in 2008 by Cook’s predecessor, Steve Jobs, had been dubbed the “Jesus phone” due to the religious-like fervour it stirred up in fans. And the saviour moniker rubbed off onto the boss. Upon the release of the iPad in 2010, The Economist depicted Jobs as Christ on its cover.

The iMac had saved Apple from irrelevance; the iPod and iTunes saved the music industry from piracy; the iPad, also known as the “Jesus tablet”, was predicted to save the print media industry. (That didn’t quite come to pass, but the company is still moving $US24 billion [$32.4 billion] of them each year).

When Jobs, riddled with pancreatic cancer, resigned as CEO in 2011, he told the board he wanted Cook to succeed him. And for years after that, Apple seemed lost in an innovation wilderness, printing money with new iterations of Jobs-era products, but without any new bolts of inspiration.

A decade later, Apple is the biggest company on the planet – having eclipsed a market capitalisation of $US1 trillion in August 2018 and then $US2 trillion in August 2020. (It was valued at $350 billion when Cook took charge.) As of January, there are more than 1 billion iPhones in use around the world. Here in Australia, if you own a mobile, there is a better than even chance it’s an iPhone, and a good chance you spend an inordinate amount of your life staring into it. It is possibly the first thing you look at each morning, and the last thing you look at each night.

Tim Cook likes to begin his days early; he’s at his desk by 4am. “I do that because I can control the morning better than the evening and through the day. Things happen through the day that kind of blow you off course,” he tells The Australian Financial Review. “The morning is yours. Or should I say, the early morning is yours.”

The morning routine of the man at the helm of the world’s most valuable company? Reading emails from customers. Cook estimates he gets through hundreds a day. “I cannot read all of them, no. I’d not admit to doing that. But I read an extraordinary number of them. It keeps my hands on the pulse of what customers are feeling and thinking and doing.”

He forwards them around the company, to whichever team he thinks needs the feedback. It’s a randomised way of keeping in touch with the various corners of the Apple empire or, rather, every curve of the extraordinary, circular, Foster + Partners-designed Apple Park that houses 12,000 employees and reportedly cost $US5 billion to build. “I try to touch a lot of things in the company every week,” Cook says.

The Apple CEO keeps his finger on the pulse of his customers in other ways. The Apple Watch, launched in 2015, has steadily been upgraded with more and more features around health and fitness. One customer email to which Cook personally replied was from a 50-year-old Melbourne nurse, who was lying in bed and thought she was having a panic attack.

Her husband remembered his Apple Watch had just been updated with an ECG app, so he strapped it to his wife’s wrist. Within minutes the app had detected atrial fibrillation, a major cause of stroke, and the ambulance was called. The woman spent three days in hospital and is now on medication for the condition. She’s also since bought her own Apple Watch.

“They wrote to me, and these kinds of stories really mean something to us,” says Cook, whose Alabama accent gives a warm authenticity to everything he says, even lines he’s almost certainly uttered thousands of times over. “We’ve always felt that technology was meant to enrich people’s lives, and there’s no better example of that than saving someone’s.”

It’s a thrilling time to be at the head of a global tech company. Speaking to the Financial Review on the occasion of our 70th anniversary, his first sit-down interview with Australian media, Cook is, as you’d expect, optimistic about how technology will keep making our lives better. He’s excited about artificial intelligence, which is already “all over the current iPhone, iPad and the watch et cetera” but “we’re only at the early stages of what can be done”. AI will take away some of the mundane things we do every day, he says, and free up our time so we can do more of what we love.”

He goes on: “I’m a huge believer in augmented reality. It can enhance our conversations that we’re having, and enhance learning and really amplify the value of technology with people, without it enclosing or shutting off the real world.”

To illustrate, he circles back to an earlier part in our interview, conducted over Webex with Cook in his office in Cupertino and me in my dining room in locked-down Sydney, where we talked about the huge number of Australians who are registered with Apple to build apps using its software; Cook says there are 600,000 of us, coding away.

“I could have pulled up a graph and showed that to you,” he says, moving his hands through the air. And when Cook says “I could have”, it’s a fair bet a huge team of Apple engineers are working to make that exact thing happen, possibly quite soon.

What one does not expect from Cook is how alarmed he has become about the negative forces unleashed by his neighbours in Silicon Valley.

“Technology doesn’t want to be good. It doesn’t want to be bad, it’s neutral,” Cook says when asked about the potential downsides from tech as we move towards the middle of this century. “And so it’s in the hands of the inventor and the user as to whether it’s used for good, or not used for good. And it depends on creativity. It depends on empathy. It depends on the passion of the people behind the technology. At Apple, when we make something, we make sure that we spend an enormous amount of time thinking carefully about how it will be used.”

He makes a point of Apple’s privacy and security features. Features, he says, that derive from the company values laid down by Jobs. Specifically he mentions Screen Time, a tool which helps people monitor whether they’re spending too many hours on their device.

The risk of not doing that means that technology loses touch with the user. And in that kind of case, privacy can become collateral damage. And conspiracy theories or hate speech begins to drown everything else out. Technology will only work if it has people’s trust.”

Does he think people’s trust has been taken advantage of?

“In some cases the answer is undeniably yes. And I think it’s incumbent on all of us to rebuild that trust.”

Cook’s comments about spending too long on your iPhone may sound facile coming from the boss of the company that makes them, but they represent an important tonal shift. US tech companies, having grown to become some of the world’s most valuable businesses, are turning on each other. One field of battle is the high-stakes lawsuit brought by Epic Games against Apple over its App Store.

Epic, the maker of Fortnite, argues that Apple wields monopoly power by forcing developers to hand over 30 per cent of the price of digital goods and services, such as games and music, sold through the App Store. In Epic’s case, that’s 30 per cent of a sizable chunk of the $9 billion in revenue it earned over two years.

At issue is Apple’s so-called “walled garden”, a carefully pruned and tended system whereby hardware is tightly integrated into its software, giving Apple control over which apps are allowed on iPhones and iPads. Apple says this ensures an environment free from malware. But it also means Apple can push back against its rivals.

Microsoft (the world’s second most valuable company) has been thwarted by Apple in accessing the App Store to build subscriptions to its gaming service, xCloud. (Apple has its own competing subscription game service). A Microsoft executive has testified against Apple in the Epic lawsuit, and Apple’s lawyers told the court that “Epic is serving as a stalking horse for Microsoft”. In late June, Microsoft chief Satya Nadella launched Windows 11 with a swipe at Apple’s control over its App Store. “The world needs a more open platform,” he said. “One that allows apps to become platforms in their own right.”

In another theatre of battle, Apple is ratcheting up the privacy features on its devices in ways that mess with the advertising model that underpins the giant of social media, Facebook, and giant of search, Google. In June 2020, Apple said it would begin asking iPhone users whether they want apps like Facebook to track them when they’re using other apps. Facebook said Apple’s move “is about profit, not privacy” by seeking to drag customers away from advertising-reliant free apps from which it earns no commission.

And then on January 28, three weeks after Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol, Cook gave an incendiary keynote address to a conference in Brussels on computers and privacy.

“An interconnected ecosystem of companies and data brokers, of purveyors of fake news and peddlers of division, of trackers and hucksters looking to make a quick buck is more present in our lives than it has ever been,” the Apple CEO said.

“At a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories juiced by algorithms, we can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of tech that says all engagement is good engagement – the longer the better – and all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible.” Relations between Cook and Mark Zuckerberg are reportedly at rock bottom.

It is exceedingly strong language for a CEO to use about another business, albeit never named, but clearly identifiable. Why is Cook being so combative now?

“I think what’s happened is that there are many more people today that view privacy as a mainstream issue,” he tells the Financial Review. “Ten years ago, privacy was a niche issue. Today it’s one of the primary issues in people’s minds because people know that the web has become this surveillance tool in all too many cases, and that the building of detailed profiles on people has gone well beyond any kind of reasonable thing.“

Cook sees the upholding of privacy against those “hucksters” and their “juiced-up algorithms” as a human right. And taking a stand has certainly been a trait of his tenure. “We do things because they’re just and right,” he said when asked by investors at a shareholder meeting in 2014 whether Apple should avoid embracing environmental causes. “If you want me to make decisions that have a clear ROI, then you should get out of the stock.“

But even then, there is a business imperative to Cook’s campaign against tracking; it’s become a sales pitch, quite literally. Earlier this year, Apple plastered billboard ads across Australia that featured just three words: Privacy. That’s iPhone. And privacy, coupled with security, has become a shield that Apple uses to deflect allegations of anti-competitive conduct.

The European Commission, and some members of the US Congress, are looking at imposing rules on how Apple manages its own App Store. Does Cook accept that given Apple’s size, outsiders will increasingly want to tell his company how it runs its business?

“Well, I think scrutiny of large companies is fair. And I start from the premise that regulation is necessary in some areas. And so it becomes a matter of determining where it’s necessary and where the focus should be . . . In our model, the user is where the power exists because it’s the user who decides when they buy a phone, are they going to buy an iPhone. Are they going to buy any number of Android phones? And so it’s a fiercely competitive market. And then the market inside the App Store is also fiercely competitive . . . And so there’s huge competition in all areas of this.”

Is competition always a good thing?

“I can’t think of a case where competition is bad,” Cook says. “I think competition is inherently good.“

It’s at this point that anyone who’s squared off against Apple might do a double take. Australia’s major banks, as the Financial Review points out to Cook, have tried to get access to the near-field communication chip on iPhones so they can offer their own “tap and pay” apps, like they do with Android phones. Apple refused, arguing, in part, that this would compromise the security of its iPhone.

Three of the four major banks tried to get the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to allow them to collectively bargain with Apple (a case of big banks feeling very small against big tech). In 2017 the ACCC refused, siding with Apple and cementing its beachhead in the payment system. Last month, Bloomberg reported that Apple plans to offer its buy now pay later service, taking on PayPal and Afterpay.

When asked whether Apple’s growing scale – it commands 56 per cent of the Australian mobile market – makes it harder to argue that security concerns are grounds to block competitors, like Australia’s banks, Cook says it’s “more than an argument” that he’s making. He essentially claims that major banks cannot be trusted to keep the iPhone’s components secure.

“It’s the reality. If you put back doors in a system, anybody can use a back door. And so you have to make sure the system itself is robust and durable; otherwise you can see what happens in the security world. Every day you read about a breach, or you read about a ransomware.”

But the field is shifting. In late July, after our interview with Cook, Commonwealth Bank of Australia CEO Matt Comyn urged Parliament and regulators to pay greater attention to how Apple is pushing into the market for payments. Meanwhile, the ACCC has lately been rather adventurous in tackling the power of Silicon Valley. The regulator’s 2020 digital platforms services inquiry has led the federal government to force Facebook and Google to pay Australian media companies – including the publisher of the Financial Review – for displaying links to news.

Fresh from this win, which attracted global attention, the ACCC in April began targeting Apple and Google over how they run their respective app stores. Is the ACCC on Cook’s radar? “Of course,” he replies. “Anywhere in the world that we’re being inspected is on my radar, at least that we’re aware of, and it’s incumbent on us to tell our story and to say why we do what we do.”

In the case of the controls over the App Store, they are there for security, privacy and safety, he says. “Any kind of regulation should be justified by being great for the user. [Regulation] needs to improve someone’s life. Just like an invention or a technology needs to improve someone’s life.“

Australia is a net importer of tech – we buy in more than we ship. But we’ve begun to export fresh ways to regulate the sector. France and Canada are looking at the ACCC’s inquiry into Facebook and Google; our push for new tax rules for multinationals has found favour through the OECD. Epic Games, as well as suing Apple in California, has launched a similar lawsuit here, the only other country where it’s done so.

When its chief executive, Tim Sweeney, was asked why by the Financial Review’s John Davidson, he replied: “Australia is a good climate to take on this fight.” Does Cook welcome our regulatory innovation? “The technology industry has become such a big piece of the economy, it’s natural that it would be looked at,” he responds.

Which is a tightly worded, diplomatic answer to a topic that the Apple CEO is not up for expanding upon – perhaps understandable given the tightrope he’s walking as lawmakers and regulators in Europe and the US get closer. He’s more expansive when the issue is framed positively, in terms of the opportunities the App Store provides to Australian developers. “Australia is a country that’s incredibly innovative, a country that’s incredibly resilient, a country of great creativity. We’ve seen apps come out of Australia that are mind-blowing,” he says.

He mentions Procreate, an art and design app created by a Hobart company that now employs 52 people, and JigSpace, a Melbourne company which allows users to make presentations through augmented reality. JigSpace was highlighted by Apple at its global presentation for iPhone 12 last October. Among the 600,000 Australians who have registered with Apple to develop apps using its software is Yuma Soerianto, who started to code when he was six and who now has nine apps on the App Store.

Cook likens the App Store to “an economic miracle” through which more than $600 billion of commerce was pumped last year. As such, Apple’s controls are a small hindrance to developers’ access to an extraordinary opportunity.

“As an individual, you can sit in your basement, no matter where your basement is, and you can write an app. And with the touch of a button, you can distribute your app in 175 countries in the world and become a global seller, a global company. You’re not negotiating with a lot of different retailers around the world. You’re not having to worry about converting currencies. You’re not worrying about local regulations. All of the heavy lifting of going into a country is done.“

You can bet that’s the message Apple is delivering to the ACCC, and the Australian government. And Cook has a message for anyone in Australia who wants our tech industry – the great wealth creator of the 21st century – to flourish.

“In [Silicon] Valley, in particular, we have a very sophisticated mixture of universities, like Stanford and Berkeley, venture capital and a start-up community. And a place with great weather where people want to live,” he says. “All of those together add up to an unbelievable, thriving, entrepreneurial area. And I think Australia has all of those.”

Tim Cook was born in 1960 in Mobile, Alabama. His father was a shipyard worker, his mother worked at a pharmacy. His values were shaped by his parents, certainly, but also by historic events that enveloped his childhood.

“I saw these huge movements when I was growing up, some that I didn’t know how huge they were because I was so young. Like Dr Martin Luther King and John Lewis crossing the bridge at Alabama, marching for voting rights; the riots at Stonewall, where gay and transgender people joined people of all races and really revolted against the way they were treated . . . I feel a sense of responsibility to stand on their shoulders and to try to take it even further.”

He studied industrial engineering, got an internship at IBM and spent 12 years there. He worked briefly at Compaq but was lured to join Apple by Steve Jobs and rose up the ranks to become head of operations. If Jobs was a genius of “creative innovation”, dreaming up revolutionary products and pushing his designers and engineers to make breakthroughs, Cook was the guy sourcing materials, ensuring quality control from factories, and keeping costs down and inventory in check. It was work critical to both Apple’s top and bottom lines, but far from the heady inspiration of Jobs.

On October 5, 2011, at the age of 56, Steve Jobs died. A former Apple executive who worked at head office remembers getting a push notification on his phone, and then watching everyone instinctively pour into the main garden between all the buildings. Twelve days later, on the same site, a memorial for Jobs was held featuring performances by Norah Jones and Coldplay. “All six buildings had giant projections of Steve,” the former executive says. “And I just remember Coldplay playing The Scientist. And everyone was crying.”

For Cook, his first task as CEO of Apple was to get the company through the mourning process. Then he had to get it to move onwards, and upwards. Asked about the advice from Jobs he found most useful, he tells a story that he has told once before: “When he called me over and told me he wanted me to be CEO, he said that he had watched the change between Walt Disney and the next person in line at Disney, and it did not work that well because everybody sat around and asked what Walt would have done.

“When any kind of issue or problem came up, there was a level of paralysis in the company. He told me that he did not want this for Apple and that I should never sit around and think about that. And I think that relieved a level of burden that would have been impossible to escape without that advice.

“And then he modelled different behaviours that I have great respect for, like Steve could change his mind like this,” as he snaps his fingers. “He could be so into doing something in a certain way or building a certain product; but if new information came about, he could change. He wasn’t married to his previous thoughts and his previous beliefs if something new presented itself.

“And so there was never the pride that sets in with some people when they have made a big decision and then, ultimately, it becomes clear that the decision is wrong. He could change, and he did over and over again. I think that is an incredible skill to have.”

That snap of the fingers could be deflating; the former Apple executive recalls spending years on a new product that was killed off at the eleventh hour. “Steve was like an 800-pound gorilla in every conversation and decision. He was feared and admired, greatly. Everything and anything could go up to Steve for review. Even something like marketing copy on the website. You’d never put anything up for final review that wasn’t perfect.

“I would say that some of the magic did die with Steve. Apple transitioned as a company that made awe-inspiring magical products to being one of the most consistent-at-operations companies in the world. Under Steve there was more excitement, more intrigue.”

And maybe there is less buzz about its new products or, rather, new iterations of its products: bigger cameras, slimmer screens. But if there are no longer queues outside Apple stores for a new iPhone, it’s partly because under Cook, Apple has mastered the art of production, of logistics, of economies of scale. No one needs to queue any more – there’s a new model iPhone for everyone who wants it, right away.

And after 10 years as CEO, Cook has quietened the naysayers who thought the company was too reliant on the iPhone. Take a look at Apple’s results, which are a picture of how to make the complex seem simple: you can see pretty much the entire business on just five lines. For fiscal 2020, revenue from the iPhone was $US138 billion; the Mac delivered $US29 billion; the iPad provided $US24 billion and the category that Apple calls “wearables, home and accessories” delivered $US31 billion.

The fifth line item is services, which includes iTunes and iCloud, and it was the second-biggest revenue generator overall, worth $US54 billion. And it’s growing quickly. In 2011, when Cook took over, services generated just $US9 billion. The growth in services and the existence of the wearables division is the legacy of Tim Cook.

The growth in services has not just freed Apple from criticism of being too dependent on the iPhone. It’s seen the stock re-rated upwards. Software companies have much higher margins, and attract a higher price-to-earnings ratio than hardware companies. That is the key reason why its market capitalisation doubled to $US2 trillion in just two years.

How to keep delivering this growth? On an earnings call in January, Cook revealed the milestone of 1 billion iPhones in active use, plus 600 million other Apple devices. The company is rumoured to be working on a car; Cook bats away questions from the Financial Review about it. But with 1 billion-plus users plugging in Apple devices, analysts see a clear path ahead for the company to simply sell them more services.

There’s Apple Music and AppleCare. There’s its streaming service, Apple TV+, as well as Apple Fitness+. There’s Apple Pay, to the chagrin of Australia’s banks and the potential launch of Apple Pay Later, which might explain why Afterpay is joining forces with Square. And there’s the money it’s making from the App Store, depending on the outcome of the Epic lawsuit, of course.

And there’s iCloud – those micropayments, perhaps just $1.49 a month, that Apple users make to keep their photos and phone numbers, and all sorts of things they can’t be bothered thinking about, at their fingertips and safely stored in the cloud, for as long as they keep paying. When people refer to Apple’s “walled garden”, it’s often because they’re making a point about the walls.

But there’s also a very beautiful garden of smartly designed products that just work, intuitively and seamlessly, together. Once you’re in, it’s very hard to leave. Or as Cook says, with that homely Alabama accent: “This is why we get out of bed in the morning. We’ve always felt that technology was meant to enrich people’s lives.“

Cook says his philosophy of leadership is to be a good coach. “People are not looking to be told what to do; they’re looking for inspiration, and they’re looking to be part of something larger than themselves. They’re looking for purpose.” As CEO he tries to connect the dots within the company. And to move obstacles out of the way.

When interviewed by Walter Isaacson for his 2011 biography of Jobs, Cook said he never realised how much a CEO needed to take the heat for other people, until he was himself in that role. “I thought that that was because Steve was bigger than life,” he says when asked to elaborate.

“And so I thought, actually, when I became CEO a lot of that visibility would go away. But the visibility went with the company,” he says, with a chuckle. He’s comfortable with the visibility now. Indeed, he’s turning that visibility to Apple’s advantage.

So why is he turning up the heat on privacy, on security, against those trackers and hucksters? He doesn’t make a connection with the rampant virus that’s upended so many rules, so many norms, so many ways of doing business. But he does reveal, midway through our interview, that taking over from Steve Jobs wasn’t the most difficult moment of his career. The most difficult moment was the year that’s just been.

“A huge challenge is losing total control. And so all of a sudden you know that you’re no longer in control over your destiny, that this pandemic had a strange way of shaking us all and reminding us that we are not the ones deciding.”


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