Monday, 20 June 2016

Modern workplace dynamics

Most adult New Zealanders are working for someone most of the time. The workplace relationship has changed markedly over the years. I recall when I started work what I did in my own time was my business and what I did in the company’s time was the company’s business and I should never let the two conflict according to my Manager. I was required to be at work at 08.00 hours, I could take 30 minutes for lunch and was not expected to leave my job until 17.30 hours unless there were exceptional circumstances.

The employment relationship has improved dramatically over the years for most of us and there are some key drivers in modern workplace dynamics.

The first is flexibility. Good employers adopt flexible workplace practices as a mechanism to attract good people to improve productivity and to respond to next generation employees who demand flexibility as part of their lifestyle. A recent national survey of employers conducted by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) stated that 36% of all employers are operating some sort of flexible work practice and that percentage is increasing over time.

Another consideration in the context of the modern workplace is a philosophy of empowerment. Good employers are much more interested in outcomes than they are in ring-fencing employees and demanding that they operate in an output driven environment (that was the old way of doing things).

Good employment practice is driven by strong personal relationships. The breaking down of hierarchies and understanding that everyone in the workplace has an important role to play as a member of a team. Good employers realise that every person in their workforce has something significant to contribute and needs to be recognised in that context.

We are also seeing much more cultural diversity and this has been particularly true in Christchurch in the last five years. The same MBIE survey stated that nationwide 25% of all employees have employed a migrant in the last 12 months. That figure would stand up well in Christchurch. 60% of all employee’s state that migrants make an important contribution in the workplace.

Increasing accessibility is indicative of the modern workplace. It is now accepted as a part of good employment practice that workplaces are accessible and that people with disabilities are not impeded in a working environment. Most importantly health and safety, which used to be regarded as a bit of an add-on in the workplace, is now mainstreamed into good employment practice. We have seen through the Health and Safety Charter here in Christchurch significant health and safety improvements in anticipation of the new Health and Safety Act. We now recognise that a good workplace is a healthy and safe workplace. In the MBIE survey referred to above 83% of employers say that good health and safety practices are good for business. Of course that figure should be 100%!

The old paradigm of work/life balance is now an anathema. It is not about work/life balance and the perception that work is bad and life is good and somehow we have to get the balance right. The term I encourage is getting your “life balance” right. Your life balance comprises your family life, your social activity, your sporting pursuits, your working pursuits, your spiritual pursuits and your community engagement. It is not just a matter of a tension between work and life and getting the balance right anymore. 

The important message from an analysis of modern workplace dynamics is that good employers are continuously improving the workplace environment, have respect for employees and are encouraging the contribution they make to good work outcomes. Employers who do not keep up with this new environment will be severely disadvantaged. They will simply not be able to attract and retain good talent, and after all, it is good employees that make businesses work. 

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