Quality of work in Australia… where managers and leaders can have a positive effect
Professor Julia Connell* talks about her research** on the quality of work in Australia and where managers and leaders can have a positive effect.
Q: What did your research on the quality of work in Australia for the Australian Workplace and Productivity Agency reveal?
Firstly, we found that a clean and safe physical work environment was expected by all our participants, but it was the intangible aspects of work, such as career prospects, effective direct supervision and communication strategies/practices, that really seemed to make a difference across the board.
We also found that a positive workplace culture played a part in the retention process. This came across very strongly in most of our case study organisations.
For example, we found that manufacturing company employees recognised they were not the best-paid but they stayed because work colleagues were very friendly, helpful, and supportive and they felt as though they were part of a family. In a professional services company again, employees recognised that they could earn more elsewhere but said the opportunities for growth, learning and development were more important.
Q: Your research numbers eight influences on job quality in Australia. How many of these can managers and leaders have a positive effect on?
Feminisation of the workforce is one example. We know that many women work part time, and if they are provided with the opportunity to undertake meaningful work this not only makes the best use of their skills and abilities, it may also assist in improving the gender balance for women in leadership positions.
Another influence is the ageing workforce. We know that economic wellbeing is dependent on keeping older workers employed. Our study highlighted that it’s important to understand how job quality might be seen differently by older workers and how we might respond to those preferences.
HR practitioners, managers etc need to check their own prejudices against ageism, for example. Otherwise, they may fail to address issues that prevent them from having a competitive edge if they don’t keep older workers in the workplace.
Q: Explain what you mean by ‘meaningful work’ and how it’s possible to create this type of work for every person in an organisation.
This is about considering how each individual contributes to what the organisation does. Supervisors need to ask about career aspirations and whether they can help them to develop them, even if it’s horizontally.
One of Pepsi Cola’s strategies, for example, is ‘one simple thing’ where supervisors discuss with employees the one simple thing, such as a personal goal, they would like to integrate with their work performance. Such conversations reportedly led to an increase in retention rates.
Q: Australia’s job quality is high by international standards. What can managers and leaders do to sustain this?
One of the reasons we are doing so well is because we have legal safeguards and minimum terms and conditions about non-discrimination. But there is still a strong case for ongoing monitoring of job quality overall and for the monitoring of identified subgroups of employees who might be vulnerable to labour market changes.
*Adjunct Professor of Management, Curtin University and Director, Researcher Education, University of Technology, Sydney
**Julia was project leader of a team which comprised 8 people. The project was conducted in 2013. This was published in the Australian Human Resources Magazine in September 2014.