But what occurred to me was that all these election promises and policies are really missing the point. Whether you support tax cuts to small businesses or believe strongly that penalty rates should be retained, the simple fact is that in order for Australian businesses to succeed, we need to rethink how we engage with employees. Instead of debating the minutiae of our existing employment legislation, we need our policy makers to think bigger, and ask themselves the real question – can our laws accommodate the changing employment paradigm?
Ben Thompson, CEO of Employment Hero, raised this very point in a recent article in The Australian. He observed that, over the next decade, businesses operating in all industries will need to decide whether to maintain their human workforce, or replace it with cheaper, faster and smarter technology. Consumers, not employers, will determine when a service should be available and how much it should cost. Huge multi-nationals, with equally huge budgets, will snatch opportunities from the hands of small, local owner-operators. And through all this, traditional jobs will gradually disappear, forcing employees back to study or into early retirement.
Don’t worry – it’s not all doom and gloom! There’s never been more opportunity for Australian businesses to thrive. The same technological advancements that are threatening jobs are making it easier to simplify workforce management and give business owners back their precious time; time that can be spent innovating, growing and reinvesting in people.
Rather than relying on party promises of ‘jobs and growth’, I believe there are some key shifts Australian business owners can (and should) be thinking about now to secure their own future, and that of their employees…
Simplify to Succeed
Technology is definitely a powerful thing. Savvy business owners are always on the lookout for efficiency drivers, and there are a plethora of options out there to help streamline your workplace management tasks. But technology solutions are really only useful if they integrate seamlessly together – if you have three HR systems that don’t speak to one another you’ll only create more manual work for your staff.
The same goes for outsourcing. Hiring experts to carry out specific services can be a great way to share the workload, but you will need to factor in the time needed manage each of those separate relationships (and, of course, the cost).
Businesses need to think beyond simply employing a technology or outsourced service to save time and money, and consider instead how all these elements can work together to create an even more efficient, cost-effective and simpler workplace management framework.
Employees are People, Not Resources
Attracting and retaining talented staff is an issue for all businesses, no matter their size. Consider the hotel that receives consistently poor reviews on TripAdvisor – bookings will quickly dry up and potentially force the hotel owner out of business. The same can be said for employers who fail to care for their employees. Word will get out that the business is not a nice place to work, and the quality of candidates applying for positions will deteriorate. It’s a vicious cycle.
On the other hand, the rewards for businesses that embrace their employees as human beings can be many. Aside from loyalty, employees who derive genuine enjoyment from their work are more productive, have less sick days and can become advocates for your organisation.
Employees today, and increasingly into the future, are looking for more than just a pay cheque (although getting paid on time is critical to an employee’s job satisfaction). They want flexibility over their working hours, professional learning and development opportunities, benefits packages and to derive real value from their work. Get these things right and you are well on your way to being an employer of choice.
Be Risk Reassured
The most successful business leaders know that they don’t know it all. But when it comes to protecting a business from running foul of the law, you simply can’t afford to be ignorant. Which is why great leaders look to surround themselves with experts; people who can do the worrying for them.
The rules of engagement between employers and employees in Australia are underpinned by numerous complex rules: the Fair Work Act, National Employment Standards, Modern Awards, Workers Compensation Legislation, Workplace Health and Safety Legislation, etc, etc, etc. Further, these rules change on a regular basis. (The Fair Work Act is only six years old and took five years to phase in, and yet we are back at the table arguing over the rules again.) I would hesitate to guess that most Aussie employers and employees don’t 100% understand the rules that govern their relationship, nor do they care until either the relationship breaks down or there are pressures on either side of the fence to get more out of the relationship.
The easiest and smartest way for business owners to get a little bit more sleep each night is to engage legal experts. This is more than simply seeking workplace legal advice when an issue arises; let the experts identify, maintain and regularly review your specific legal obligations, so you can be confident you have checked all the workplace legislation boxes.
Future proof your business
It’s no secret that we believe in innovation; it’s in our name! But in all seriousness, innovation is vital to ensure a business’ longevity. At EI, we have a culture that encourages everyone to rethink how they operate, and we were recognised as one of the Top 15 Most Innovative Companies in 2015 by BRW. We’re also lucky to call some of the country’s most innovative businesses our clients. For example, Noodle Box, an Asian restaurant franchise operating across Australia, was awarded the 2014 National Retailer Association’s Award for e-Learning Innovation by introducing a gamification-styled communication platform for its staff that raised service to record level highs. Innovation is what gets businesses ahead, and it’s what will keep them there.
Innovative workplaces are ones on a path of continuous improvement. They regularly look outside their industry for new ideas and inspiration. They turn failures into opportunities, and consistently challenge the status quo. Most importantly, employees at all levels are given the space to rethink the way the business runs and whether there is a better way to achieve its goals.