Best HR practice recognises that the quality of employee engagement determine business outcomes.

The Facts.

Recent studies on staff engagement have delivered some startling information about the attitudes of the staff we employ in our businesses. An Australian Gallop poll found that only 18% of staff were "engaged" in the business they worked for. Sadly 61% were "disengaged" and 21% were "actively disengaged". Give or take a few % points these statistics were remarkably consistent across the organisational hierarchy. Further, a Korn Ferry study found that 76% of the 20,000 executives surveyed wanted more job satisfaction than money. These two studies together imply that not only is the average worker unhappy but that in the main the average executive is very dissatisfied with their job as well. This is serious stuff.

So what do we mean by engagement?

Engaged employees are far more productive, more profitable, have a higher level of customer focus, lower levels of workplace injury (including psychological) and tend to stay longer.  Staff that are not engaged are said to be either disengaged (sometimes referred to presentism) where they turn up perform the task but that’s all. They come to work but make little effort to extend themselves. The third category are staff that are said to be “actively disengaged”. They are “virtually against everything”, don’t like the company, don’t like management, feel hard done by and may even be passive saboteurs undermining the business success. Worst still, those that tend to be actively disengaged also tend to stay the longest and for every one requires 6 engaged employees to compensate for the damage they do.

Why is engagement important?

Andrew Carnegie who in the early 20th Century was the world’s richest self man making his fortune in the steel industry once said “take everything I have away but give me these three men and I will build it all again”. What he highlighted was that his business success is directly related not only to the quality of your employees but also to their level of engagement in your business. A largely disengaged workforce is a formula for failure or at best reduced profit and productivity.


Studies found that management played a direct role in determining how engaged an employee was. Skills included the:

  • Manager's ability focuses on the employees strengths or positive capabilities
  • Manager's ability to create a work environment that is open and trusting
  • Manager's ability to actively support the change the affects the employee
  • Manager's ability to inspiration their employees causing them to exceed their own expectations.

Unfortunately Australian management falls short on expectation and “are not inspiring confidence and enthusiasm”. Disengaged employees are costing the Australian economy an estimated $27 Billion per year and on average take 6 days more off a year when compared to their engaged counterpart. Not surprisingly, high levels of disengagement also translate into poorer health presenting with higher blood pressure, high cholesterol, higher levels of depression and asthma.

So if you want to have a positive effect on your business productivity we highly recommend bringing in an external Talent Manager to help to assist you in developing an engagement plan that better meets your business needs,

Where does Talent Management fit in?

Investment in talent management is really an investment in developing highly engaged staff. Every business needs to have an appreciation of the current engagement level of your staff. There are simple methods for measuring this and might surprise you. This is especially true of SME where high disengagement levels can spell the difference between success and failure. Talent Management does not have to be an expensive process and can help you implement simple processes that will have a profound effect on staff attitudes and therefore their engagement levels.

One example, is to introduction of a positive acknowledgement program. We tend to be very quick to comment when a staff member has done something wrong but research shows we’re very slow to acknowledge positive behaviour. Yet the quality of engagement appears to be directly related to positive personal acknowledgement. The program should be a daily activity where for every negative comment, four positive comments must be made. So a simple switch to acknowledging positive behaviour can have very significant return on the success of your business. To down load a summary of the Gallup research click"}">here.


There was a recent incident where and employee working for an Australian based IT company posted a number of very negative and damaging comments about his employer on his facebook page.  The employer is a public company and this information provided was deemed to be sensitive and could have had a very negative impact on the market’s perception of the employer. The employer had no idea as to what were their rights in this situation.

So, the big question is; how do I manage the employee’s use of social media. A recent case in Townsville featured a retailer and one of their employees who saw fit to post his frustrations about pay issues on their facebook page. The post was threatening and offensive. They did not directly referencing the company but members in their network were also employed by the company so could have been clearly identified.

The end result was that the company terminated the employee for gross misconduct and the employee subsequently lodged an unfair dismissal claim with Fair Work Australia. In the end, Fair Work ruled that the dismissal was fair and that the employees conduct warranted his dismissal for “misconduct” and the fact that even though the posts were made from home outside of working hours made no difference.

So what have we learnt from this case?

  1. It shows that employees cannot say what they like about their employers on social media.
  2. Employers may treat negative posts as a breach of discipline, and
  3. Highlighted the importance of the company providing policies which offer a clear guideline regarding what is and is not acceptable for posting on their social media accounts.

What should be in a Social Media Policy?

  1. Clearly define what you mean by ‘Social Media” and define the technology
  2. Clearly define who is deemed to be responsible for the post.
  3. Provide “Topic” guidelines which help the employee to understand what is acceptable.
  4. Provide “off limits” guidelines to what is deemed to be unacceptable and defamatory content

Don’t fall into the trap if thinking this matter is not relevant to your business as you’re in the “white collar” space. As this article highlights, the risks are the same, it’s just the source and nature of the workplace injury that differs. So do read on.

The 1st January, 2012 saw the introduction of nationally consistent health and safety laws and new model codes of practice which aims at improving the work health and safety for all Australians.  Released also is the new model codes of practice that provide practical guidance to help companies minimise particular areas of risk and meet their obligations under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act and regulations.It is important to note however that while the laws will be similar in each State, they will not all be the same and the States will continue to operate as separate jurisdictions. They will also be able to enact their own legislation, as evidenced by Queensland's recent introduction of safety laws for its diving industry.

What’s changing?

Accountability is the big focus of WHS harmonisation with the new laws demanding greater visibility into WHS practices, better communication and more comprehensive reporting. Business owners, directors and other management will find their duty of care far more tightly defined. In some States, for the first time, this duty will extend to labour hire, contractors and subcontractors. Where duty of care to a worker overlaps with another organisation - for example, if a cleaning company employee is sent to work on a customer site - the two organisations will need to consult and work together to ensure proper attention to Work Health and Safety issues.The implications are that companies are likely to seek reassurance from their business partners' that their practices are WHS compliant as demonstrated by some government departments mandating suppliers provide clearly documented WHS policies before engaging them.The new legislation also point to a requirement for more consultation with workers on WHS matters with the an onus on employers to identify and structure ways to encourage workers to share their views and experiences, and to gain their input into discussions regarding practical approaches to resolving health and safety risks.Accordingly all this, should be documented to avoid future criticisms or disputes. New procedures may need to be drawn up and reports prepared to ensure full management visibility of their responsibilities.Reporting Requirements

In addition to written policies which prove compliance, there are a number of additional specific reporting requirements. Serious or dangerous incidents including fatalities and certain illnesses must be notified to the relevant State authority (or authorities) immediately and records of the event must be kept for a specific period of time. Human Resources need to understand these requirements as soon as possible to ensure that appropriate notification and record keeping standards are in place from day one.  What should you do now 

Human resources and occupational health and safety staff should revisit their existing WHS plans and check their risk management strategy. Confirm that the scope of strategy is still appropriate for the business; check the relevant State government health and safety websites to determine exactly what your duty of care obligations are under the new regime. Consider conducting risk assessments to identify potential risks and put in place mitigation measures. Begin consulting with staff to ensure that safety programs are practical and that they are achieving their aims.

Seek ways of promoting awareness of safety requirements, not just to staff but to customers, contractors and other business partners. And look at introducing systems to manage alerts, notifications and related documents.Besides the promise of reducing OHS complexity and paperwork, harmonisation provides an exceptional opportunity to strengthen management and employee awareness of risk. With any luck, it might even prove to be the impetus for developing an improved work and safety culture in Australia's boardrooms and workplaces.


Mental Health


When discussing Work Health and Safety, many of the organisations working in the “white collar” space tend to have the position that this really doesn’t affect me as we don’t operate heavy machinery, etc. Wrong! Every year NSW pays out a total of $65 Million on work place injury involving psychological damage. The mental health safety of your staff is as much the responsibility of the employer as is their physical safety. Exhaustion, prolonged unreasonable stress, bullying, harassment are all workplace risks which may directly affect the Psychological health of the employee.


This article was inspired by a paper by Moshe Woods, who is Director, Safety, Risk and Claims Management Solutions at ComOps).

On 24 May 2011, the federal government passed the Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Act 2010 (the Act) that came into effect on 29 July 2011. The Act primarily changes the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 by extending protections relating to sexual harassment, family responsibilities and breastfeeding. Further, the Act also makes changes to the Age Discrimination Act 2004 including establishing a stand-alone Age Discrimination Commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The Act make four main changes to the previous legislation: 

  1. Protects family responsibilities from discrimination

Under the original Act, discrimination on the grounds of a person's family responsibilities was limited to situations where an individual suffers discrimination through the termination of their employment. However, when the Act came into effect it effectively extended the scope of this protection by prohibiting direct discrimination on the basis of family responsibilities for both men and women in all areas of employment.

2.       Protects Breastfeeding  mothers from discrimination

The Act establishes breastfeeding as a separate stand-alone ground of discrimination. Therefore it is discriminatory to impose, or propose to impose, a condition, requirement or practice that has, or is likely to have, the effect of disadvantaging women who are breastfeeding.   Importantly, breastfeeding is defined in the Act to include the act of expressing milk, single acts of breastfeeding, and breastfeeding over a period of time. 

3.       Offers Greater protection from sexual harassment

Under the original legislation, sexual harassment was taken to have occurred if a reasonable person 'would have anticipated' that the person being harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated by the unwelcome sexual conduct. The New Act broadens this test so that a reasonable person only needs to anticipate 'the possibility' that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated for the conduct to contravene the Act.  The Act also makes it unlawful to be sexually harassed by customers and clients of your business.


  1. The establishment of an age discrimination commissioner

 The Act includes a provision that a stand-alone Age Discrimination Commissioner must be established in the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Age Discrimination Commissioner will address age discrimination by educating the community about discrimination and combating the attitudes and stereotypes which can contribute to discrimination on the basis of age.


 So what must you do to ensure your business complies? Here are a few things you can do:

  • Ensure your policies and procedures address both sex discrimination and age discrimination proactively;


  • Treat an employee who has family responsibilities equally to how you would treat someone who does not have family responsibilities, this is regardless of the sex of the employee


  • ensure your staff are aware of their responsibilities to ensure compliance with these new laws; and


  • Your business must not directly (or indirectly) discriminate against a employee who is breastfeeding. An example of direct discrimination would include not promoting a prospective employee because she is breastfeeding. Indirect discrimination would occur you did not provide suitable breaks and place during the working day that in effect prevents a breastfeeding female employee from expressing milk at work.

Workplace bullying affects everybody including employees and independent contractors. Surprisingly, research on the subject indicated that very often the perpetrator was not aware that their conduct constituted “bullying”. Often it started out innocently as a bit of fun and then over time escalated to the point of causing serious harm, distress and long term psychological damage. Everybody is in the cross-hairs of the OH&S laws in your state. So take note of your responsibilities in this area.
Recently Worksafe Victoria prosecuted the owner and three of the employees of a Melbourne café, Café Vamp, after a young waitress committed suicide following an extended period of serious workplace bullying. The café's hands-on manager (the sole director of the company that owned the café) was not found to have engaged in any bullying conduct himself but still incurred a $30,000 personal fine. This was because of his failure to ensure reasonable systems were in place to protect employees and prevent workplace bullying in the first place. The company (and therefore the director) were liable for breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (VIC) and was fined $220,000. The three employees directly involved also incurred criminal convictions and were personally fined $45,000, $30,000 and $10,000 respectively.

So what do you have to do to ensure your workplace is safe from bullying? In the first instance it is imperative that everyone knows what constitutes bullying. Bullying is defined as a “persistent repeated unreasonable pattern of behaviour that risks the health and safety (intimidation, humiliation, causing fear or distress) of an employee”. Note that ‘health’ includes psychological health. In 2008/9 the total cost in psychological injury claims paid out by employers in NSW alone totalled $76 million with 75% of the awards being a function of work pressure, harassment and bullying.

This is a business critical issue that needs to be on the first page of everyone’s agenda. Click"}">here to download a presentation by WorkSafe Victoria on how to prevent bullying. In order to safeguard their interests, companies must have policies and procedures in place that address the harassment and bullying issue head on and provide a means for an employee to report the matter, facilitate investigation to confirm the facts and provides an intervention mechanism which protects the employee and re-educates the offender. Anything less is deemed as negligent. Click"}">here for example policy.

Under the OH&S laws, all individuals, including contractors, have a personal responsibility. The ACT states under Section 25 that “(1) While at work, an employee must - (b) take reasonable care for the health and safety of persons who may be affected by the employee's acts or omissions at a workplace.” This means you also have a personal responsibility and are liable for your personal behavior or omission thereof. If you are concerned that a particular conduct or behavior of an individual is detrimental to the health and well being of a fellow employee, then under law, you must do something about it. At the very minimum it must be reported to a senior manager within the organization.

Above all, first start by making sure that your own conduct is above board. Are those ‘one-liners’ or jokes appropriate? Is there a chance that what you think is funny, someone else might find distressing? Is that practical joke always focuses on the same individual? In your zeal to deliver that project are you considering how you are communicating with those around you. Please do take this matter seriously because new laws have now been introduced as of June 2011 making bullying a criminal offence with a maximum 10 year jail term.