THOUGHT LEADER : The way we work

From windswept Bluff to Far North battling recession, we turned up as strangers but were made welcome in over 300 workplaces in industries as diverse as mining, IT, through to apple-picking and sheep-shearing.
Called the National Conversation about Work, the EEO (Equal Employment Opportunities) project team from the Equal Employment Commission asked people from all walks of life – staff, managers, public and private sector businesses – what they thought would make difference to the way they earned their daily bread.
The project began in good economic times and spanned the months when New Zealand felt the effects of economic recession and the pain of redundancy.
Why is this the Commission’s business? Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights spells it out: Everyone has the right to work, the right to equal pay for equal work, and the right to decent income and working conditions.
What did employers tell us?
Many were anxious about age at both ends of the spectrum and uncertain how to respond to the challenges presented by the young and the old in their workforce. Some employers admitted to strong bias against young people because of their perceived attitudes to work and stereotypes about the lack of youth work ethic. Some employers believed they have to make much greater investment in younger people to get them up to speed.
Youth unemployment is generally higher during periods of economic recession, but employers’ attitudes towards young people were marked and worrying feature of the National Conversation about Work.
Many businesses admitted they had their head in the sand when it came to the implications of an aging workforce. For small business-owners, this was reflected in lack of succession planning. In factories it showed itself as the failure to think through innovative practices around the transition to retirement for older workers.
Many employers said they needed to make more of mentoring so those with experience and skills could help younger workers come up to speed. For the workers themselves, the big issues were about whether or not there were alternatives to fulltime employment or retirement as mutually exclusive choices.
Many of the small to medium businesses in regional economies said they felt beleaguered by red tape. As one employer said, “There’s been lots of change in legislation recently (breast-feeding, flexi-working). It’s easier for big companies to respond to this. They have the resources, but smaller companies struggle to understand the legislation. Government could provide more accessible information and advice.”
It was no surprise that employers beset by recession wanted greater employment flexibility. The majority were in favour of the 90-day trial period and some wanted to be able to roll over temporary contracts during the downturn because of the unpredictability of forward orders.
Many employers were upset at new immigration criteria involving migrants who were forced to reapply for residency, and while businesses could understand the desirability of “Kiwis first”, they relied on the skills and availability of migrants for production.
Both employers and employees raised number of management issues. Universally workers identify superior management with good communication, personal knowledge of employees and high-trust workplaces.
Head office management being perceived as being remote from workplace issues was criticised by both middle management and employees.
There was prevailing attitude among many managers, business owners and human resource specialists that there was lack of innovation and forward thinking around employment issues in New Zealand.
We were impressed by the way many workplaces had reconciled employee desire for different work hours to accommodate family demands and employer needs relating to productivity and customer service. The vast majority of workplaces we visited were high-trust, high-engagement workplaces even when there was job insecurity on the horizon. Creating good workplace does not require rocket science. As one employer said, “People don’t leave good jobs, they leave bad managers.”

Dr Judy McGregor is the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission.

Visited 6 times, 1 visit(s) today

Business benefits of privacy

Privacy Week (13-17 May) is a great time to consider the importance of privacy and to help ensure you and your company have good privacy practices in place, writes Privacy

Read More »
Close Search Window