Sunday, April 5, 2009

Growing Your Business in a Flat Marketplace

In the current world economy with its essentially “flat marketplace”, technological innovation or financial restructuring can have little positive impact on your organizational performance. However, organizations can gain market share by leveraging skills, abilities, knowledge and experience within human systems and the contacts and networks available through social systems. Valuable resources housed in your organization’s human and social systems could be used to grow business by targeting markets driven by fear and dominated by complacency.

Organizations can expand the capacity of their human and social systems for information exchange without major additional costs by increasing the velocity, volume and efficiency of exchanges between staff members. In particular non fulltime staff such as contractors, temps, part-timers and casuals should be given extra opportunities to relate to, and communicate with, others at work. This can result in increased mutual recognition, reciprocity, and a greater sense of social acceptance.

Developing high quality workplace contacts through increases in social acceptance can strengthen the capacity of communication exchanges and improve group-wide communication processes. High capacity communication processes built on mutual trust and shared acceptance can create healthier workplaces and lead to more profitable enterprises. Healthy workplaces can contribute to organizational well being and through innovative use of interpersonal communication and shared social systems create longer term positive organizational growth.

By taking new and different approaches to your organization’s human and social systems, you can grow your business beyond the limitations posed by a flat marketplace. Ways of leveraging your organization’s human and social systems could include:

  • Reframing workplace social relations within your organization by discarding any age gender–based stereotypes and replacing any discriminatory decision processes with new and improved ways of working together.
  • Rewarding your managers for exploring ways of catching people doing something right at work and praising staff members for doing their work well.
  • Discarding any currently used 360 degree systems of performance feedback based largely on anonymous feedback and replacing them with more transparent, authentic systems of performance evaluation.
  • Helping new staff members, including non fulltime staff become well socialized into your organization’s practices, safety procedures and ways of doing things.
  • Using available work space, systems and social opportunities to encourage the exchange of information on workplace related issues between your organization’s staff members.
  • Replacing on screen computer-based self directed learning systems with mentors - widely respected staff members who are familiar with the business and its products and services - to lift staff members’ confidence and resilience, enhance “connectedness” and accelerate understanding of the business and its customers.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Recruiting Workers During a Recession

The great concern held by employers during the early part of 2008 related to how to recruit people most effectively and help fuel their organisations’ growth. One year on in first quarter 2009, organisations are faced with equally important workforce decisions. This time around however employment decisions rest on whether employers should retain or release staff. It is anticipated that as the New Year unfolds employment decision-making will move quickly beyond retention to a point of how best to release staff from organisations as the economic environment further contracts.

Some organisations will make decisions to release staff on the LIFO basis, or the last in is the first out process, with those joining most recently being the first asked to leave. Many managers will however base their decisions to release staff more on the perceived value they attach to different categories of staff. Who is considered closer to retirement and therefore easier to release, who is most up to date on the technology used by the organisation and therefore worth retaining, or who is perceived as the better longer term investment in being more easily trained, or seen as more flexible and willing to learn at work?

University level research suggests that managers’ employment decisions in stress filled periods such as those currently prevailing in Australian workplaces are more likely to be driven by prevailing age-gender based stereotypes rather than logic and rationality. Employment decisions will be made on the basis of emotion and stereotypical beliefs about a category’s attributes rather than based on the organisation’s stated needs or on good business sense. Beliefs like those found in prevailing age-gender related stereotypes which portray older female workers, those 45 plus years of age, as less likely to stay with an organisation, not needing their job, less trainable, as inflexible, change resistant, and slow to learn. Stereotypical beliefs that have been found extremely biased and discriminatory against older females, to be generally incorrect and to form an illogical underpinning to employment decisions

Older workers, particularly older females are easier to be made redundant when seen as closer to retirement or not needing to hold down a job as much as their younger colleagues. Similarly older females perceived as slow in picking up the latest technology or lacking in trainability levels normally associated with younger members of staff are more likely to be released before their younger colleagues.

Employment decisions, when largely based on stereotypical beliefs about a group’s qualities can however prove to be extremely costly for organisations and for the community at large. Better to base retention type decisions on someone’s demonstrated on job performance rather than stereotypical beliefs unrelated to that individual’s real value to the organisation.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Seasons Greetings

From Dr. Barry Partridge and staff at Workplace Images, we wish all our clients and friends our hopes for a safe and happy Christmas and New Year for each of you.

Our office will be closed from December 24 to January 5.

We look forward to working with you in the new year.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Overcoming Bias in Employment Decisions: Strengthening Recruitment and Retention to Meet Anticipated Workforce Shortages in Australia from 2010

The effects of an ageing population and lower fertility rates, projected to impact from 2010 onwards, will result in too few younger people being available to replace older people exiting the workforce. Shortfalls in labour force availability are expected to be compounded by world-wide trends in early retirement resulting in countries having less than one third of their population aged 55 to 64 years employed. Unless organisations anticipate this decrease in workforce numbers and implement effective recruitment and retention practices, there will be a marked decrease in workplace productivity.

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) has signalled a slowing in Australia’s economic growth as the nation’s workforce becomes increasingly more constrained by labour shortages and skills shortfalls. Among BCA member employers, barriers have been found to exist to the effective hiring or retention of staff. These barriers, or limitations to overcoming workforce shortfalls and meeting skills shortages include: Failing to recruit people because of exaggerated job performance requirements; failing to hire because of job applicants ‘inability to fit employers’ ill defined organizational norms; not filling positions given a fear of not meeting the legal requirements; lack of basic hiring skills and an ability to effectively manage staff retention; failing to train staff on the basis of low returns for training costs; managements’ widespread use of negative perceptions about particular categories of people and their perceived abilities to learn, perform the work, or even stay in the job.

An increasingly imbalanced workforce from the year 2010 onwards will result in organisations being faced with increased competition for younger job entrants and the requirement to make greater efforts to retain existing staff and attract back to work those who are currently outside the workforce. To resolve these issues questions will need to be answered such as: Do Australian organisations understand the likely impact of future workforce shortages? Are Australian managers able to adjust their employment decision skills to effectively recruit and retain staff in this challenging workforce employment environment?

Research carried out by Dr Barry Partridge through the University of Wollongong and conducted between 2000 and 2008 has focussed on meeting the needs of organisations confronted with labour supply shortages and the potential for limited growth. Research, examined the employment decision-making practices of 100 managers operating in Australian workplaces. Managers were found to hold age and gender-based stereotypes which were strongly related to their decisions to only select, promote, or train certain people. The research results identified concerns about managers’ biased employment practices and therefore an inability to effectively recruit or retain staff. This is of particular significance for organisations confronted with the projected workforce challenges of having too few employees or not being able to retain skilled people.

Dr Barry Partridge, a consultant in workplace behaviour, has devised tools that identify managers’ discriminatory employment practices which may prevent effective recruitment and retention of staff. This can enable change to be effected through coaching and mentoring processes. Those organisations best able to understand the workforce challenges posed by population ageing, the effects of fewer young job entrants and of early retirement, and the costs related to biased employment decisions on the attraction and retention of staff, will be able to grow their enterprises and enjoy competitive advantage.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

How Stereotypes Influence Employment Decisions

Research has found that Australian managers’ employment decisions can be related to the stereotypes they hold on different age-gender groups operating in their workplaces.

These mental images or stereotypes, house attributes on older females (45+ years of age) describing them as change resistant, unable to learn, lacking in potential and unable to think outside the box as readily as their younger colleagues. Stereotypes related to managers’ negative employment decisions on older females which have lead to them not being hired, promoted, or trained. Younger females (20-30 years of age), perceived as being harder working, more ready learners, more interpersonally skilled and as better training investments than their older colleagues were more likely to be employed, promoted and trained than their older colleagues.

This research confirmed that age and gender-based stereotyping is widespread and carrying essentially negative perceptions which highlight intergenerational differences between people. More recent social categorisation of those from the ‘gen. Y group by TV and print media has described the class as being: Techno savvy, environmentally aware, not interested in a career, highly mobile, disloyal, more likely to lose their job in the current economic environment, and to be obsessive shoppers. Stereotypes holding variations of these negative characteristics are now widely attributed to 20 to 29 year olds in our society. These negative attributes could hardly be true however for all those populating the category. Further, stereotypes have the ability to convert real people into artificial ones through the process of treating them as readily interchangeable components of fixed, a pre-judged category.

Concerns about Gen. Y behaviour have more recently migrated to the workplace with the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI, July 2008) calling for intergenerational policies to help HR managers better control working differences between Gen X and Y employees. Would such a discussion operate as freely in an environment where gender or racial differences were raised as the main point of contention? Should policies on intergenerational difference be considered as a means of selecting out on the basis of their age group membership those striving to enter the workforce or hold down jobs?

Age related biases, if mentioned at all in workplaces, can carry coded messages and be aided by the distorted imagery surrounding stereotypes. Perceived differences in age related characteristics have been found to drive managers’ employment decisions, actions not generally acknowledged by biased decision makers, nor by their organisation’s moral compass. How many older females have become buried in organisations, denied access to company sponsored training normally available to their younger colleagues, or not been granted access to career streams on the basis of their age related characteristics? Where age discrimination has become ‘the elephant in the kitchen’, workplace tensions fuelled by stereotypes have grown around perceived age-gender differences. Managers’ employment decisions can be biased when job irrelevant criteria such as age, or gender, or racial origin are used as job selection or retention criteria.