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.