Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Perhaps not coincidentally, I have been doing a lot of EEO training in the past few weeks. In some cases, clients and I did this work one or two years ago and they wanted an organisation-wide refresher. In other cases, they want to promote awareness in the wake of recent events or in anticipation of end of year functions.
Working with one client group this week a participant made a comment about the "inevitability" of poor behaviour at Christmas parties where clients supply alcohol at an open bar. "After all", this participant argued strenuously, "after 5 hours of free booze, how would you expect someone to behave?! But I wouldn't want to create any scandal or anything... so I think we should just confiscate mobile phones and cameras at the door."

I suppose I should have been relieved he was at least thinking about his 'digital reputation' and the company brand, even if not about his role in enhancing or tarnishing it.

If we accept his premise that the company provides the alcohol, so of course we can abuse it, let's take this to the nth degree.

What would follow is, if the company provides a mixed gender workforce, every straight person working there will (eventually) end up sexually harass someone.

If we work in a multicultural workforce, then surely racial harassment will be par for the course.

If we give our people access to the internet, then the boss we don't like or holds us accountable, will undoubtedly be fair game for social media abuses.

And imagine if we were butchers and the company gives us knives, then we're surely gonna cut someone!

Where does employer responsibility end and self- responsibility kick in? And for the employee who cannot find any self-control and can't ever stop at a few drinks, then both the employee and the company have more to concern themselves with than just a Christmas function.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

When the Hunt Becomes the Hunted

Many people would have heard about the furore created when the former girlfriend of Geelong footballer Josh Hunt 'flamed' him this week in an email that subsequently went around the country. Notwithstanding my passion for the game itself, the ins and outs of footballer relationships don't interest me all that much. However there are parallels for my clients, and hence for us here. In no particular order:

1) Electing to send an email telling others what she thought of her allegedly cheating boyfriend was reactionary, low on emotional intelligence and should have stayed private. She said in the papers she couldn't believe how quickly the email spread yet she reportedly sent it to around fifty people. You don’t have to be a mathematician to work out the distribution permutations and combinations of that are close to viral proportions.

2) The reactive, immature and vitriolic reaction of Josh Hunt's girlfriend regrettably eclipses any potential unethical wrongdoing of his own; in our world the inappropriate response by any person or company to an antecedent event can cloud the message and camouflage any original wrongdoing.

3) Long after the two protagonists involved have got over each other and moved on their digital reputation will linger.

The negative potential of social media to destroy reputations, to perpetuate foolish and embarrassing events and actions must be considered by employees in relation to events like Christmas parties.

It was bound to happen but I heard for the first time this week a client is toying with the idea of asking staff to leave phones and cameras at the door of their Christmas party event to ensure attendees’ privacy is not invaded at their function.

Probably more practical and more adult is to ensure staff understand their obligations in relation to their misconduct policy and that any function will surely be considered an extension of the work environment. Banning something as ubiquitous as a phone is nigh on impossible, particularly as people can argue it will preclude them from taking any emergency calls. Asking staff to have respect for the privacy of others by not using their phones as cameras and asking the people attending to remember they are 'on parade' and bound by policy seem much more sensible paths to follow as they reflect a shared responsibility by all attending.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Race that Stops (some of) a Nation

Many of us saw the business survey last week that said Aussies work long hours to the detriment of work-life balance, quality of relationships and health, yet productivity is low. We are a bunch of 'hard- working' (read as 'long working') time wasters. Think of all the meetings we attend that people freely admit produce poor outcomes!

We also blog about deplorable customer service in this country but we'll knock companies prepared to stand up and say "We're paying you to work". Optus has issued strict instructions to NSW staff to watch the Melbourne Cup tomorrow and return to work immediately after. You can call it "un-Australian" but being Australian doesn't have to mean lazy, unresponsive to customers and any excuse will do. Poor productivity costs us billions of dollars a year and in some companies people get paid overtime at a premium for work that could be done during business hours which would keep costs down and profits up.
It's a horse race, not a moon landing and watching the race might surely be enough if we didn't think it was important enough to take the day off and (attempt to) fly down to Melbourne for!
For those companies putting time and money into Melbourne Cup festivities as a morale booster or team builder, all credit to them but hopefully their people realise this is a choice, not a right and that they otherwise really engage when there is work to do.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Employers and Unions- Neither has exclusivity on ethical behaviour

The blogosphere is pulsating with commentary about the Health Services Union and whether or not Federal MP Craig Thomson has or hasn't done anything wrong. Workers have told me today how they feel about big business and the growing divide between those who have billions and those who belong to the poor working class or worse, tragically and unnacceptably, live in abject poverty.

Unions have performed an essential role throughout our labour history. They have had to fight for what should never have had to be fought for. However they don't have a moratorium on ethical practice. They don't always keep the so and so's honest. Sometimes it's the delegates and officials who need keeping honest.

I've worked across several sectors for 20 years. I have seen the whole gamut from the employer trying to create flexibility in the workforce to remain afloat, nimble or competitive  only to be sabotaged by union reps serving their own self interest. I've seen hate campaigns (i.e. vicious bullying) mounted against managers running legitimate change agendas even where this may put long term worker employment in jeopardy (as often those divisions were eventually sold off or closed down). This is holding a line that fails to take into account the big picture.
 
I've seen incompetent and/or unscrupulous managers who commoditise their people and put them under impossible strain. I've also seen delegates on the factory floor threaten and marginalise people happy to do a reasonable day's work for a reasonable day's pay.

 I understand completely the resentment of workers who see executives getting rich off what is perceived to be worker exploitation. However while far too many Australians may really be doing it tough and be understandably envious, it's not a crime to be wealthy. Union members are entitled to be well represented by people sincere about hearing them and advocating for them; not to pursue their own agenda and not to defend the indefensible.

Corruption isn't exclusive to big business. Members have to fight for morality within their own union community or we will see membership decline further. Employers and unions must ethically discharge their duties and be seen to be.   

Monday, September 12, 2011

Different events, same feelings

On the anniversary of 9/11 there have been lots of experts and lay people talking poignantly about the painful and traumatic memory of past events. It is well known in the profession of psychology how hard it is for those who've suffered acute loss around the time of anniversaries and big occasions.

At a time when I am working with many clients on organisational change initiatives from the modest reviews to the full blown enterprise restructures involving the potential for job losses, I am reminded of the power of the baggage we carry and the vivid memory traces which can propel us or paralyse us.

Whilst I am not equating organisational change to the horror of losing loved ones in terrorist events (indeed such comparisons must be perspective tested), there is an undeniable parallel in people who've experienced something traumatic or stressful and how that plays on their minds when they find themselves in situations much later that evoke similar memories of uncertainty, pain and loss.

How can we help? We can listen and empathise. We can gently help them reality test their 'awfulising' and 'catastrophising' and whether this is or isn't serving them. Importantly we can remind them that as difficult as it must have been for them, they got through it last time and we are confident they will again. In therapy this is known as the transfer of optimism. We may also need to be patient and give them a little time; without tolerating chronic underperformance or justifying unacceptable behaviour.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Child sexploitation, maybe. Media misconduct, that's a definite!

I've raised four of them but I've not worked with kids except a short stint teaching Life Skills and I'm still recovering. I was disturbed to read about the Northcote Beauty Pageant and the fascination many children had, not just for the pageant, but for their North American six year old "idol", Eden Wood. Her mother cancelled Eden's appearance two days in a row because she "feared for her daughter's safety". If she really feared for her daughter's safety, she would not be robbing her daughter of her childhood by dressing her up burlesque style,  dolling her up with rouge and false eye lashes, coaching her to sing those innuendo-ed songs whilst slapping her bottom.

But it's not just her mother enabling little Eden who, when asked, said being here was "fun". Why? Because she "got to see the koalas and the kangaroos". She could have done that without the lip gloss and the sequins unless of course her mother could not have afforded to travel here without being on the sexploitational gravy train. Anyone who's done any work in detection deception would not have seen any evidence of fun in the girl's eyes and face. She looked strained and as if she were saying what she'd been told to say by an exploitative mother.

But context is everything. The Darebin Council willing to host the pageant enabled such abuse of childhood innocence. The Aussie parents who travelled there from interstate or country Victoria encouraging their own children to worship Eden and queue for their 15 seconds of fame and a photo opp. are duplicitous. And so were rival television stations, trying to out-gazump each other with the rights to our commoditised and objectified international guest; persuading her to have a photo with two young children who turned out to be the offspring of a Channel Nine journalist; plants from A Current Affair. This was deceptive and desperate too.

The media will say they were simply covering a story and allowing us to make up our own minds. Some parents have tried to rationalise this by saying children of all generations have played dress-ups. But if attention was what feeds Eden and her mother, then that's what they got. And so the Hollywood gravy train rolls on as the innocence of our children gets run over. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Common Sense not Common and Ethics not Easy

Don't be deceived. It's not about football and certainly not about a footballer with a gambling problem. It's about conflict of interests, insider trading, judicious decision making, ethical behaviour, organisational culture and consequences. The Heath Shaw betting scandal incident is as relevant to corporate Australia as an annual report. Sport is not immune to employee responsibility and common sense and the AFL has jumped to send that message. 
It is not the Aussie fair go or good Employee Relations practice to scapegoat someone to send a message, but it is also important to recognise that any action an organisation does or doesn't take, does send a message. We will all have different opinions on whether or not the AFL threw the book at Heath Shaw for doing what he did, but no one can argue they have taken the (legitimate) opportunity to send a very loud clear message to all for the deeds of one. 
The nexus between betting and sport just as alcohol and sport (or tobacco sponsorship of sport still in some parts of the world) is ugly and dangerous. And common sense and ethical decision making are not always common.   

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Slutwalk does not equal slack

If only big corporates could master the clarity of message that the Sydney 'slut walkers' were able to achieve yesterday. Whether the women themselves were dressed demurely, provocatively or not dressed much at all, their message was the same. Hemlines are not guidelines and the difference between sex and rape is consent; which should not be at all difficult to fathom.
Dare I say it but these are the straight forward issues, or should be because no style of dress is an invitation for unwelcome sexual attention much less an invitation for assault.
For me the trickier issue to navigate is holding true to the principles of consent, individuality and fashion as a form of self expression whilst demanding legitimately that men and women at work dress and act "professionally". In other words, no woman should be exploited or objectified because of how she dresses but a company should reserve the right to ask her to dress in keeping with a professional workplace; not because failure to do so is licence for a "grope and hope" but because no one else should be embarrassed or uncomfortable to work in her presence. Asking people to abide by a number of appropriate cultural workplace norms is no different from asking them to abide by other rules, policies and conditions of their employment. A deep concern that this diminishes or restricts them unnaceptably probably means they should go the route of the independent consultant and be a law unto themselves (and any clients who may hire them).
My consistent observation is that women who are perceived to exploit their femininity and sexuality to get ahead are likely to be resented by other women at work who want to be valued for their intellect and skills. Just as it's too convenient (and immoral) to look at a woman's style of dress and interpret that as an automatic invitation for sex, it is too convenient to write off women's opposition to oversexual dress and behaviour as nothing more than petty jealousy.
Without the evocative drama of the word, 'slut walkers' may never have got the attention their cause deserves. This should not be confused with the legitimate right of organisations to set a tone and tenor for their staff that serves them well in respect of brand and reputation, client image and respectability.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Something Magical about Majak

When the AFL started getting serious in the late 90's about racial vilification, I was more than a tad cynical. I was sure the powers that be were authentic in wanting to create a more hospitable culture for aboriginal players (the prominent minority at the time) but I believed the zeal was probably borne out of the desire to choose from a bigger talent pool of potential players; particularly as some of the pioneering indigenous players like Michael Long and Nicky Winmar were so exciting to watch and contributed so much. Slowly but surely people touched by these players through their mutual love of sport began to understand how racism strikes at the core of a person and dishonours them.

I am sure players themselves have grown a great deal playing alongside those of so many cultural and racial backgrounds. There is nothing like the collective striving for a prized goal that creates cohesion and dulls the differences between team members.

There was another momentary glitch a few years ago when commentators began talking up their reverse bigotry; constantly referring to many indigenous players as 'gifted' and freakishly talented. Then we saw an article in the print media reminding us all that these aboriginal players work so hard at their craft and would not remain professional footballers if they didn't. To say it all comes so easily is to diminish the work done by them and those who mentor them to be virtuosos of the game. Again, we were given cause for pause.

And so to the present day and a young man of Sudanese origin, Majak Daw, a role model to his people and a man proud to call Australia his second home, is vilified by a few ignorant people at a football match. And we have witnessed almost universal condemnation and so should we because while people who harbour such views may not all be quieted, they need to know their outward manifestations of such bigoted views in a public place will not be tolerated by others. It is from the outcry by ordinary spectators that the children of those who would mock and taunt out of ignorance and jealousy may begin to understand that heading down the same path will get them nowhere and will cause them to be isolated. Let the bigots watch TV and scream abuse from the comfort and sanctity of their couches at home for we won't change them all but we don't want them at our stadia and on the sidelines at our local footy matches.

Media commentators have far too much influence but how refreshing it is when they use it to send the right messages.

I wrote a number of years ago about the Des Hedland/Adam Selwood sexual harassment case. I said that the football field is the players' workplace and they deserve "quiet" enjoyment of it. Sadly we have a way to go regarding respect on gender grounds but we are kicking goals in relation to racial vilification.

We get the behaviour we are prepared to put up with. We get the culture we deserve. I am no longer cynical. I believe we stand taller now than we did before Majak.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fair Work fine for texting a termination sends a clear message

Fair Work Australia Commissioner Cambridge has ruled that a boutique owner who texted a "Don't Come Monday" message to a two-year employee behaved in a "pretty appalling" way and that her termination via SMS was deemed unfair. The boutique owner was fined almost $10,000 in back pay. The Fair Work Australia ruling found that there had not been any valid reason (relating to conduct, capacity or operational requirements of the business) to justify the dismissal. The Commissioner found the owner had likely become irate and vindictive after the sacked employee, Sedina Sokolovic, took it upon herself two days before her sacking to change shifts with another worker during which $5000 worth of goods were stolen from the shop on the other employee's watch.


No one insinuated Sedina or the other worker were involved in the theft and the Commissioner concluded there had been no feedback to Sedina alleging inadequate conduct or performance until the owner learnt the goods had been stolen, sacked her and then had to justify the dismissal.

As much as the case elucidates the importance of a valid reason and a fair process in determining the future of an employee's work relationship, the case is an illustration in poor emotional intelligence and specifically emotional control. The owner seemed to want to retaliate for the fact that goods had been stolen and paid out on Miss Sokolovic with no adequate justification. Of relevance to the Commissioner was the fact that there was no link in the text message to serious misconduct and none was provided at the hearing. By firing Ms Sokolovic by text, her employer denied her the chance to respond or explain; a key plank in procedural fairness.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sexual harassment has been very prominent in the media this past year notwithstanding increased public, media and corporate focus on bullying. From time to time I am struck by the narrow stereotypes some people hold about sexual harassment presuming it to be about men 'hitting on' women at work. Both genders regrettably harass both genders.


The Tasmanian Anti Discrimination Tribunal has found that an existing culture of sexual banter and failure by the alleged victim, an 18 year old chef when he began there, to strongly assert himself, was inadequate justification of persistent unwelcome attention by the restaurant manager. The male apprentice chef was awarded $8000 in damages for male on male sexual harassment.

Legislation in this domain and landmark cases is quite consistent. All employees must be able to experience "quiet enjoyment of their workplace" with no unwelcome attention that offends, intimidates or humiliates whether sexual or related to an unlawful prejudice (eg their age, gender, disability).

So called custom and practice is no protection against sexual harassment. Indeed the perpetrator in this case was the restaurant manager so what are the chances this person would have established and maintained a healthy culture? The other important reminder of this case is that if one considers the unwelcome attention may cause the recipient of the attention to feel intimidated, expecting them to stand up to the perpetrator and request or demand they stop, may be unrealistic and unjust. Not being able to do so does not negate the wrongdoing. The apprentice chef in this case endured 8 months of obscene verbal comments and unwelcome physical contact. He eventually resigned but fell into depression, heavy drinking and self harm. The case further highlights the frightening vulnerability of a victim in any environment where the perpetrator is actually the boss.
Continuing to publicise the determinations of such cases is one of the best deterrents for would-be offenders who wish to protect the reputations of their businesses and a good way to promote employee rights to stick up for themselves. At times, I have given feedback to restaurant managers where I see them being courteous to a fault to customers and then bark orders at staff heading for the kitchen. They need to know that a) people notice and b) it could cost them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

No goal, no golf and no glory

Well, it nearly didn't happen. If we hadn't gone away for the weekend with self confessed golf tragics who got up at 5am to watch the US Masters I wouldn't have 'got it'. While I have often joked about my love of elite sport as the 'best athlete never to play the game', I didn't know a game of golf; playing for a jacket you'd have to give back afterwards, could be so enthralling. Of course my observations were more professional than personal as I contemplated the emotional intelligence of the two young Aussies players who almost pulled off outstanding victories. It was breathtaking to witness Adam Scott and Jason Day possess such emotional intelligence or mental toughness to take on the world's best (including Tiger in a spectacular return to form on Day Four). Perhaps it is a combination of temperament, upbringing, self belief borne of much talent, great mentorship, or even the love and security brought by their respective partners. One thing they did not have was a whole lot of experience to draw on in those moments of truth. On Day Three Jason Day told a journalist he "was just there to have fun".

How much can we achieve when we combine 1) choosing our attitude, with 2) doing our ten thousand hours (a la Malcolm Gladwell) to get really good and 3) living in the moment rather than stress about the next hole on the course or berate ourselves internally because we missed the last putt. There is no doubt those guys think they can win and self belief counts for a lot. They are so young and time is on their side. They have decades to become virtuosos and reap the rewards.

A lot of my clients lately have been at a crossroads and pondering both the past and the future. We can't choose what's happened. But we can choose what we do next.

Choose your attitude. Get great at what you do. Savour the moment and see your life blossom. Bring on your Masters Tournament!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ethics vs. Morality - Not the Same Thing But They Both Matter

Well, it seems to me the lunatics have officially taken over the asylum! A young woman, possibly unwell, admitted to wanting to bring the St Kilda Football Club undone by improperly obtaining photos that should never have been taken by a fellow player and kept in the first place. The high profile player manager paid to protect the reputation and interests of his players and specifically Nick Riewoldt is embroiled in further scandal only weeks after a settlement was finally reached and everyone was meant to pick up the pieces of their lives and move forward. Today, Ricky Nixon now admits to "inappropriate dealings" with this young woman. Regardless of the extent of those dealings, and we will all be left to speculate, he has surely placed in jeopardy his player contracts with Riewoldt and others, his professional and personal credibility, his livelihood and for all we know, his marriage.

Everyone has their own developed sense of morality and sometimes it is seriously questionable. That is why a company cannot depend on any individual who may be afflicted with a disease we’ll call profound error of judgment, to know to do the right thing (and every time).

That is why organisations have to keep ethics top of mind and lay out clearly and regularly what is expected of its employees as ethical conduct. If we rely on the individual to act based on their interpretation of right and wrong, we can seriously compromise brand, relationships, trust and commercial success.

There were so many 'moments of truth' to be faced in this sorry saga for many people. What if a person's moral compass is not facing due north? Personal ethics are personal and can save us or bury us. But ethical conduct demands the asking of good conscience questions regularly. How might this be perceived? Who could get hurt by my actions? Should I bounce this off someone else I trust and respect and see what they say? And finally, how would it look if this ends up on the front page of the Herald Sun on Monday. Any or all of those questions are a pretty darn good place to start.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Backbiting and bundled out (unlawfully!)

The media was in a frenzy today about a young childcare worker who was dismissed last year for breaching the organisational policy on 'backbiting'. Fair Work Australia found she had been unfairly dismissed and today awarded her just under $10K in damages.

You can't outlaw human nature but you can make it clear to people that they potentially threaten their employment through toxic, divisive and malicious acts of badness. You can also run an organisation that lives good values, try to recruit people who want to play nice, treat staff fairly and equitably, lead them well, make good decisions and give them less to malign you over.

The word "gossip" sounds tame but when gossip and rumour mongering morphs into undermining, ridicule and exclusion, you haven't got political correctness gone mad. You have full-on bullying. Ask kids in the playground if they recognise it when they see it or have it done to them.

Whilst it may appear at first glance that people can be very unprofessional and seemingly get away with it, bear in mind that Fair Work Australia is required to do a thorough examination of process by adjudging whether or not the employer a) had a valid reason for dismissal and b) if they went about it the right way.

If the young claimant was asked to work to a vague policy, was not accorded natural justice and the 'punishment was considered disproportionate to the crime', then she was treated unduly harshly, unjustly or unreasonably and her dismissal was therefore unfair.

However wouldn’t it be nice if we could focus our energy on building great culture and rewarding positive behaviours than trying to scare people into submission with a gun to their heads?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Even though we lost, we won.

I have to admit that seeing Australia go down to Japan this week in the dying minutes of the final of the Asian Cup was gut wrenching. As a romantic, a fiercely patriotic Aussie and a football fan - I'm the best athlete never to play the game - I was convinced we would pull off the win, and I wanted it badly for the players who've done so much for our game but who will undoubtedly retire soon. I wanted the win for Lucas Neill, for Tim Cahill, for Mark Schwarzer and of course, for Harry (our national wizard).

However it was not to be. What was therefore the most heart-warming thing to come out of the match were... the surnames. In my recollection, most of the top footballers who've played for Australia had parents who came from the UK and the Eastern Bloc. At this competition, the names on the back of the soccer jerseys were as diverse in racial or national origin as I can ever remember and underscore something I believe in and see working regularly. Diversity works and when that diverse group of people (with names like Valeri, McKay, Ognenovski, Jedinak and Wilkshire) come together with a shared purpose, great leadership, a robust strategy, some serious discipline and some self belief, they can achieve almost anything.

The current era of players have served us well. We qualified for two consecutive World Cups which for our little nation was impressive. The future augers well if the performance of Matt McKay is anything to go by, but more than the sport and the national pride is the national reminder of the power of inclusion and diversity in driving performance and furthering acceptance.