There’s no quick-fix to creating a harmonious workplace, no one size fits all approach, but these seven steps could get you pretty darn close.
There are many varied opinions, a great deal of advice and an abundance of willing helpers out there who proclaim to have the answer to creating a happy work environment. While some are good, others are average, and some are so far off the mark you shouldn’t even consider them, the real key to a happy workplace is realising there’s no one-stop template, no guaranteed to fix everything program.
Every workplace is different and every employee is different. Looking at the basics however, I think there are seven easy steps every small business can follow which should form part of a much larger staff engagement and performance program.
Step 1. Talk to your staff – Set up tool box talks, regular staff meetings and discussions. Make sure they’re open forums where staff feel safe to put forward their ideas and concerns. This is primary to stave off disputes and conflicts which would require the intervention of an outside third party, like a union.
Step 2. Under promise and over deliver – Eliminate catch phrases like “I’ll look into it” and “moving forward” from your vocabulary. Make sure that when you give your staff a time frame to rectify an issue, you stick to it.
Step 3. Make sure you pay them right – Constant audits by Fair Work Australia over the past two years have highlighted many cases in which employers either intentionally, or unknowingly, underpay staff. Given the amount of information out there, and the number of consultants ready to assist, there is no excuse for not paying your staff correctly.
Step 4. Consult with your staff – If you are serious about making changes in the workplace, you’re going to need the support of your staff. Regardless of the fact legislation imposes a requirement to consult with employees, it’s in your best interest to ensure you do so anyway. I’m not saying you need to do this for every business decision you make, but if you want your employees to work with you, then consultation is necessary.
Step 5. Don’t rely on lawyers or accountants for IR advice – Whilst these occupations have their place in business, they can fail on occasion to provide the on-the-ground advice needed to address an issue properly. Legalistic arguments can be run in courts and tribunals, but if you don’t use processes to ensure that a win on the ground is achieved, then no victory in a court is relevant if you lose the battle in the office. Remember, workplace harmony is achieved through direct employee engagement, not court cases.
Step 6. Remain neutral to the union’s presence – This is simple: Don’t try and go toe-to-toe with a union official, they will win more times than they lose. Remember, a union’s power comes from its ability to rally your employees against you. Your employees are the union, not the official. So why engage them and give more ammunition to add to their propaganda? Facilitate their visits as per the legislative requirements and leave it at that.
Step 7. Reward good performance – This is one of the major gripes of employees – feeling undervalued can spread like a sickness. Now, I’m not suggesting a huge gain sharing program, but the solution could be as simple as recognising performance above and beyond expectations. You’d be surprised how far a “good job, well done” can go.