The final day of AHRI’s Convention was aimed at public sector professionals and covered everything from enhancing your employer brand strategy to adopting a digital-first mindset in your organisation.
This week’s AHRI National Convention and Exhibition (NCE) was packed with inspiring speakers, thought-provoking discussions and actionable insights.
On day one, speakers explored the various ways that HR and leaders are redesigning work for the better. Day two saw a deep-dive into the meaning of modern leadership, with experts sharing innovative and disruptive ways to lead, as well as insights into using AI in the workplace, disruptive HR practices and more.
The final day of the Convention was dedicated to the public sector, but plenty of the valuable insights shared held relevance for attendees from the private and not-for-profit sectors as well.
Here are four highlights from the day.
1. Why employers need to foster a digital-first mindset
“Don’t just do digital, be digital.”
This is a mantra that HR needs to carry into the future of work, says David Guazzarotto, Pacific Leader of Digital HR and Technology Advisory at Mercer Workforce Solutions.
Currently, research estimates that by 2025, 85 million jobs will be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines. What’s more, 50 per cent of employees will require reskilling before 2025.
Guazzarotto’s NCE address on fostering a digital-first mindset underscored the necessity of a comprehensive and unified digital strategy. An approach like this can arm our workforces with agility and resilience while equipping them with the tools they need to thrive in the age of digital disruption.
Organisations are putting the full force of investment behind the rush to adopt these tools, he says; around $11.5bn is spent annually on HR technology, according to research.
However, despite the hefty investments poured into these tools, only 15 per cent of the 700 technologies studied in the same research met their objectives. What’s more, only 11 per cent were found to have improved the employee experience.
“Despite the opportunities technology presents, we are still seeing high levels of dissatisfaction with it. But is technology really the issue?”
Rather than the tech itself, Guazzarotto says that employee sentiment is driven by how HR designs, implements and adapts these tools.
“Nothing will change unless we change,” he says.
“Don’t just do digital, be digital.” – David Guazzarotto, Pacific Leader of Digital HR and Technology Advisory at Mercer Workforce Solutions
In order to create a digital-first culture where employees feel empowered by technology rather than threatened by it, Guazzarotto recommends driving four shifts in HR’s mindset towards these tools.
To foster a digital-first mindset, HR needs to go:
- From executing tasks and being reactive to being a strategic partner at for the business.
- From letting customers navigate complex processes and contact points to designing intuitive and positive user experiences.
- From being buried in administrative work and creating unstandardised reports to leveraging technology and making data-driven decisions.
- From operating in a strict hierarchical structure in a traditional work model to role modelling new and more agile ways of working.
Guazzarotto says implementing these shifts will allowsHR to put people back at the heart of their digital strategy, making work easier and better by intentionally designing frictionless experiences with technology.
2. How to make your employer brand work harder
Have you ever tried to attract talent for a role by telling people they’ll have the chance to have a ‘strong purpose’ and ‘make a difference’? Mark Puncher, CEO of Employer Branding Australia, wants you to take a different approach.
“Purpose isn’t enough. It’s about how they contribute to make a difference,” he says.
It’s about deeply understanding what your people love about their work and communicating that value proposition to potential candidates.
He demonstrates this by telling the story of a disability support worker who was asked why she was in this field of work. At first, she gave the stock-standard and expected answer, ‘To make a difference’, but then, when prompted to elaborate, she got to the heart of it.
“We asked her, ‘What does a good day look like for you?’ And this disability support worker, who is on pretty rubbish pay in a very, very hard job paused and said, ‘Well, last Tuesday my client learned how to use a fork for the first time.’ And this was a goal they’d been working on together for two years.”
These are the types of stories you need to tell as part of your talent attraction strategy, says Puncher.
As he was addressing a crowd of predominantly public sector workers, a sector that often attracts people who feel they have a calling to serve their community, Puncher noted that it can be difficult to move beyond the ‘purpose and value’ messaging when trying to attract talent. So he encouraged them to think about it in a slightly different manner.
“The key to a public sector value proposition is to ask the question, ‘Why is it public in the first place?’ There’s a reason why what you do isn’t governed by a corporate [entity]. If you want to compete with corporates, start getting [talent] excited about the reason why you are public.”
He also suggested avoiding the approaches that all your competitors are taking.
“Get rid of all the stock imagery – show your real employees, that’s much more effective. Get rid of all the nonsense. And stop saying you’re a values-driven organisation. Most organisations are.
“It’s like when organisations say, ‘We welcome applications from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’. All of us really need, and could benefit from, the lived experience and perspectives of First Nations people.
“When you say, ‘We are an equal opportunities employer’. Do you know what that means? Our lawyers told us to write this. Change your job ads… just say what you really mean.”
3. Hone your strategies to manage psychosocial risk
Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work is not just a Code of Practice; it’s the right thing to do, said Greg Vines, CEO of Comcare, during an NCE deep-dive on psychosocial risk.
Vines spoke alongside Dr Michelle McQuaid, author and founder of The Wellbeing Lab, and Kathryn Dent CAHRI, Partner at HWL Ebsworth Lawyers, about employers’ new and evolving obligations concerning psychosocial safety.
A new Code of Practice, which was introduced in July 2023, requires employers to proactively manage risks to their employees’ wellbeing, positioning it as a core directive.
According to McQuaid, this directive can be distilled into three essential steps:
- Identifying and assessing hazards by developing a comprehensive understanding of the potential wellbeing risks facing your workforce.
- Implementing controls by translating insights into practical actions to mitigate psychosocial risks.
- Reviewing controls. A cyclical process of evaluation and adjustment ensures the ongoing effectiveness of the measures.
On the ground, leaders must be vigilant in spotting immediate threats, engaging in secure dialogues with their teams and adapting their strategies based on the specific needs of the organisation, she says.
Instead of being fixated on procedural steps and compliance, Vines advocates for a holistic strategy that places emphasis on openness and transparency. This will enable employers to meet their legal obligations without losing the human element in a sea of policies and procedures.
“It very much comes down to the culture of workplaces, and [creating] a culture that promotes good psychosocial health,” he says.
“The key is to create an environment where staff themselves can come forward, because the best way of avoiding these risks is for them to put their hand up and say, ‘This isn’t right for me.’ Then you can take affirmative action.”
From a legal perspective, this is a more effective, efficient and human process than waiting for employees to engage a Safe Work officer because a breach has occurred, but they don’t feel safe to raise it, says Dent.
“The more people speak up about it, the more it becomes an acceptable practice,” she says.
In order to successfully adopt this approach, the panellists put forward the ‘LEAD framework’, a four-step model designed to facilitate effective psychosocial risk management:
L: Build literacy. Having a shared language and understanding around psychosocial safety can help enable open conversations about the risks.
E: Invest in evaluation. Gather timely, actionable insights to support learning and the evolution of your strategy.
A: Boost activation. Share evidence-based tools to help enact behavioural change.
D: Sustain determination. Generate the social support you need to sustain energy and motivation.
By adopting this framework and acknowledging the intricacy and subjectivity of psychosocial safety, leaders can create an environment that safeguards their people’s wellbeing while upholding their legal and ethical obligations.
4. What’s on the horizon for talent and wages?
The economy is in a slow period. Employees’ incomes have not kept pace with the prices of goods and services, and real wages aren’t increasing to compensate, said David Rumbens, Partner at Deloitte Access Economics.
“We haven’t actually seen an interest rate hiking cycle as sharp as this one in an entire generation – both as quickly as they’ve happened and for the amount of rises there have been.
“This is a business cycle challenge. We’ve got some challenges in the economy that are more structural, but this is a cyclical challenge. And in some respects, we’ve seen it before. Prices go up, interest rates are used to reduce price pressure and that flattens the economy.”
With many are feeling the impacts of this sluggish economy, the question on everyone’s lips was: ‘Will we experience a recession?’
“Probably not, is the short answer. But it is still quite painful for many in the community. And we’ve effectively had a recession in certain industries, such as the retail sector, over the past few months,” he said.
However, according to Rumbens, the good news is that inflation levels have peaked, and he predicts that we will have real wage growth again from mid-2024.
“That’s a little bit because wages are going up, but it’s mostly because prices have come down,” he says. “It’s an unusual economic downturn. Normally, we would see the economy slow, unemployment go up by a significant margin and for it to become harder for people to get jobs.”
While Rumbens notes that it’s one of the key objectives in public policy to achieve full employment in a downturn, that’s not necessarily reflective of a strong labour market in other respects.
He cites Deloitte research, which shows the top concerns for chief financial officers over the next twelve months. Securing and retaining talent came out as the top concern by far (71 per cent), followed by inflation (51 per cent) and Australia’s economic slowdown (47 per cent).
“When we ran a survey in January this year, the message [from CFOs] was, ‘The economy looks terrible, but our business is okay.’ When we ran the same survey last month, they said, ‘The economy looks bad, but now it’s starting to hurt us.’ And cost-control measures were introduced.
“But even in an environment of near-recession and with all this community pain, the number one risk for private sector CFOs is still securing and retaining key talent.”
Speaking on a talent acquisition panel on day two of AHRI’s Convention, Michael Bradfield, Director of Talent Acquisition – Global Tech, Digital and DNA at adidas, raised this very issue.
“[Global mobility] should be towards the top of employers’ strategies – specifically for this geography,” said Bradfield.
“We haven’t actually seen an interest rate hiking cycle as sharp as this one in an entire generation.” – David Rumbens, Partner at Deloitte Access Economics
When Bradfield previously spoke with HRM, he said, “We’ve lost a lot of really good knowledge out of this country and we’re left with a residual base at the moment. This is leaving a lot of organisations pretty short on what they can get. This means they’re not operating to their full potential.”
The answer to this, he says, is to create comprehensive global mobility strategies to bring critical skills into the Australian market. However, his fellow panellist, Hayley Lock MAHRI, Partner at KPMG, says in order for this to work, Australia needs to position itself more strategically at a policy level to attract more talent from overseas.
“I think we’ve lost a bit of ground internationally in terms of destination of choice when people are looking at relocating their lives at the moment. There seems to be a much stronger interest in a permanent style of relocation and things like permanent residency are highly valued.
“The beaches aren’t enough anymore. We really need something more behind that and we need an immigration system that is going to support that.”
She says there are some positive government changes happening in terms of making it easier for skilled migrants to arrive in Australia via inter-company transfers, focusing on international students and increasing pathways to permanent residency, but more needs to be done.
What delegates had to say
And that’s a wrap on the final day of AHRI’s National Convention and Exhibition 2023. We will be sharing more content over the coming weeks, but for now, listen to some of the insightful comments from some of this year’s delegates.