Leading a research team has given adjunct professor Julia Connell, from Curtin Business School, insight into how HR can have a positive effect on the quality of work in Australia.
Q. You’ve been researching the quality of work in Australia for the Australian Workplace and Productivity Agency. What’s it revealed?
We found that it was the intangible aspects of work, such as career prospects, effective supervision, and communication practices, that really made a difference.
We also found that a positive workplace culture played a part in retention. For example, manufacturing company employees recognised they were not the highest paid, but they stayed because work colleagues were friendly, helpful and supportive. In a professional services company, again employees recognised that they could earn more elsewhere, but the opportunities for learning and development were more important.
Q. Your research cites eight influences on job quality in Australia. How many of these can HR practitioners have a positive effect on?
Feminisation of the workforce is one example. We know that, if women are provided with the opportunity to undertake meaningful work, this not only makes the best use of their abilities, but it may also assist in improving the gender inequity in leadership positions.
Another influence is the ageing workforce. We know that economic wellbeing is dependent on keeping older workers employed. Our study highlighted that it’s important to understand how job quality might be seen differently by older workers. HR practitioners also need to check their own prejudices against ageism. Otherwise, they may fail to address issues that prevent them from having a competitive edge if they don’t keep older workers in the workplace.
Q. Explain what you mean by ‘meaningful work’ and how is it possible to create this for every person in an organisation.
It’s about considering how each individual contributes to what the organisation does.
One of Pepsi’s strategies, for example, is ‘one simple thing’, where supervisors discuss with employees the one simple thing they would like to integrate into their work performance. These conversations reportedly led to an increase in retention rates.
Q. Our job quality is high by international standards. What can HR do to sustain it?
One of the reasons we are doing so well is because we have legal safeguards and minimum terms and conditions about non-discrimination. But there is still a strong case for ongoing monitoring of job quality and for the monitoring of identified subgroups of employees who might be vulnerable to labour market changes.
Adjunct professor Julia Connell led an eight-person project team in the research study conducted in 2013.
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the November 2014 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Meet… Adjunct professor Julia Connell FAHRI’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.