Australians like to work hard and have fun while they do. AHRI research confirms this, but it also shows we have never worked harder or been subject to such workplace stress.
One in five people suffer from a workplace illness each year and it’s one in two over a working lifetime. More than ever, bosses should be conscious that while they expect a lot from their people, these workers also want to be cut a bit of slack at a personal level and to be dealt with on the job sensibly, professionally and respectfully.
BHP Billiton is our largest company and the world’s biggest resources firm. A front-page story in the Australian Financial Review described an 11-page clean desk, food and flower usage policy at BHP.
Workers at the company’s coalface could be justified in asking themselves two questions: “What on earth are they thinking about up there in the executive suite?” and “Do they have too much time on their hands?”
Clean desk policies aren’t new, but how they are constructed betrays top management’s mindset. The best policies I have seen focus on three principles: the environment must be professional and appropriate to all reasonable expectations of those who work there as well as those who visit; it should support a culture that’s high performing and equitable; and reflect an employer’s duty of care in providing a safe, healthy and fit-for-purpose workplace.
Beyond that, much autonomy is devolved to teams to decide what clean-desk principles mean. Prescriptive top-down rules aren’t usually part of that best-practice approach and often drive anomalies where sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.
Let’s take a couple of examples to illustrate the problems that BHP’s lofty clean desk policy may have visited on the workers of the company further down. At a micro-management level, workers are allowed only one A5 photo on their desk. That may or may not be enough to accommodate a picture of the spouse, the kids and the dog. And if there is a photo of your work team celebrating a memorable success on the job, does that not justify an extra place alongside the loved ones?
For 40 years after the Second World War ‘command and control’ leadership styles ruled the day until the late 1980s. The top business schools taught them. Many of their graduates are now our leading CEOs and board chairs. The more contemporary servant-leadership approach of ‘first among equals’ is described in many books. Surveys of the ‘world’s most admired companies’ reveal that firms with this management style outperform in shareholder value growth in the order of 7 per cent per annum.
The Big Australian’s clean-desk policy is a giant backward step in the genre of modern leadership. It’s time for this clean-desk policy to be dispatched to the recycling bin.