The job market is tight and good jobs are getting more difficult to hold on to as companies frequently choose long probation periods to ensure they have hired engaged and active staff. However, some workers are being left to languish in roles where they are poorly managed, often to the detriment of their companies and individual careers.
“When I was growing up I do not recall usage of the term redundancy,” says, career coach, Martin Darke. “Prior to these payments being enshrined in law, companies could simply lay people off.”
Julie Howard from Edgecliff, NSW, says that she held a job role for two years where she felt her skills and talents were being under-utilised. She struggled to achieve in her role, which had been newly created by the company that hired her. Within two years, her role was made redundant. Julie is now working successfully in another, similar role where she says she is managed more proactively.
“There is always a risk with a newly created role that the original intentions do not work out or the decision to recruit was a short-sighted one,” says Angela Edwardson, a People and Culture expert, and current working human resources manager.
Even in this competitive market, many report that it is not uncommon for companies to have employees on the books that are badly performing and are potentially due to be cut in the next financial year. But where does the blame for this lie?
Edwardson says that human resource management could be partly to blame. “It is disappointing if a role is made redundant and the redundancy is not linked to other reasons.”
The government’s Future Focus National Workforce Development Strategy last year outlined how Australia can develop its knowledge economy and workforce to meet current and future needs.
It said, “To remain competitive in an increasingly uncertain world, Australia will need a more highly skilled and qualified workforce, which can upskill and retrain rapidly.”
“There are certain industries where change is really rapid,” says Edwardson, “and we cannot predict the types of positions we will be recruiting for in five years.”
Drake agrees. “Industries come and go. A role should be clearly defined with specific and achievable goals, and progress should be monitored on both an informal (constant communication) and formal (reviews) basis.”
The Australian Workplace Productivity Agency (AWPA) says “Productivity performance is central in maintaining our nation’s prosperity and living standards, and the innovation and skills development that takes place in workplaces every day is critical to unlocking productive potential.”
Most companies have staff members and job roles that are badly performing, badly managed and are potentially due to be cut in the next financial year but where does the blame lie?
Edwardson says, “I think it is important that all critical stakeholders agree the role is required and clearly understand its purpose and how success will be measured.”
Julie Howard agrees, in part. “I blame the company that hired me. They liked my personality, they knew I was competent but they did not map out my role. When I started to struggle, instead of addressing the issues, they stonewalled and eventually, I was the one that lost out.”
Drake has seen this time and time again. “This happens quite often. The existing team can see their roles downgraded in an attempt to ease them out of the company. They might resign or they might stay until they are offered a redundancy package.”
Perhaps the modern job market is to blame, where roles and strategies are changing so rapidly, it’s hard for workers and managers to keep up.
The AWPA has seen this trend. “Economic restructuring will continue, maybe at an even faster pace, hence a critical element will be Australians having the skills they need to adapt to the change and transitions which occur.”
Edwardson admits that where she works, at online educator Open Colleges, some roles evolve more rapidly than others. “Individuals who are working in newer, fast-growing industries need to be adaptable and flexible to keep up with the pace of change and remain current.”
In an increasingly tight job market, experts say that it’s never been so important to plan both people management and roles.
“We need to prepare for the role and its purpose and then when the individual joins the team make sure they have a clear induction and understand what is expected of them,” says Edwardson. “By managing output and having KPIs, employees realise their contribution and have a purpose.”
The AWPA advises workers to seek advice when they need it, even outside their own HR departments. “To help Australian workers build this adaptive capacity, there is a strong case for the provision of quality independent career advice, not just in schools, but for workers throughout their lives, to facilitate career development and flexibility.”
But what if an organisation ends up hiring someone who simply isn’t a good cultural fit, or who hasn’t got the required experience? What if management styles clash?
“Problems occur when the leadership type does not match the development requirements of the individual,” says Edwardson. “By managing output and having KPIs employees realise their contribution and have a purpose.”
Drake is more pragmatic. “Tell them what is expected, treat them fairly and with respect, give them responsibility, provide further training if required, continually monitor performance and provide feedback.”
“Encourage and reward them, recognise and broadcast achievements, provide work/life balance, and give them opportunity to advance if that’s what they want.”
Newly-created roles may languish if there is:
1. Not enough support
2. Poorly thought out role with shifting KPIs
3. Micro managing
4. Grand ideas with no job-role structure
5. Wrong person, wrong role
6. Too little, or too much autonomy
7. Lack of tough decisions early on
According to Edwardson, “Regardless of industry and speed of change the most successful employees are ones that are open, trusting, and have a great attitude.”
“Australia has high labour costs and needs to continually adapt and evolve,” Drake points out. But “employees need to do likewise,” he says, “continually improving their skills through education and training, otherwise they will be left behind.”
Good for your career and good for the country? “Improving our skills and increasing our productivity will be vital in sustaining Australia’s economic growth and prosperity,” AWPA Chair, Philip Bullock, recently said.
“Now that I’m in a well-managed role, I am thriving,” says Julie Howard, “and I will be more proactive myself when it comes to helping my employers to manage my role.”
Alyce Vayle is a journalist-in-residence at Open Colleges and writes regularly about careers, education and social trends. She is a former radio producer, and has worked for some of the biggest media brands in the country including Southern Cross Austereo, Fairfax Media and Macquarie Media Network.