‘For many employers, the rule book has been thrown out’

Are organisations set up for the challenges of Covid-19?

‘For many employers, the rule book has been thrown out’

Australian organisations are struggling to track and manage their changing workforce, with only 26% of all organisations tracking employee relations issues and 18% of organisations not tracking issues at all, according to new research.

The majority (66%) of organisations also reported an increase in mental health issues across their workforces and many are unclear on the best way to identify and manage them, according to Direct Health Solutions’ (DHS) first Employee Relations Benchmarking Study.

The research found the current pandemic is shaping the way employees and organisations behave, and the growing importance of the employee relations (ER) role in Australia.

Moreover, the top five case types seeing an increase in issue volumes in the last 12 months include mental ill-health, new systems and processes, exposure to COVID-19, job performance issues, and restructure and redundancy.

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Despite such a significant increase across a range of key employee issues, only 26% of all organisations are using some sort of case management system designed to track ER issues, and 18% of organisations don’t track at all.

This is concerning given the increasing and unique needs of ER in the current climate and the organisational risks endemic in poorly managed issues.

Even though half of ER professionals manage all ER issues (including performance and investigations), nearly a third of ER teams are not using the resulting metrics and data for anything at all, and 22% are not receiving any training in investigation techniques.

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DHS says to prepare for a post-COVID-19 reality, organisations will need to look to ER and HR more than ever.

CEO of DHS, Paul Dundon, said the lack of preparedness by employers is very concerning, as companies will need to offer increased levels of employee support and more robust reporting to effectively manage operational productivity within more remote and hybrid working models.

“Certain industry sectors are experiencing a surge in employee relations issues and organisations need to be prepared for a significant increase in case loads,” said Dundon.

“There are going to be more redundancies, more COVID-19 cases, more mental health concerns, more absenteeism, and productivity issues working remotely. Companies are going to need to get on top of these issues, and they will need an efficient system to track and monitor them.

“For many employers, the rule book has been thrown out. We are in uncharted territory with COVID-19 forcing organisations to abandon normalcy in many ways.”

Dundo added that leaders must foster transparency in the workplace more than ever before.

This means addressing employee issues as and when they arise with clear communication.

“All employees deserve a safe, fair workplace. We need to be equipped with best practices on documenting and tracking employee issues, and virtual investigations, and root out unfair treatment across organisations now, in all we do, and use data to show our progress.”

The study surveyed 101 medium to large organisations across Australia and was conducted between 18 May and 12 June, 2020.

It aims to bring shared knowledge on employee relations issue trends and metrics, case volumes and management, investigation practices and training, tracking systems and technology use.

The key findings include:

Mental health:

  • 66% saw an increase or significant increase in mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, substance misuse over the last 12 months.
  • 61% saw an increase or significant increase in stress, fatigue and burnout.

Job performance:

  • 54% saw an increase or significant increase in unprofessional conduct/policy violation.
  • 61% saw an increase or significant increase in job performance issues.
  • 52% saw an increase or significant increase in absenteeism.
  • 47% saw an increase or significant increase in bullying.

Organisational change:

  • 54% saw an increase or significant increase in restructures and redundancies.

Employment terms:

  • 57% saw an increase or significant increase in flexible and remote working requests.

COVID-19 exposure:

  • 62% saw an increase or significant increase in employee exposure to COVID-19.

New systems and processes:

  • 63% saw an increase or significant increase in new technology systems and processes.

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