Employees: tools or individuals?

by 14 Oct 2008

DESPITE MANY companies citing health, wellbeing and work/life balance as part of their company policy, when companies focus on short-term pursuit of profits, this policy of work is often let slide, jeopardising long-term sustainability.

At a recent roundtable discussion among managers and HR professionals from several prominent Australian companies, it was claimed that many CEOs treat health programs as a “tick the box” activity and that the actual behaviour and work practices of employees paint a different picture.

“Things such as manual training are a classic example of where a lot of organisations will once a year tick the audit sheet and say ‘yes we we’ve done that’, whereas all behaviour change literature will tell you that you can’t change behaviour in just one workshop,” said Greg McLoughlin, managing director of Health by Design.

This is often because of conflict between the pursuit of profits and care of employees, according to Lindsay McMillan, CEO of Converge International.

“Tension between profit and people is a really strong pressure … It’s whether people are seen as tools or whether people are seen as real life individuals with a heart,”said McMillan

Bill Perry, general manager corporate services of civil contracting business FHR Group, said companies should try to look at their share price less often, rather than on a daily basis, because this would enable them to think about their human resource needs over the next 12 to 18 months as compared to a short one or two-month focus.

“One of the things we see in our line of work is a range of conflicting demands put on business that prevent sustainability in the workplace. There is a very short-term focus on profitability,” said Perry.

McLoughlin said providing an environment which at least opened up the opportunity for people to optimise their performance leads to a healthy workplace.

“I think this all comes back to the issue of sustainability,” said McLoughlin. “There is pressure because of the goals and influence of external high-performance cultures and this compromises the wellbeing of employees.”

Some of the impediments to creating a healthy and productive workplace were privacy, scepticism among staff, scepticism among management, and the newly developed “professional ghetto” culture.


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