By Leon Gettler >>

COMPANIES managing their remote workers need to stop monitoring them and they have to develop policies for remote working, according to leading global consultancy Gartner.

Brian Westfall, Gartner’s principal content analyst said his firm’s Capterra survey found that Australian workers did not like being monitored when they were working remotely.

“When it comes to productivity, what we found through our survey was that no, employees say monitoring has no effect on how productive they are on any given day,” Mr Westfall told Talking Business.

“The first problem is that monitoring productivity is really difficult. If it’s a very simple task, say you are someone who assembles boxes, and that’s all you do all day, you measure how many boxes they assembled and there’s your productivity.

“But the second you add any single wrinkle of complexity – they have meetings, they do multiple tasks, they do more creative work, then companies use a proxy, how much time someone spent doing something and just because someone spent more time doing something, it doesn’t necessarily mean they add more value to the business, as anyone who has been in a meeting that lasted too long will tell you.

“The second problem is it creates an aura of distrust,” Mr Westfall said.  

“For those two reasons, I think there is a very limited path to success with monitoring productivity.”

MONITORING CAN INTERFERE, OR HELP

Mr Westfall said monitoring does have some benefits in areas like reducing harassment and theft but it did not provide value for measuring productivity.

The survey also found that Australian workers took well to working remotely. About 43 percent transitioned to working remotely during COVID and of those, 87 percent said they would like to continue working remotely when COVID is over.

“It’s out of the box. Companies can’t put it back into the box,” Mr Westfall said. “They need to adapt some sort of remote work policy and have some flexibility there, or they are going to lose all those workers to those companies that do all for that flexibility.”

Policies would have to specify why the company is monitoring employees. Remote working policies would also have to tackle issues like burn-out as the Capterra survey found employees working remotely were more susceptible to burnout with the blurring of work-life balance lines.

Polices would also have to address perks and benefits to ensure the perks and benefits are equitable for their remote workforce.

He said a lot of companies are not ready for this.

“I think what a lot of companies did when COVID hit was they sent employees home and figured it out as they went, but obviously realising that when this thing is over, employees are going to want to stay at home to some extent,” Mr Westfall said. “So those flexible, makeshift remote work policies that we saw a lot of businesses implement last year, they need a lot of work to become permanent, that work long term, that are scalable with hiring and that’s the real challenge for businesses right now.”

FULLY REMOTE WORKERS?

Mr Westfall said this adaption would also open the door for companies to hire fully remote workers.

“When you hire fully remote workers, that expands your network for talent considerably,” he said.

“All of a sudden, you don’t have to hire people within driving distance to your office. You can hire anyone around the country.

“You can hire anyone from around the world so, for recruiting, the opportunities are limitless there.”

At the same time, however, the Capterra survey found that about one in five workers said they were less productive working remotely, which means companies should not have a one-size-fits-all approach to remote work policies. It needs to be flexible for all workers.  

“Employees are different, they have different work-life situations,” Mr Westfall said.

“Some are working parents, some are by themselves, some get more done at night, some get more done in the morning, some people rely more on collaboration and being around other people in an office, some are more solo workers.”

www.gartner.com.au

www.leongettler.com

Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at www.acast.com/talkingbusiness

 

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AUSTRALIAN small businesses have shown they can be resilient and agile in the face of extremely challenging conditions, according to Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell’s new Small Business Counts report.

The report, released by Ms Carnell this month, provides a statistical overview of small business performance in Australia, using the latest available data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and other trusted sources. 

A feature of this year’s report is a dedicated chapter regarding COVID-19, which reveals 40 percent of small businesses changed the way they provided products and services in response to the crisis.

“2020 has been a year like no other and certainly the toughest Australia’s 2.3 million small businesses have ever experienced,” Ms Carnell said.

“Natural disasters such as catastrophic bushfires at the beginning of the year were followed by a global pandemic, during which necessary government-imposed restrictions forced many small businesses to close their doors -- some for months on end.

“While the true toll this year has taken on small businesses -- including the mental health impact -- won’t be known for some time, our Small Business Counts report shows that many small businesses have pivoted their operations to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions. 

“According to ABS data, of the 40 percent of businesses that made changes to their service or product delivery, 20 percent indicated those changes will stay in place," Ms Carnell said.

“It’s been inspiring to hear the stories of small businesses that made a decade’s worth of change in a matter of days and managed to keep their business afloat.

“Of course there are those small businesses in industries such as tourism and the arts that have been decimated by this crisis.

“While a range of measures taken by the government and the banks have cushioned the blow for small businesses and the economy, our report provides figures that offer some insights about the true state of play and what’s to come," she said. 

“CreditorWatch data cited in our report, shows payment times have deteriorated this year. In October, small businesses were being paid an average of 31 days late, compared with13 days late in October 2019. This ongoing problem is having a devastating impact on small businesses.

“It’s more important than ever to remember that although Small Business Counts is a statistical report, behind every number is a person.

“Small businesses are the engine room of the Australian economy, but they are also hard-working people who have had to overcome huge obstacles in 2020 and our report shows why their recovery matters to all of us.”

Small Business Counts report (PDF 2MB)

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REVIEW  By Mike Sullivan >>

AS SUCCESS guides go, this one is a complete failure. If you follow its writer, Ken Williams’ philosophy, that means it can fail you, in fact, all the way to success.

One of the great business improvement clichés of our time is to ‘fail fast’. Tech companies and innovators apparently thrive on this philosophy – or, occasionally, they just fail completely – but Ken Williams adds large grains of salt to this saying through his rollicking treatise, How to fail fantastically.

He calls failure a “critical step to success” and calculates with lashings of dodgy mathematics how successive failures add up to greater likelihood of success. So Ken is not fatalistic, he’s just ‘failistic’.

He almost destroys his argument by backing it up with some pretty good examples of fail-ers who were hardly failures.

Like Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I have found 9,999 ways that do not work ...”

And author JK Rowling, whose original Harry Potter novel was rejected by 12 different publishers before the next fool took it on. 

Not to mention that massive basketball failure, Michael Jordan, who laments failing to hit the game-winning shot 28 times and missing more than 9000 shots overall across his failed career of more than 300 game losses.

“What a loser!” Ken writes. “However Jordan, Rowling and Edison each viewed failures as stepping stones towards success. Idiots!”

For once, this is a book that does deliver on its media release. And I quote:

“Peppered with amusing illustrations and quotations throughout, the guide offers 11 steps to failure (well, step 6 is a bit dodgy, and 8 is a tad lazy while step 4 is a doozy!) that reveal the true value of failure.

“He says you can’t afford NOT to fail and that failure is a critical step to success. If you don’t know how to fail, you’ll never be successful.

“Failures for Williams began at an early age where he was the class clown and left school at 15. Over the past 35 years he has chased a life that he is not sure exists.

“He has had myriad jobs and careers including a pirate, a brewery worker, a chef, a motel manager, a children's entertainer, a nutritionist, a sales rep and a copywriter. He has created and run several of his own businesses in numerous industries all with varying degrees of success.

“None of them lasted the distance, a situation for which Williams takes full ownership. ‘I either made the wrong calls, lost interest, did things half-arsed and got all my business expertise from all the wrong people. But I'm still here, ready to go again. I love life and I wouldn't change a thing. There are so many great character-building lessons to learn from failure.’ ”

Williams  even includes a mini-guide, at the end, on how to have your book manuscript rejected. I found that to be a waste of paper, because I’ve had all his pointers well covered for many years, all by myself.

Ken eventually fesses up: “Of course I am aware that by reading this book, some folks may perceive it as a self-help guide simply by flipping everything I say. And, hey, if that floats your boat, you have my blessing. However, I won’t be held responsible if any success eventuates.”

Great, Ken, wriggle your way out of any semblance of being aligned with success, if you insist. 

How to fail fantastically delivers an Epic Fail if, after reading it, you still take his title literally.

I guess mathematically that would mean Ken, in failing to fail, has probably succeeded.

Good on you Ken, for a mind-twisting pep talk that has its share of laugh-out-loud moments.  

Business leaders taking themselves too seriously should buy this book. It’s far cheaper than a complicit psycho-therapist session– and each successive reading of it is free. Mathematics can be a beautiful thing.

 

About Ken Williams

Humourist and writer Ken Williams also claims to be the author of two previous works, The Sound of Crickets - My Life as a Comedian and How to Get Your Book Rejected. More accurately, he runs a rollicking podcast, Reading with a chance of Tacos, in which he chats with a prominent member of the children's book industry – from authors and illustrators, to publishers and book sellers – with tips and information on writing books for children. He also failed to fail with his illustrated book Annabel’s Chewy Gooey Birthday, which was short-listed for the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards in 2015.

How to fail fantastically is available from leading bookstores (distributed by Woodslane) and Ken hopes you will pay $19.95. www.kenwilliamswriting.com.au

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By Dan Hadley >>

AUSTRALIA’s population is ageing.  Older Australians are a growing proportion of the total population, year-on-year. For business leaders, it is important to understand the ramifications.

According to the Federal Government’s Australia’s Ageing Population Report, released in 2019, the growth in the proportion of older Australians is partly due to an increase in life expectancy.

In the 1960s a man might have expected to live an average life span of 78 years and a woman 78 years. Today the average life expectancy is around 85 for men and 87 for women in Australia. Some experts believe that the average life expectancy will continue to rise over time.

Australians enjoy one of the highest average life expectancy rates in the world. The CIA World Index lists Monaco as having the greatest average life expectancy of its citizens at over 89 years and the lowest being Chad at just over 50 years. 

The Parliamentary Budget Office recently issued its Australia’s Ageing Population Report for 2019, subtitled Understanding the Fiscal Impacts Over the Next Decade 02/2019. In it, the government addresses the effect an ageing population has on the Federal Budget.

While an ageing population is a slow process, it does represent a rise in financial costs over time. Additionally, it can – and certainly does for Australia – represent a reduction in workforce participation rates.

WHO IS WORKING, WHO IS NOT?

Workforce participation rate represents the section of working population, aged between 15 and 65, in the Australian economy currently employed or seeking employment. Essentially, it refers to the total number of people or individuals working right now or in active search of a job.

Australia is currently going through a particularly significant phase of demographic change. The ratio of aged dependents to working labour participants continues to trend closer and closer to a smaller ratio.

In simple terms, this means there are fewer and fewer workers over time to contribute to the economy. The movement of the baby boomer generation to retirement age is already reducing labor force participation and increasing the take-up of the Age Pension. In 1975, the ratio of workers to aged dependents was almost 7:1. Today it is around 4.5:1 and the Parliamentary Budget Office projects this ratio to fall to around 2.5:1 by 2055.

This double-edged sword, consisting of an increase in spending (such as greater Age Pension spending) and a decrease in national tax revenue (primarily reduced income tax collection) means a hefty level of pressure on the economy and those working.

The rising number of dependent aged citizens in Australia require publicly funded services such as accommodation, health care, social service payments and transportation. The economy may end up struggling to provide these goods and services in sufficient measure.

The economy may also struggle to find skilled labour for roles or jobs within the aged care sector, such as nursing or other medical jobs. Such a reduced available labour market may further raise wages, leading to an increased cost of living for the elderly and, thus, a greater pressure on taxpayers.

FEDERAL GOVT’S OPTIONS

Australia’s Federal Government has an ever slowly approaching issue on its hands. 

There are a number of options to consider or strategies to implement to try to address the issue, some of which have already been put into effect to some extent.

In short, some of the key fiscal strategies available include:

  1. Increase the retirement age. This has already been implemented in Australia with a tiered roll out raising the retirement age to 67 in stages up until 2023 when it is set to remain at 67. This strategy increases the workforce participation rate for a longer period per citizen and slows the entry onto Aged Pension payments. This also has the effect of reducing the average time the pension is paid out.
  2. Increase taxes. Not a popular decision for any government but possibly a logical one. Increased taxes may raise greater federal revenue in order to cover the increasing cost of living for aged/retired citizens. This strategy decreases the propensity or desire to work though, can stimulate a reduction in migrant worker population and foster a greater level of Australian worker exoduses to other countries as Australian professionals may seek more competitive employment options overseas.
  3. Freeze or reduce Age Pension payments and other services. Largely considered as an unviable option, this strategy would ultimately lead to a lower quality of living for those aged or retired citizens in Australia.
  4. Stimulate employment. This can be done by several means including employment placement programs, incentives for employers and educational programs. Ultimately if fewer people are unemployed this will have the effect of pushing the participation rate back towards more sustainable ratios.

THE ROAD AHEAD

The Federal Government’s 2015 Intergenerational Report presented the impact of the ageing population over the next 40 years (from 2015).

This Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) report uses a broadly comparable approach to quantify the impact of demographic change on the federal fiscal budget over coming years.

There are difficult choices to make for the current government and those future governments that follow.

With an already existing strain on health resources and the hospital system, Australia will need to find a way to balance those citizens working against those that have moved into retirement.

Dan Hadley is a British/Australian economist and business management consultant for JLB based in Adelaide, South Australia.  

A NEW industry report by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR), has found that, for many Australians, taking out a home loan is a trigger for increased engagement with superannuation.

The research project was conducted by researchers based at the University of New South Wales, the University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney and Colonial First State (CFS). 

“We found that super fund members who took out a new residential mortgage in 2014 changed their super contribution behaviour around the time they took out their mortgage compared to those who did not take out a mortgage,” CEPAR deputy director and professor at the UNSW Business School, Hazel Bateman said. 

The way in which super contribution behaviour changed differed for members by the type of mortgage they took out.

“Those taking out a mortgage to buy an investment property tended to re-weight their portfolios towards real estate and away from their super but owner-occupiers tended to build up their super after the real estate purchase,” University of Sydney Business School professor Susan Thorp said.

The report also showed that super fund members who took mortgages also increased their interactions with their financial service providers.

“Members who took out a mortgage increased their number of bank branch visits, use of their bank app and online banking, as well as phone calls to their super fund,” Prof. Thorp said.

Superannuation is characterised by low levels of engagement as the way the system is set up allows many super fund members to ‘set and forget’ until retirement.

CFS national manager for analytics and business intelligence James Brownlow, said the results provided much needed insights into what triggers members’ engagement with their super.

“This research will help policymakers as well as super funds like CFS, more effectively engage members by shedding light on what triggers their engagement with super,” he said.

The New residential mortgages and superannuation engagement. CEPAR Industry Report 2019/2 was authored by Hazel Bateman, James Brownlow, Ben Culbert, Charles Chu, Christine Eckert, Bin Fu and Susan Thorp (2019). The industry report is available online at www.cepar.edu.au/publications/reports

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WHY DO good people do bad things? Apparently a lot of people in Brisbane want to know. 

Alistair Ping has spent the past six years researching this topic and says there’s no shortage of recent case studies – ranging from cricketers who tamper with balls to bankers behaving badly.

He did his PhD at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) on the topic, which delved back into business history and included interviewing former HIH director Rodney Adler, who was jailed in 2005 after Australia’s insurance giant collapsed.  

On Tuesday evening, November 26, Dr Ping will join ethics and governance experts for a public panel discussion at QUT on ‘Why Good People Do Bad Things’.

It is a hot topic. The free event at Gardens Point campus booked out in 24 hours, but will be live-streamed from 6pm.

The event panel includes:
•  Sonya Beyers – governance consultant and non-executive director;
•  Karen Carmody – Queensland Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Commissioner;
•  Bernie Morrison – manager of investigations and prosecutions, Container Exchange;
•  Dr Alistair Ping – QUT adjunct professor, researcher and corporate consultant;
•  and moderator David Fagan, a QUT adjunct professor and business adviser.

The forum will be hosted by the QUT Business School and the Colin Brain Governance Fellowship – a biennial fellowship for researchers studying corporate governance, financial management and business ethics.

Dr Ping was the 2018-19 Fellow and now lectures with the QUT Graduate School of Business.

“Statistically, the percentage of the population that is habitually bad – that is acting in an anti-social way and against the values of mainstream society – is only about 4-5 percent,” Dr Ping said. “About 90 percent of fraud in organisations is perpetrated by first-time offenders with no criminal record.

“So the truth, unfortunately, is that good people do bad things. The real question to ask is why?”

Dr Ping said unethical decisions were often not recognised as ‘unethical’ at the time, because people used flawed justifications – often caused by their social environment – to ‘neutralise’ their values.

“In a classroom setting, all of us – even sociopaths – can work through an ethical dilemma if we’re presented with a hypothetical situation,” Dr Ping said.

“But research shows that our ability to think rationally is significantly diminished as soon as you add in challenging personal, situational and contextual influences.

“No amount of training in character or values will prevent an unethical outcome if a person is willing to justify their behaviour using a flawed justification which neutralises their values. The challenge is to help people improve their ability to recognise these flawed justifications so that they can prevent unintentionally creating a bad outcome.”

Dr Ping said common justifications included: 

‘Everybody else is doing it.’  

‘They deserve it.’  

‘It’s not hurting anyone.’ 

‘It’s a stupid rule.’  

‘I deserve it.’  

‘I’m doing it for you.’

‘I was just following orders.’

Dr Ping said using any of the above justifications was a slippery slope.

“Our rational mind can allow us to do a bad thing without having to reassess ourselves as being a ‘bad’ person,” he said.

“Often people don’t have bad intentions at the start, but they make bad decisions based on these flawed justifications and then find themselves stuck in a spiral they can’t get out of.

“Sometimes they are motivated by a strong desire to ‘fix’ a situation – like falsifying loan applications to pay off debt – but in reality it’s only digging the hole deeper.”

Dr Ping said the current uncertain business environment meant it was even more critical to empower business executives with the skills, knowledge and abilities to be able to resist social influences and act in an ethical manner.

QUT runs an Ethical Decision Making series of short courses through QUTeX – its professional development and executive education program. 
The next one-day course on December 5 will look at how systems can be built that support and enable ethical decision making across an organisation. Dr Ping is one of the facilitators.

He will also run a two-day course next June, Leading Ethical Systems, which is aimed at team leaders and program managers and is part of QUTeX’s Enterprise Leadership Program.

The Why Good People Do Bad Things panel discussion and Q&A will be held at the QUT Graduate School of Business on November 26, following a research showcase of current QUT projects. 

Tickets are sold out but interested people can join a waitlist or watch the live-stream. Dr Ping’s PhD thesis is also publicly available on QUT ePrints.  People can donate to the Colin Brain Governance Fellowship here.

www.qut.edu.au

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A LANDMARK international conference currently being conducted by the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA) in conjunction with the IPA Deakin SME Research Centre, will focus on the productivity crisis facing the Australian economy.

“In forming the Australian Small Business White Paper, we asked small businesses across Australia what was keeping those businesses awake at night,” IPA chief executive officer, Andrew Conway said. 

“The productivity growth rate in Australia has declined dramatically over the past 20 years, so we need to fix this if we are to protect Australia’s standard of living. If we don’t arrest the decline in productivity growth there will be a worsening of quality of life for our future generations. 

"We need to take some of the burden away; to support small business to achieve the best that they can. In short we need to make Australia the best country in the world to start and operate a small business," Prof. Conway said.

“We have had some successes along the way including establishing the SME Research Centre, purely focused on better policy outcomes to drive small business productivity; the first of its kind in the world.

“Our Small Business White Paper also gained support for a number of our recommendations including loan guarantee schemes and the establishment of the securitisation fund. But we still have much work to do to address Australia’s productivity crisis; we need government, regulators and policy setters to think ‘small’ first when it comes to forming policy," he said.

“Small businesses are doing it tough; they are staying awake at night as they often put their house, family and well-being on the line as they strive to survive. 

"As such, the IPA is seeking to build the evidence around mental health in small business continue to deliver practical training and support to boost the quality of life of small businesses,” Prof. Conway said.

www.publicaccountants.org.au

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