Meeting your legal obligations as an employer is a minimum requirement. Doing more is what makes you and your business stand out. By Peter Maguire
Under our Fair Work system of minimum wages and employment standards, we spend a lot of time talking about the importance of compliance with those standards – to ensure that employees are receiving at least the minima that they are legally entitled to and to ensure that employers are not vulnerable to costly underpayment claims, damaging prosecution and embarrassing publicity.
Yes, of course, compliance is important but is that the be all and end all?
Does compliance with legal minimum standards constitute a real value proposition for employees or does it say: “We are doing as little as we legally have to as an employer”?
Not much of an Employer Value Proposition, is it?
And do those minimum standards really address all of the things that they need to if we really do believe that ‘People are our greatest asset’?
THE IMMEDIATE CHALLENGE
The events of the past couple of years have shone a real spotlight on the value proposition that employers offer as individual businesses or within specific industry sectors.
The insecurities of the hospitality industry with high levels of casualisation of labour were exacerbated by lockdowns and business closures and a continued lack of access to migrant student/backpacker labour. That caused locals in the industry to look for alternative more secure employment and many have found that alternative and are not going back.
Conversely, many frontline workers who have had to lift a very heavy load during the pandemic have sought alternative employment that is less stressful and they are not going back.
Added to that we have had the problems of not having access to migrant workers in both of those sectors and the lowest unemployment rate that Australia has had for decades. These are affecting businesses across all sectors.
That raises the question of how you are going to attract and retain the people that you need; i.e. how you can offer an attractive value proposition if you just comply with your legal obligations? Why would someone choose to work for you rather than for other employers or in other sectors?
LET’S TAKE OFF THE COMPLIANCE BLINKERS
One of the problems that looking at anything through the lens of compliance and risk management is that we don’t open our eyes to possibilities for something that might better match the needs of our people and our business. We are so focused on not doing the wrong thing that we don’t consider what might be the best thing.
That also influences the tone of conversations that we have with our people in relation to things that happen in their lives. If we talk in compliance terms, that can be a disappointment at a time when the employee would value a more supportive approach from their boss, HR Department or employer. And that can make a real difference to how the employee sees their employer and how that impacts on the employment relationship.
Here is a story that illustrates what I am talking about.
This was in the early 1990s before Carer’s Leave was introduced. An employee had been with their employer for five years and hadn’t had a single sick day off in all of that time. He approached management about whether he could use a few days of sick leave to cover an absence for a short period that was necessary so that he could look after the children while his wife was in hospital having essential surgery.
He was told that he would have to take annual leave because he wasn’t sick. From that point on, he took every single day absence as a sickie that he legally could – they lost him for eight days each year.
We do have carer’s leave now but there are other minimum standards that are equally problematic such as Compassionate Leave. That provides an entitlement to take up to two days of paid leave per occasion on the death or threat to life of a member of your immediate family or household.
That doesn’t provide you with an entitlement to paid leave if a best mate or good friend or a loved uncle or aunt or cousin or niece or nephew happens to die. It doesn’t cover bereavements for a boss or a subordinate or a work colleague. It doesn’t cover bereavement for a pet.
All of those situations are things which cause us grief and which we need to process and that means we are certainly not going to be at our best in doing our job while we work through that.
So, rather than just comply with the minimum standard, could you extend a bit of flexibility by offering either extended compassionate leave or access to personal/carer’s leave?
The Fair Work Act, modern awards and other legislation just provide minimum standards that you have to comply with, but that is all they are – the minimum that you have to do as an employer.
If you want to give people a reason to want to work for you, give them something more than that.
Sit down with your people and work out what you can do to provide an Employer Value Proposition that works better for your business and your people.
If you want to show that you are absolutely committed to that and put it out there as a guaranteed EVP, you might even consider doing an enterprise agreement. These are all published on the Fair Work Commission website for all to see, showing that you are legally committed to your EVP.
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