Is three-and-two the new nine-to-five?

An Australian Catholic University workplace wellbeing symposium has heard how tension over hybrid work patterns will drive organisations to strike innovative, flexible models that foster collegiality.

“Three days on site is the new norm. People working in hybrid situations are more productive and they’re staying with their employer,” said Dr Betty Frino, a human resources and employee engagement expert at ACU’s Peter Faber Business School.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than one-in-three Australians work from home on a regular basis.

Isolation and loss of collegiality are often consequences of workplace flexibility.

“People will move on if they get a better offer. The challenge is how to make a hybrid pattern work,” Dr Frino said.

“That’s not to say working from home suits everyone. There are psychosocial hazards that need to be considered as well so there is no one size fits all approach.”

Managing psychosocial hazards, and the risks they pose to workers’ health, is a rising challenge for business leaders who face punitive action for failing to act proactively under new WHS regulations.

Researchers and industry practitioners used the Wellbeing and Psychological Health and Safety at Work Symposium at ACU’s North Sydney campus to share knowledge, foster new ideas and spark research collaborations.

Guests heard from ACU researchers and industry representatives, including AMPOL senior counsel Damien Marshall and Annika Martz from Norton Rose Fulbright Australia.

Among the hot topics were sexual harassment, bullying, regulatory developments, toxic workplace cultures and international comparisons with UK and NZ.

HR systems have become one of the main sources of friction, according to Ms Martz. Delays in investigations, proceeding with processes despite a risk of harm being present and failures to set or communicate timeframes can create psychosocial risks.

“Work health and safety regulators are looking at how HR investigations and processes are carried out, and whether those processes have been carried out in a way that’s exposed the workers to psychosocial risks,” Ms Martz said.

A number of prosecutions brought against organisations in relation to failures or alleged failures have involved HR processes, she added. 

Similarly, Damien Marshall noted the new positive duty places greater scrutiny on employers and HR practices, moving from a response practice to a proactive prevention practice to address and eliminate sexual harassment and bullying at work.

“The lesson for organisations is wellbeing must be a key consideration, not an afterthought,” Dr Frino said.

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