Australian Flexible & Diverse Workforce Management

Executive Summary

The report presents contemporary workplace issues that human resource managers must handle effective. First, ongoing changes in the workplace require a flexible workforce, which can be achieved through fair work policies at organisations, including telecommuting, flexible schedules and work-life balance among others. The second element shows the importance of knowledge management to establish a learning organisation. Knowledge management can ensure constant learning by creating and sharing knowledge among employees across the organisation. Finally, Australian workforce continues to be diverse than ever before experienced. Consequently, employers must strive to develop appropriate programmes and policies that promote inclusion of all employees with diverse characteristics to ensure inclusion and enhanced employee productivity.

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Establishing a flexible workforce to deal with change

The conventional workplace with fixed schedules is quickly becoming obsolete based on the ongoing workforce dynamics. In many organisations, researchers have proved that workplace policies and schedules are critically not in order with the changes and needs of the modern workforce. According to some researchers, about 90 percent of working mothers and 95 percent of working fathers experience a work-family conflict (Shoemaker, Brown, & Barbour, 2011). In addition, certain trends have been noted at workplaces that could necessitate a flexible workforce. First, the global demographics have shifted, for instance, increasing number of women have joined the workforce while a significant number of employees spend more time at work. Second, overt discrimination at workplaces have declined. However, women and men with families still experience challenges related to work-life balance, including career advancement. Specifically, workplace flexibility and perceived career advancement and promotion opportunities among women influence their decision to resign.

Third, several employees have reported increased rates of stress associated with handling work and life responsibilities. While many employees strive for more flexible work environment, few employees can get such benefits. Finally, both private and public organisations have started to appreciate the relevance of workplace flexibility to adapt to changes. Consequently, they have formulated new workplace policies, initiated programmes, and implemented recommendations to accommodate emerging changes and employee needs. Nevertheless, there are notable gaps between policies and practice because current model for workforce do not reflect the new realities in societies, families and workers. In Australia, for instance, in 2009, the government enacted the Fair Work Act to ensure that employees who provide care to others such as children and individuals with disabilities could apply for assistance to help with care.

The first approach is to establish employee centred flexibility. In this case, employers create flexible options that meet unique needs of their employees (Skinner & Chapman, 2013). For instance, employees may have flexible work schedules or change their locations to meet their individual situations. Previous studies have established strong positive correlations with favourable flexible work practices on employees’ well-being, health and work-life balance. Second, creating a flexible workforce also focuses on paid and unpaid leave. For instance, employees can get parental leave or holidays. Some researchers have argued that paid and unpaid family leave is regarded as an effective practice to ensure that employees can cater for their family responsibilities and paid work (Baird & Whitehouse, 2012). This policy may also enhance gender equity at the workplace by giving women opportunities to gain access to paid work and leave while men will also have opportunities to contribute to childcare at home. It is believed that longer maternity leave periods would result in better health outcomes for the family and therefore, many organisations have started to formulate new flexible workforce policies to meet such needs.

Third, a flexible workforce also requires changes in the length of working hours (Hayman, 2010). Employees often cite longer working hours and related pressures to work for longer hours as detrimental to flexible workforce. While notable patterns of longer working hours associated with full-time work, younger employees and parents with young children would prefer more flexibility in terms of time and location. Finally, childcare policies can also enhance the establishment of the flexible workforce. Parents consider childcare access an important aspect of taking part in paid work. In most instances, family-work conflicts may arise from differences in childcare, especially if parents have to work away from home (Bianchi & Milkie, 2010). Therefore, a flexible workforce should introduce childcare and ensure accessibility with reasonable quality and costs to ensure that all employees participate. These two factors play significant roles in influencing employees to use a given childcare policy provided by the employer.

Telecommuting has been touted as the way for the future workforce. It noted that allowing employees is a flexible means of managing changes in the workforce, which can be both beneficial to an organisation and employees. It is imperative to recognise that telecommuting may not be appropriate for all workers or meet unique employment conditions. However, employees and flexible workforce policies should support telecommuting. Still, employers must determine the exact working conditions or employees that may find telecommuting appropriate.

Organisations such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) have demonstrated that formal telecommuting, as a form of flexible work arrangement, tends to be extremely successful because employee productivity increases. This increment could be attributed to increased convenience and additional efforts from employees. With telecommuting, specific parameters and goals must be determined to evaluate employee outputs. Absenteeism rates among telecommuting employees may also drop because of enhanced flexibility. As technologies continue to grow, many employers find it simple to provide telecommuting benefits to their employees. In fact, employers may offer computers to their employees to facilitate their telecommuting policies.

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Employers should observe changes in technologies; global trends and competition; employees with caring responsibilities; diverse needs of the workforce; single-parent families; and sustainability for improved performance and quality of life and then design appropriate flexible workforce policies for their employees.

Overall, it is time to change the workplace to depict the changing realities reflected in needs of various employees, the global labour market; and shift in demographic characteristics among others. It is observed that many organisations are yet to adopt policies that promote flexibility and ensure balance among competing interests of work and life. Consequently, a significant amount of stress is noted among employees and families. Many workers strive for flexibility in their policies, but not many have such opportunities because employers do not provide such programmes. Today, however, many professionals and academics have championed a flexible workforce to reflect the near realities of the 21st century workers.

As various ways to establish a flexible workforce have been demonstrated, employers must now strive to create a workplace that can accommodate diverse needs of employees at different points in their careers and personal lives. This strategy would ensure a balanced work-life balance, but leaders must play their roles in promoting such initiatives and change in their organisations.

The importance of managing knowledge to create a learning organisation

Data flow continues to overwhelm managers and other employees in an organisation. The overload of data, therefore, makes knowledge management (KM) a critical area of interest for organisations. Knowledge management is responsible for several aspects of information management and understanding an organisation. It shows where knowledge is kept in an organisation, for instance, in specific database, departments, minds of organisational experts, or paper among others. It also accounts for the best way to transfer knowledge in an organisation among employees to ensure that other workers can exploit for organisational purposes or preserve it for future use. Organisations can achieve this process through mentoring programmes and effective management of documents for obtaining critical explicit knowledge. Knowledge management helps organisations to evaluate their real expertise and knowledge gaps methodically and then develop intervention strategies.

Executives must recognise the importance of knowledge management in their organisation. Knowledge management is the only practice that places emphasis on knowledge as critical asset or intellectual capital of an organisation, instead of regarding it as an intangible factor (Bratianu & Orzea, 2013). Organisations can therefore effectively use and protect their knowledge, enhance and develop various strategies to ensure knowledge development. That is, organisations can use their expertise to improve on past failures and success. Organisation can direct such knowledge in areas where it most required. Thus, knowledge from one department can be applied to improve processes and outcomes in other different departments, develop new products and manipulate knowledge to create solutions.

Knowledge management ensures that organisations can focus on long-term goals of creating the right expertise and skills and eliminating irrelevant knowledge. Knowledge management promotes innovation in organisations and ensures that firms can protect and share their knowledge.

Unfortunately, the concept of knowledge management is poorly understood and implemented across many organisations. In addition, many firms consider it expensive to implement effectively and could be difficult to ascertain precise return on investment. Further, knowledge management remains poorly understood because of many different definitions. Consequently, cases of failure in the concept have been observed.

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Nevertheless, knowledge management can be used to create a learning organisation. A learning organisation must create a suitable learning culture for its employees to reflect organisational goals. It is expected that employees would continuously strive to achieve their desired goals and results as they develop and nurture new forms of thinking and innovation. A learning organisation promotes a collective aspiration to ensure that employees continually gain new insights and learning to see the entire perspective.

As firms grow rapidly, information, technologies and intellectual capital have become critical aspects of organisations. Knowledge management is essential because organisations use it to enhance their competitive positions in their industries (Bordeianu, 2015).

Effective knowledge management leads to a learning organisation that drives creative thinking and innovation. It provides strategic direction through which organisations can achieve competitive advantage. It is imperative to stress that experts consider knowledge as a basic resource, which can only be exploited irrespective of its origin. Knowledge is found among all employees in an organisation. That is, knowledge is embedded in expertise, competencies, technical know-how and diverse experiences among others. A learning organisation uses knowledge management to transform human capital into intellectual capital through value creation (Bordeianu, 2015). They can also use specific elements of knowledge management to address certain issues affecting an organisation, including adaptation, performance and competence to manage ongoing changes a given business situation.

Learning organisations rely on knowledge management to determine specific organisational processes, which could provide positive outcomes through synergistic deployment based on the interaction between information systems and human capabilities to develop innovative solutions and create competitive advantage (Alipour, Idris, & Karimi, 2011).

While organisations can explore knowledge management using various approaches, the fundamental areas of concern are optimising returns and creating more values from intellectual capital and other knowledge-driven assets (Buheji, Al-Hasan, Thomas, & Melle, 2014). In most instances, organisations must rely on employees’ expertise and share knowledge to promote learning and create competitive advantage. Knowledge management goes beyond storing of organisational documents, cut across all departments and is the responsibility of all employees. Technology is used to facilitate knowledge management and learning. However, the process must focus on people, organisational culture and strategies to facilitate learning. Knowledge management must improve employees’ skills and expertise through knowledge sharing.

Organisational culture is important because it influences knowledge management. The process requires a new culture in order to create a learning organisation. Organisational culture determines how a firm can improve on creating a learning culture. In fact, researchers agree that organisational culture has significant influences on developing a learning organisation (Bordeianu, 2015). Other relevant factors include employee experiences, qualifications and motivation to learn.

Organisational values largely influence employees’ perspectives as they seek to internalise learning. Therefore, organisations should develop values that promote integrity and productivity to eliminate possible resistance to learning and other deviant behaviours. In other words, aspects of learning such as developing, acquiring, sharing, using and protecting knowledge are important in knowledge management, and they must take into account the creating of new organisational culture to drive the performance of knowledge-driven organisation.

For any organisation focused on knowledge management to create a learning culture, a strong support from senior executives is mandatory to ensure that change is well received. At the same time, it is necessary to include the lower level managers, business unit heads and other leaders to facilitate engagement of all employees in creating knowledge management and a learning culture (Qayyum, Ali, & Saleem, 2015). Organisational culture that drives change is necessary for developing a learning organisation. Thus, a new culture driven by knowledge will beginning to support organisational learning processes and contribute to development across various units, sustained learning and improved business performance.

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Dealing with the high level of diversity in the Australian workforce

It is projected that Australian workforce will continue to be diverse as many women, people from various cultures, and other diverse characteristics enter the workforce. Thus, diversity and inclusion at the workplace touch on critical aspects of society. Diversity involves acknowledging different perspectives and skills of individuals at their workplace. Factors such as gender, age, cultural orientation, disability, educational attainment, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities and family responsibilities among others are important to consider when handling diversity issues in workforce. The major purpose for understanding diversity and inclusion is to eliminate barriers to ensure that all employees fully take part in workplace activities to promote achievement of organisational objectives (Sabharwal, 2014). Organisations should recognise and appreciate individual variations and strive to accommodate them at workplaces and in society (Hays-Thomas & Bendick, 2013).

Identified priorities in Australia regarding workforce diversity include the issue of Indigenous Australians, individuals with disabilities, women, inter-generational and mature employees, and individuals from culturally and linguistically different backgrounds.

Workplace diversity provides some benefits to organisations (Ortlieb & Siebe, 2014). Strategies for improving workforce diversity assist organisations to create better relationships with employees and improve quality of service. Workplace diversity leads to development of a more inclusive, dependable workplace, enhanced teamwork and improved service provision. It enhances employee productivity, innovation and creativity, and improved decision-making. From a business point of view, workforce diversity leads to improved employee productivity and profitability for an organisation. By adopting effective strategies to promote workplace diversity, organisations achieve the benefits of enhanced employee retention, improved productivity and reduced costs of recruiting and training new staff.

Australian employers should increase the recruitment, selection and retention of marginalised individuals, specifically Indigenous Australians. First, organisations should ensure that they become first choices for any potential Indigenous applicants by creating favourable terms for such applicants. Second, all communication materials should reflect such intentions, for instance, by indicating that Indigenous persons are highly encouraged to apply. Third, employers should promote awareness of Indigenous culture in their departments and establish support centres to facilitate accommodation of newly recruited employees. Fourth, organisations should establish developmental opportunities specifically for leadership development among Indigenous employees. Fifth, Indigenous employees should promote their self-identification. Finally, employers should create Indigenous offices to focus on promoting employment and retention while providing information for internal and external stakeholders (Daya, 2014).

Workplace diversity also requires enhanced recruitment and retention of individuals with disabilities. Australian employers should give priorities to people with disabilities and create action plan to promote their employment. Specific opportunities should be reserved for individuals with disabilities. At the same time, they should also create diversity and disability champion programmes to enhance employment and inclusion. Organisations should not only create mentoring programmes for other employees, but also employees with disabilities. Creating disability awareness in an organisation, particularly in the human resource department can ensure that training opportunities are available for recruiters and managers to understand disability issues in employment (Cottrill, Lopez, & Hoffman, 2014). Ensuring that internal policies and education promotes inclusion of individuals with disabilities can lead to increased inclusion at workplaces. Reasonable work environment adjustments such as installing lift and designated parking lots and providing other assistive devices for people with disabilities can improve inclusion efforts.

Work and life balance is also relevant for managing high level of workforce diversity in Australia. Australian firms should encourage both women and men with family responsibilities to apply for open positions. Employers should promote favourable working conditions to assist employees to manage work-life balance effectively as they maintain and progress their careers (Badal & Harte, 2014). Safety at workplaces, and an inclusive environment should promote open communication to ensure that individuals with different sexual orientations and opinions do not become victims of assault. Australian employers are also encouraged to recognise and support unique personal needs and responsibilities of their employees. At the same time, employers should provide many options to assist employees to handle their work and life responsibilities. Inclusion programmes should focus on creating supportive mentoring opportunities to ensure that employees, specifically women acquire leadership skills, network and create opportunities for others. Finally, Australian employers should undertake studies to determine specific obstacles and contemporary challenges in work environments and the labour market to formulate policies that support inclusion.

Australian employers can manage high levels of diversity in the workforce by recruiting and retaining culturally and linguistically diverse employees. In this regard, individuals from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds should be encouraged to apply for open positions. This process requires consultative among all stakeholders. Employers should establish programmes that promote leadership development among marginalised employees. Inclusion is aimed to recognise values and unique contributions from such culturally and linguistically diverse employees. Employers should leverage such advantages to create competitive edge (Australian Government, 2011).

Handling inter-generational workforce is also important in a diverse work environment. It is expected that such employees should work with older generations and strike a balance to ensure inclusion amidst such diversity. The inclusion efforts require employers to establish systems that focus on abilities of all workers irrespective of their age.

Encouraging workplace diversity and inclusion in Australia should develop favourable relationships among all employees in an organisation. Thus, an inclusive workplace should go beyond the notable differences in employees. It is also imperative to understand that diversity practices affect organisational cultures, all workers and their managers. Thus, organisations should consider workplace factors to encourage inclusion and ensure that they are core policies. This strategy is vital for Australia, which continues to experience an increase in many employees with diverse characteristics. Thus, workplaces should be free from any forms of harassment and discrimination, but encourage integration, recognition and appreciation of individual differences.

Reference List

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Bordeianu, O-M 2015, ‘The Role of Knowledge Management and Knowledge Management Strategies within Learning Organizations’, Ecoforum, vol. 4, no. 1(6), pp. 147-154.

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Cottrill, K, Lopez, P & Hoffman, C 2014, ‘How authentic leadership and inclusion benefit organizations’, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 275-292.

Daya, P 2014, ‘Diversity and inclusion in an emerging market context’, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 293-308.

Hayman, J 2010, ‘Flexible work schedules and employee well-being’, New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 76–87.

Hays-Thomas, R & Bendick, M 2013, ‘Professionalizing diversity and inclusion practice: Should voluntary standards be the chicken or the egg? Industrial & Organizational Psychology, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 193-205.

Ortlieb, R & Siebe, B 2014, The making of inclusion as structuration: empirical evidence of a multinational company’, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 235-248.

Qayyum, S, Ali, A & Saleem, S 2015, ‘Assessing the Influence of Knowledge Management on Learning Organization’, Information and Knowledge Management, vol. 3, no. 5, pp. 125-130.

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