Work TherapyCredit:John Shakespeare
It sounds like the organisation you work for has asked everyone to forfeit work (and pay) for a brief period in the hope that it will allow management to avoid forcing anyone to forfeit work indefinitely.
Of course, there are all sorts of qualifications I could put on this statement (and I don’t know all the specific details of your case) but on the whole I think this for-the-greater-good approach is better than many of the other options available. As you say, though, the execution of this scheme seems questionable at best.
Although I don’t know if strict blanket rules ever really work in any complex workplace − and I don’t think an “everyone must do this, no exceptions” dictate would have been sensible − what you’ve described sounds more haphazard than pliable.
I asked Sarah McCann-Bartlett, the chief executive officer of the Australian HR Institute, how situations such as this one should be handled. She told me that many organisations need to make reductions to staffing costs during times like these, but they shouldn’t rely on “volunteers to put their hand up”.
“In taking a co-ordinated approach, the organisation needs to consider what is fair and within the law, and the plan needs to be transparent. Simply relying on a few volunteers to, for example, take a pay cut or reduce hours will probably not meet the cost reduction target, and will almost certainly not meet standards of equity.
“As part of a co-ordinated plan, levers that can be exercised include permanent reductions in head count such as by redundancies, temporary reductions caused by impact of government directives such as stand-downs, and directions to take paid annual leave to reduce leave balances in line with company policy.”
Ms McCann-Bartlett said other initiatives might include choosing not to replace vacancies and making sabbaticals available to employees as either paid or unpaid leave opportunities.
Then there’s the legal element to consider, which in turn may bring up the question of whether decisions like this should be made democratically or by management.
“Some awards and enterprise agreements provide for employees to vote for an across-the board reduction in hours or salary,” Ms McCann-Bartlett said.
So there are many options, and the best one will no doubt depend on the circumstances an organisation finds itself in. But Ms McCann-Bartlett said one constant is that good communication is important, which is certainly pertinent to your situation.
“In addition to considering the employment levers, the messaging also needs to be consistent and delivered sensitively.”
Send your work question to Work Therapy: firstname.lastname@example.org