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Monday, 13 September 2004 05:50

Australian employers don't trust teleworkers

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Advances in mobile technology, broadband communications and the internet over the past decade has made home-based teleworking an economically practical proposition as never before. However, the majority of Australian employers still refuse to buy into it because they don't trust their employees to work without someone looking over their shoulders and cracking the whip.

According to a survey commissioned by notebook computers vendor, Toshiba Information Systems Division Australia (Toshiba ISD), the mistrust of workers by managers is endemic in Australian organisations. The study, titled Mobility and Mistrust, conducted by independent researcher, Sweeney Research, investigated the attitudes of 600 Australians and New Zealanders  - both managers and employees - towards flexible working. Among the key findings were telling statistics, such as 50 per cent of Australian managers do not trust their employees to work away from the office and 75 per cent of workers think that their co-workers who work from home are not working at all. In a damning indictment on Australian working culture, the report found that mistrust and rivalry between co-workers regarding flexible working is rife, with those who work away from the office subject to criticism and corridor gossip from their colleagues. The report from the survey also postulates that the inflexible mindset of Australian managers with regard to allowing employees to work away from the office is in fact costing their companies money. According to the report, a separate study has found that for every $1 a company spends on flexible work or family benefits there is a return of $2 to $6 through reduced absenteeism, increased motivation and higher rates of retention.

Dr James Cowley, a business strategist and  independent academic advisor to the report, says that many Australian companies are still locked into a Victorian era mindset. "What we have is millions of people being moved every day into little boxes," says Dr Cowley. "Organising people's lives so that they can get to work on time in an era where we have emails is ludicrous. All it does is push up stress levels and reduce performance.  Managers struggle with not seeing their workers and they've got to get over it because, in an era where turnover rates are high, they need to offer satisfactory working conditions to attract and keep their knowledge workers."

Dr James Cowley, a business strategist and  independent academic advisor to the report, says that many Australian companies are still locked into a Victorian era mindset. "What we have is millions of people being moved every day into little boxes," says Dr Cowley. "Organising people's lives so that they can get to work on time in an era where we have emails is ludicrous. All it does is push up stress levels and reduce performance.  Managers struggle with not seeing their workers and they've got to get over it because, in an era where turnover rates are high, they need to offer satisfactory working conditions to attract and keep their knowledge workers."

According to Mark Whittard, general manager, Toshiba ISD,  the results of the survey indicate many organisations are risking their competitive advantage by not understanding the benefits associated with flexible working and by ignoring the demands of employees, who will soon be at a premium according to projections on the shrinking workforce. Whittard says Australian companies are well behind the curve compared with their North American and UK counterparts. "In the US, 28 per cent of the work force now work flexibly, while, unlike Australia, the Canadian and UK Governments have a clear policy on the issue," says Whiitard. "My firm belief is that it all comes down to the way Australian managers view their workers. They tend to judge them on attendance rather than performance."

Obviously, Toshiba, being a supplier to the mobile working market, has a vested interest in pushing this report. According to Whittard, however, the company is putting its money where its mouth is. "Toshiba ISD has 129 staff in Australia and in excess of 50 per cent of those work flexibly," he says. "Our next step is to set up a special interest group on flexible working and a number of organisations across Australia and New Zealand have expressed an interest in getting involved."

For further information on the full Mobility and Mistrust survey or to be involved in the Toshiba Special Interest Group contact Kristie O'Dwyer on 02 9887 8120 or kodwyer@toshiba-tap.com.


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Stan Beer

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Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 35 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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