23/10/2007 - 22:00

Sustainability is also a staff issue

23/10/2007 - 22:00

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The word ‘sustainability’, which has entered the business lexicon in recent years, is normally applied in the context of environmental management.

The word ‘sustainability’, which has entered the business lexicon in recent years, is normally applied in the context of environmental management.

It has gone from being a flaky, left-of-centre concept that many business people treated dismissively, to a core principle of business management.

It is widely accepted that business needs to act in an environmentally and culturally responsible manner, though exactly what that means in practice remains opens to debate.

But there’s another dimension to sustainability that might need greater focus – managing staffing and workloads.

Western Australia has long been characterised by its boom-bust cycles, which meant people traditionally worked very hard when the boom was on, because they knew it wouldn’t last.

The current boom is different. It has already been much stronger and lasted far longer than generally expected, and there is a strong consensus that China’s surging economy will underpin continued rapid expansion in WA for many years to come.

The bullish outlook has been reflected in a range of business surveys, including the latest quarterly survey of 200 chief executives by networking and development group The Executive Connection.

It found that Australian chief executives are optimistic about the future, and WA chief executives more so. In WA, 88 per cent of chief executives expect revenue will increase in the next 12 months, compared with 76 per cent nationally.

Similarly, 68 per cent of WA chief executives expect higher profits in the next 12 months, compared with 63 per cent nationally.

These are extraordinary results, considering the profitable growth that has already been achieved.

WA’s rapid expansion has created many challenges, with costs rising and shortages of skilled labour emerging.

Many businesses have responded by pushing their staff harder. Some people thrive on this opportunity, accelerating their career and their earnings growth, but it doesn’t work for everyone, especially when the busy period seems to last forever.

The TEC survey found that managing heavy workloads was the biggest challenge in workplaces; this was a far more prevalent issue in WA than most other states.

Nearly two thirds of chief executives said stress had increased in their workplaces during the past 12 months, with workload and understaffing cited as the main reasons.

Lack of leadership and technology problems were also major concerns.

Ten per cent of chief executives said technology, which is meant to make life easier, was the greatest cause of stress in the workplace.

Business people in WA often remark on the extraordinary growth they are enjoying, but in the same breath wish they could have a break from the intense work pressures they are under.

The TEC survey found that chief executives increasingly are allowing their staff to accrue four weeks or more of annual leave. That is a short-term fix to the labour shortage but is not a long-term solution.

Employers must manage work-place pressures to ensure that staff efficiency and productivity is sustainable.

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