I have an employee who shows a pattern of calling in sick directly before or after his normal days off. I feel very strongly that he is being dishonest, but he knows exactly how to 'work the system'.

There may be several reasons for this employee working the system.

They could range from just lacking motivation to go to work, a mental health issue undiscovered, lack of engagement with their role, feeling lonely, poor understanding about the imperative of loyalty to one’s employer and maybe other priorities that are deemed more important than going to work.

I agree, from your perception, he is ‘working the system’ and you feel that he is taking advantage of you.

Nevertheless, as his employer, my advice would be for you to arrange a time to discover what is the background to his behaviour, noting your observations about the time taken off from attending to his responsibilities at work.

This should initially be a conversation of discovery. Furthermore, it will be important for you to have the facts that demonstrate the time taken off, patterns of time taken, responsibilities at work that have been neglected or forgone and impact that he has left with his colleagues.

More formally, you might want to include in this encounter or a subsequent one, a performance review against his previously agreed objectives. Clearly, is he delivering on his responsibilities or not! 

In short, you need to understand why he is taking time, agree to changes in behaviour and set a new course of expectations. If this is not possible then you may need to look to exit him.

A lot of workplace wellbeing programs include fitness programs and gym memberships. What are some other solutions we can add to make ours stand out and improve the wellbeing of our employees?

It is true that when we think of wellbeing, we immediately lurch towards physical wellbeing as the source of achieving high levels of wellbeing. However research is increasingly showing that wellbeing is much more than just physical wellbeing.

77% of Australian workers said that ‘healthiness’ was a key feature of wellbeing, and 73% included ‘happiness’ in their expectations. From this response, we can see that physical programs are not viewed as paramount.

I have noted in the past, that for larger companies, it is easy to provide gym membership and fruit boxes and then say, ‘we are really good at wellbeing around here’. First and foremost, wellbeing starts with mental health, a strong sense of purpose and meaning along with relationships at work that are engaging and fulfilling. 

Some solutions that you might like to consider that will add high value to your employees and their wellbeing are:

  • Recognise poor or weak relationships that do not enhance a healthy mental state such as bullying, and address this.
  • Often research has found leaving your desk for lunch increases wellbeing as workers get up and walk about or asks a colleague to join you for lunch.
  • Set the expectation that it is better to speak with someone in the office than email them.
  • If you are serious about standing out, try turning off the office server at 6:00 on Friday and on again on Monday morning. This is being trialled in Scandinavia countries and employees are raving about it as they no longer feel like they are always ‘on call’ A very positive work/life balance outcome.
  • Put a good night’s sleep on your agenda, as a key indicator for a healthy workplace. Our research is clear, that high quality sleeping patterns lead to more productive and happier employees. It is no longer a badge of honour to sleep few hours.

Our research also indicated that 85% of employees believe employers should create an environment that proactively addresses stress at work. How are you proactively minimising stress at work?

Interesting, one company has engaged a choir leader to get employees together over lunch and sing which has led to amazing results.

In conclusion, while massage programs or nutritionists visiting the workplace are fads that have gripped some workplaces, what we know works every time is business leaders taking the time to recognise and value employees first. This involves giving them a clear sense of how they fit into the bigger story at work and provide them with realistic work expectations that encourages a healthy work/life balance. You will see a positive impact in employee retention and develop a healthier, productive workplace culture.  

As a small not-for-profit our resources are limited and we struggle to raise funds which can impact team morale. I am after a way to consistently remind staff of their positive impact.

The ‘not-for-profit’ or ‘for purpose’ sector overall is undergoing significant changes due to government regulations, and increased competition from for-profit organisations and other charities. In fact, there are currently 55, 000 registered charities in Australia and this number is growing.

Having acknowledged this backdrop, there are some positive solutions that are worth considering.

Reventure’s research indicates there is a growing awareness that ‘purpose and meaning’ in an organisation makes a significant difference in driving more engaged staff. This is particularly evident in charities.

It is vital that staff are reminded where they fit into the ‘bigger picture’. What goal are your employees working towards? What difference are they making? As author Simon Sinek reminds us we need to be constantly addressing the ‘why’.

Storytelling of changed lives or situations can be a constant reminder that grounds your organisation and employee actions.

A practical solution is to hold lunches for employees to meet those who benefit from the organisation – to show tangible value and impact. Reventure’s research for CEO Insights reinforces the need for a business leader to be the storyteller.

Another useful approach is to gather stories demonstrating the impact your organisation has and publish them. This will act as a reinforcement for employees that they are a part of driving change. This will also drive an authentic and purpose-driven culture that employees can resonate with day-to-day.

Purpose and meaning for staff can never be assumed. It is a constant journey of discovery and fulfilment.

How do you stop a people vs technology mindset in the workplace? We aim to introduce efficient systems to reduce paperwork but don't want workers to be nervous that this will lead to redundancies.

Technology in all its forms is a tool of business. Since the mid-90s the workplace has been revolutionised by technology with the internet being the major driver of this revolution. In the past decade, the use of technology is the ‘new normal’, commanding our waking hours and to be ‘always on call’. As one CEO said during our research for CEO Insights, the current workplace ‘is relentless, 24/7/365’.

I can recall when computers were provided to all my staff there was a mindset that the use of printers and paper would be redundant, which was not the case. Over time, more efficient systems have been introduced into the workplace and workers have learnt to adapt. Our research shows workers today are highly adaptable to technology shifts and demands but it does bring its own challenges with over half of workers feeling technology-related stress (2016 Snapshot of the Australian Workplace).

Your question raises a broader response about how resilient and adaptable workers are to the introduction of new systems. It must be acknowledged that the impact of new technology on a workplace won’t come as a shock, in fact our research shows 40% of workers see the shift to new technology as having a significant impact on the way they work (2016 Snapshot of the Australian Workplace). 

To address and calm the mindset of workers requires leadership that recognises workplace culture is critical to building resilience and adaptability as well as employee engagement.

Communicating why this new form of technology is being used and how it will actually benefit workers, such as reducing time or workload, will appease any misconceptions that technology will replace them.

What are the benefits of choosing your own hours? I am thinking of having core hours between 11am and 3pm and let my team choose the rest. However, I am concerned it will look unreliable to clients.

Working flexible hours has become the new ‘normal’ as it respects the fact that employees have other roles and responsibilities outside of work.

Accepting this detail, the question is how to ensure that within a small team there is ongoing trust, valued communication and engagement so that your organisation can continue delivering high quality client service utilising flexible hours. 

Staff working core hours together is a great idea as face-to-face communication is paramount and if you use technology effectively, clients will be able to contact workers wherever their location.

Drawing on my experience with other workplaces you have used this practice, success is dependent on establishing protocols that set-in place expectations that everyone can agree. This includes expectations around answering or returning client calls within agreed time frames, proactively contacting clients to ensure deliverables are being attended to, and agreed check-ins with the office to update developments. Often, the companies successful at achieving high quality communication are those that have a combination of informal and formal arrangements.

These expectations also ensure that workers are not feeling technology-stress – 46% of Australian workers feel that they have to be “always on” and unable to completely shut off from work.

Initially, this may seem a little onerous as your staff get used to the new arrangements. These expectations will need to be reviewed from time to time to ensure you and your staff are happy with what has been put into place.

Flexible working hours has the potential to provide new opportunities to enhance productivity and value for both staff and employers. The success is to find the balance for all.

There are many changes occurring in tertiary education. How can I best communicate change to a whole faculty? Normally we use emails, but the instability that change creates has made me reconsider.

Emails are the easy way to communicate, but they are limited when it comes to making sustainable changes to behaviour.

Effective communication during times of change requires;

1.       a culture that recognises that change impacts everyone,

2.       a readiness to change and

3.       a communication strategy that everyone buys into.

Make sure the leader or faculty head is highly involved and visible. They must clearly communicate and understand the reason for the change. Above all, they must be ready to answer employees when they ask, “What does this mean for me?”

A point of importance is that communication is largely nonverbal. Start with setting up a time to meet together; truly effective communication happens face-to-face, when people can see and hear a message and respond with qualifying questions.

Emails can be used to follow up the face to face encounter, but are not the best channel to update colleagues. New technologies such as ZOOM, Go to Meetings and Skype are alternatives that address the need to see and hear messages firsthand. They can be useful when it is impossible to get your team together in the same room, however it is not ideal.

The tertiary education sector is not alone when it comes to change and there can be pressure to resort to emails for the sake of time efficiency, especially since everyone always seems to be “on call” and expected to “do more with less”.

It is important to remember that change matters – even small changes in organisations can affect people in real, everyday ways. Make sure how you communicate reflects the fact you care about what happens to your team.

I find that technology such as receiving work emails on my phone prevent me from maintaining a work/life balance. What are some strategies to overcome this?

There are several strategies to address this question.

A practical solution is to arrange your emails to be sent to another device other than your phone. This ensures that outside of work hours you are not left with the feeling of ‘always being on’ – a feeling that 46% of Australians say they have because of technology (2016 Snapshot of the Australian Workplace).

If this is not possible then the challenge for you is to be disciplined and avoid the ‘need to know’ syndrome by avoid downloading the full email between say 6:00 PM and 6:00 AM. This may require a conversation with your manager about realistic expectations. 

A more extreme measure to achieve work/life harmony is to leave your phone with another person or at the door when you get home.

The greatest challenge is to recognise ‘what’ and ‘who’ are ‘really’ important. If you can answer this question then the work/life balance question is easier to address.

What value is there in promoting physical fitness at work?

A great deal of research has been undertaken on the benefits of being physically active, with evidence suggesting it aids concentration, assists in managing depression, and is a positive mood enhancer.

While work should primarily focus on ensuring workers feel valued, are productive and driven by a purpose, there are many organisational benefits to promoting fitness at work - workers will feel better and it can lead to a collaborative culture.

Promoting fitness doesn’t necessarily mean joining a gym but implementing a few simple measures:  

  • Australians generally work longer hours than most western countries, most of which is done sitting down. Workers can opt undertake a ‘walking meeting’ or even a stand up meeting.
  • If you need to speak with someone in your building, avoid the temptation to email them; get up and speak with them directly.
  • Workers can be encouraged to find a colleague who shares their level of physical activity and they can agree to motivate each other to be active.
  • Assist in promoting different forms of travel to work such as having a bike rack.
  • Walk down stairs rather that take the lift.

So yes, being physically active is good for the organisation too.  The greatest challenge is to start!

I have recently joined a small workplace that is divided and frankly toxic. Are there some basic steps to address this so we have a positive culture as we keep expanding?


As this workplace is for a small business that is aiming to grow, now is an excellent time to make sure the culture is healthy as the business expands. There are four key principles that will build an effective and sustainable culture and that is to foster healthy relationships within the workplace - engagement, development, inclusion and life enhancement. While Reventure has explored this in greater detail in our report Renewing Australian Workplaces, a few practical measures that apply to small business and your issue include:

  • The organisation leaders should lead the way by communicating honestly about their own abilities, gaps and past mistakes to create a culture of transparency and an culture of trust;
  • Make sure each employee understands and appreciates the purpose of the organisation – this is beyond output but rather the narrative that drives the organisation and its workers. It’s the ‘why’ we are here!
  • Regular strategic meetings will create a much-needed platform in your workplace to articulate how workers are adding to the organisation, affirming workers on their contribution not the longevity of their employment.

Give employees the chance to prepare for creative and collaborative interactions – allow them time to develop innovative approaches and ideas unhindered. The most successful organisations are those that foster trust through effective and valued relationships.

Do you think four-day work weeks are the solution to many workplaces challenges we face in the future?


This is a topic that has received much debate recently in the media and in HR circles. On face value, a four-day work week seems like the answer to Australia’s work-life balance struggle, but in practice it is more a passing fad than a sustainable solution. We need to ask the question why do we want four day work weeks? This essentially is driven by several competing forces, namely the changing way we want to work given societal and generational changes, the move to part-time and casual jobs and businesses operating more and more on projects and strategic outcomes.

Practically speaking, four day work weeks would have a substantial economic impact for Australian employees to earn lower incomes and there is a concern that such an initiative would lead to misguided perceptions around job insecurity.

A four-day work week may allow workers another day for family and “living”, but it does nothing to address the bigger issues occurring when workers are at work. 

While the debate around the four-day work week signals Australia is at least beginning to acknowledge the important role workplace wellbeing plays, it does not achieve genuine change. In order to achieve this, we need to take a holistic approach to our workplaces to improve outcomes for workers, management and the organisation.

Employers need to recognise that this way of working requires a more flexible way of operating with employees coming and going. They will need to take a closer look at the culture and relationships within workplaces, which are closely linked to inclusion, development, engagement and life enhancement – four principles that are essential to maintain a healthy workplace.

I am struggling to show how everyone’s role interrelates with each other so the environment is based on shared understanding and purpose.

Full Question:

I am struggling to show how everyone’s role interrelates with each other so the environment is based on shared understanding and purpose. We have tried team meetings but they are often too big and do not show the contribution of individual roles. I would appreciate any suggestions.


You have presented a very interesting challenge that many large organisations struggle with – how to build a culture of purpose and meaning in a workplace with so many different roles and personalities. While I see the benefits in demonstrating how roles interrelate, I would like to suggest a more innovative approach of outlining how goals interconnect. Instead of sharing the KPIs and direct reports to an employee, try outlining a list of end goals and how these goals interconnect and relate to the goals of other employees. This provides strategic perspective and allows an employee to contextualise their work.

The other part of your question also delves into the challenges around expecting meetings to communicate and achieve effective outcomes. The current thinking is that effective meetings should be short, sharp and driven again by outcomes. Undertaking meetings standing up are also becoming more popular and are viewed as more creative, efficient and respectful that time is critical.