Coping with the Changing Work Environment

After reading this outline, you should be able to:

Think of the time taken to establish the agrarian revolution, followed by the industrial revolution - the technological and information revolutions are happening in a fraction of that time, and managers are often not aware of the changes taking place in the workforce as a result. As you will recall from my first page, I now run a computing club for seniors and often tell them that they would not have been in my classes 10 years ago - because computers were too difficult to use unless you had to, or were a geek [no offence meant to readers who were!]

They ask if 10 gigabytes of memory is sufficient for their simple needs - I tell them I am typing these notes on a 5 year old Mac that has half a gigabyte and it meets all my needs!

Managers have to realise that most of their workers will have an appreciation of what information technology can do, they will have a higher educational level than their parents, and they will have different expectations. As I have said elsewhere - do not make the mistake of assuming that your staff [and bosses?]have the same standards, morals and ethics as you do. The effective manager is the one who is aware - of problems before they arise, of staff needs, of different ways to do things, of the means to effective communication, and of the changing work environment.

Other outlines discuss such topics as motivation and job satisfaction, conflict resolution and so on. Here we will look at health and safety, accident prevention, role of unions, management trends, and the implications of all of these for effective managers.


Health and Safety

The reasons for providing a safe and healthy work environment have always been there, but not always observed in practice. Nine year old children used to be sent down the mines, and if a machinery worker lost an arm or a hand, the bosses simply replaced him or her. How many butchers and wood workers think a missing finger is a badge of office, even today?


A CORONER has "reluctantly" charged a junior electrician with manslaughter after ruling the law did not allow him to put the man's bosses on trial for the death of a teenage apprentice in an horrific cherry-picker accident.

In what is believed to be a legal first in Queensland, Coroner Trevor Black in Brisbane yesterday found there was enough evidence to put John Michael Purcell, 24, on trial for the "unlawful killing" of an apprentice under his supervision. But Mr Black said he could not press similar charges against the apprentice's employer, AJC Electrical Services Pty Ltd, "despite any conclusions or observations as to moral responsibility".

The inquest was told Timothy Mark Martin, 17, died from third-degree burns in September 1999, nearly a month after he lifted himself into power lines with a cherry picker while working in Cairns. The inquest heard at the time of the accident Martin had been working for two weeks under the supervision of Purcell, who completed his apprenticeship four months earlier.

The inquest heard that while repairing an 11.4m sign outside a KFC restaurant in the Cairns suburb of Smithfield, the structure of the footpath forced Martin and Purcell to set up a cherrypicker directly underneath three 22,000 volt power lines. Purcell told the inquest he found a way for the machine's basket to be raised up to the sign without touching the power lines, and watched Martin safely lift himself up and down a number of times.

But the inquest heard after a meal break, Purcell took his eyes off Martin and the apprentice lifted himself too close to the power lines. When the electricity jumped to the cherry-picker, Martin was caught in a ball of flame.

Mr Black said he accepted that Purcell had warned Martin of the dangers, but ruled the electrician had to be charged with manslaughter for letting the apprentice use the machine unsupervised.

AJC Electrical Service directors John and Greg Caulfield pleaded guilty last year to breaching workplace health and safety laws and were fined $45,000. The inquest heard the Caulfields admitted they had contributed to Martin's death by giving him permission to use cherry-pickers even though he did not hold a licence.

[Brisbane Courier Mail, 20th June 2001]

Read my pages on delegation - responsibility and accountability. Note that the immediate supervisor is held accountable, regardless of the court's attitude to his supervisors.


The reasons for health and safety provisions are:

Where are your priorities - towards production, or staff protection? Have a look at the outline on leadership.

Legal requirements are that employers to provide:

Employees have a role to play and must not:



Employers are responsible for the provision of:

Supervisor and individuals for:


How are 5 functions of management applicable ? Where do you draw the line? If the bosses want a fast turnaround, higher production levels etc etc, do you turn a Nelsonian blind eye - to all safety regulations, to some of them, to some at some times ........ Are you prepared to do what's right at the possible expense of your job? Could you live with yourself if one of your staff died or was seriously injured as a result of your blind eye? Could you afford to lose your house, car, pension etc etc if you were sued?

Workplace health and safety is akin to discipline in the workforce - once upon a time, you could get away with all sorts of things - can you now? I suggest you think about being true to you - set a standard and stick to it - even if it means finding another job. Not all bosses are unethical and living with yourself may mean more than money?


Accident Prevention


physical - faulty machinery, lack of guards etc

human - unsafe or inappropriate behaviour

Culpability? Whose responsibility ? What can they do ? All the first section is relevant and you have to find your own answers.



Read your local papers and see how many lawyers are advertising that if you have had an accident at work, they will represent you - probably on a no win, no fee basis - and your staff will be reading the same adverts. We are a growing litigious society. However, when I last did a workplace health and safety course [WH&S], I was told that your level of guilt will depend on how the judge interprets what a reasonable person would have done - was the one who had the accident doing what a reasonable person could be expected to do, and was the person responsible for the site of the accident doing all that a reasonable person could be expected to do? In the latter case, if you have done all the things listed above, then you should be safe.

[The definition of a reasonable person is up to the judge to decide - but assume it will be someone more perfect than you will ever be!]

How do the immediate supervisor and the directors in the electrical case fit all these criteria? If you were the judge - ???]


Changing Role of Unions



Local clubs and Friendly Societies - Britain c1700

essentially social - tried to regulate pay & conditions


Acts of Parliament 1799 &1800 forbade unions [French Revolution scare]

Repealed 1824

Tolpuddle Martyrs - look them up!

Trade Union Act 1871

led to national unions and

collective bargaining

In Australia >1880 - craft unions 48 hr week

1880s - industrial unions compulsory unionism

1904 - Conciliation & Arbitration Act

l920s - 44 hr week

1940s - growth of white collar unions 40 hr week

1970s - social issues and conditions of service

1990s - enterprise bargaining

What is the story in your country in as many lines?


Current Situation

Declining numbers of members and unions?

Growth of a few mega-unions as mergers take place

Changing role as the original causes are achieved?
Pay and conditions
Now health and safety,
education & training,
recreation facilities,

facilities for minorities, eg, working mothers

Implications of contracts

People were employed for life - promotion in dead men's shoes etc

Growth in many areas now of individual contracts - easier to get rid of people? Easier for people to transfer services?

Growth of casual and part-time workers -

now sometimes entitled in Australia to many of the conditions formerly only for full time workers.

Working from home - are conditions covered?


Implications for Supervisors

Can diminish power to discipline, transfer etc [may have to refer to personnel or industrial relations officer]

Can add to communication difficulties - work with shop steward or other representative, who is in staff [not line] relationship [see other workshops eg, leadership]




Work Ethics

Victorian Work Ethic

White Anglo Saxon Protestant


Japanese Work Ethic

Quality Circles



Business Ethics

Individual Supervisors
Individual morals v society morals

Training, education, experience

Effect on planning decisions, problem solving etc


Laws - eg illegal advertising

Government regulations - eg unsafe products

Industry and company codes, standards

Social pressure groups

Conflict - individual v organisation

How influential? How modified/abused?

Most influential -
personal code

superiors' actions

formal company policy

Barriers to exposing unethical practice

Chain of command - cannot go beyond superior

Group membership - dobbing in

Ambiguity - unclear personal and company codes


Clear personal codes by supervisors and management

Clear company policies and discipline

Mechanism for reporting malpractice - whistle blowers


Future Managers

Changes in Workforce

Education - year 12, tertiary study

Structure - age, women, minorities


Environmental factors - economic and government

Impact on Managers

Fewer managers, fewer levels of management



flatter management

more education needed, leading to greater flexibility, versatility, courage

Managers as problem seekers and solvers, not routine administrators

must have information and team building skills.

Many managers will go into or be generalists

own businesses


running small businesses