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‘Substantial changes and genuine leaps’ must be made to support the changing workforce

As a new workforce demands more than ever before, flexible working has shifted the culture dial, and organisations are having to place adaptability higher on their priority list, according to this panel discussion.

user iconLauren Croft 19 September 2022 Big Law
‘Substantial changes and genuine leaps’ must be made to support the changing workforce
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As part of the 2022 Virtual Governance Institute National Conference, BHP chief people officer Jad Vodopija and non-executive director of Westpac Banking Corporation and Scentre Group Margie Seale spoke about the changing aspirations and ambitions of the new workforce.

The fireside discussion: How do we lead this new and evolving workforce was moderated by Professor Michael Adams, head of law at the University of New England.

“Very quickly, we look at our role, and our flexibility becomes an inherent part of what we can do. In fact, it goes as far as becoming an expectation,” he said.  


“However, there may be a whole range of workers critical to your business who can’t have that flexibility.”

In addition to flexibility, Ms Vodopija said that digital automation is fundamentally changing job design.

“We’re moving from a place of reliance on mechanical skills to analytical. Digitalisation and atomisation are fundamentally changing job design.  

“From an industry perspective and through a lens of the net zero transition, we are likely to see more labour market disruption in the last 10 years than we have over the course of the last 100 years. That is all happening against the backdrop of an increasingly dynamic and complex world,” she said.

“There are global themes playing out; we continue to feel a disruption and uncertainty in a post-pandemic world, through to the Ukraine crisis; there’s supply chain issues that continue to be exacerbated; inflationary pressures are being felt both at an individual level and business level; there’s growing momentum around decarbonisation that is fundamentally changing everything we do.”

Ms Vodopija currently invests a lot of her time thinking about what the needs of her business are — but also what strategy and skills are required for those needs moving forward.

“What is it that we need to be doing now as an organisation to ensure that we’re ready? So, we’re leaning into those challenges, understanding the complex tapestry of all the moving pieces that are happening around us, both here and around the world.

“So as part of that strategic workforce planning is understanding that at a granular level and a macro level, whether or not that be national or international, given the labour market fluctuation that we’re having, and the different expectations of different labour pools,” she explained.

“[BP are continuing] to invest in technology, because that is a big part of the way our jobs are changing, but also, importantly, bringing the communities along that journey as well, that will also experience this change and investing in their ongoing training and development.”

It is also important to delve into how the nature of work may have changed for frontline employees — who can’t necessarily have as much flexibility in their roles.

“The nature of work has changed, but I think about it in a very broad way. It’s not just hybrid working in the way that many of us will have experienced a shift; but how does flexibility manifest in terms of a frontline workforce? Roster changes, the location of work, how it is that they are embracing technology to change what the nature of work looks like and feels like for that cohort of our employees,” Ms Vodopija added.

“So, thinking really laterally in terms of flexibility, because it enables our broader base of individuals to come and join your organisation that you never would’ve anticipated previously. And part of that is the inclusion and diversity — how are you cultivating a culture where there is a genuine sense of belonging for everyone who comes and walks through your gates? For us, a good example of that was a decision that was taken in 2016 to fundamentally change the game in terms of gender diversity in the mining industry — we made a decision to achieve gender diversity by 2025.”

In fact, BP only had 17 per cent females at the time, and now they have over 32 per cent.

“As part of this transition to the new and evolving workforce, you need to make substantial changes and genuine leaps in order to then meet the future,” Ms Vodopija said.  

From a non-executive perspective, Ms Seale said that ways of working were already changing pre-COVID — and “we’ve really just seen an acceleration”.

“When I think about the information now available for people, the data, the flexibility, we’ve seen new technology, we’ve seen new structures in workforces whether it be agile; we see flatter structures; we see leadership changes … but despite all that, I do think that people still want the same things they always wanted from their work,” she said.

“They want interesting work, good processes, information and tools. They want to work with people they like and respect. They want a good relationship with their manager, who deliberately attends to their learning and development and progress in the organisation. And I think that is one of the major things that has come out of the last few years: how is a manager managing all that during periods when all of a sudden, more people have gone flexible and distant than they were before.”

There are also a number of things Ms Seale looks for in organisations from a director’s perspective, too.

“The board mentality now of a good director is very much of an open one and a learning one and one that anticipates change. You really have to sit and think about what things look like — not just from a commercial perspective but from a people perspective, from a whole company perspective in five, 10 years, 15 years. And not just what the company looks like; what the world looks like,” she said.  

“Time spent as a board learning and being curious, and doing a range of scenario planning is really critical. I worry about losing great talent, I think about the risk of the culture not gelling as hybrid ways of working come about, I think about management skills and capability and particularly about the health around the stress of that. These aren’t particularly new things; it’s just that it is a slightly more complicated world.”

Similarly, there have been a number of changes in employee expectations, added Ms Vodopija.

“In terms of the changing nature of employee expectations, they want more from organisations — and they should expect more from organisations,” she said.

“It goes to the heart of [things like] ongoing skills and development, but also life skills, in terms of how you navigate the complexities of a workplace that are far different than they were when I started 25 years ago, let alone five or 10 years ago. But their expectations of the role of an organisation and the role of an organisation in society is perhaps the biggest change I’ve seen over the course of the last decade.”

Candidates, Ms Seale added, are also asking more of the organisations they are considering — both in terms of hybrid working as well as how the organisation is contributing to environmental, social and governance (ESG) and social and community issues.

“The successful organisations I see allow people to bring their whole selves to work and what I’m also hearing from my HR teams is that the kinds of questions people are asking now before they accept a role are very different from the kinds of questions they used to ask,” she said.

“There are questions about purpose; there are questions about flexibility. Flexibility is … if you don’t have it, it’s a problem. I think also what the last couple [of] years have brought us is that people used to fit their life around their work — and working in a hybrid way allows them to fit their work into their life much more easily. And I think that has become very obvious to people, and it’s not something they want to give up.”

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