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Turning legislative changes into a competitive business advantage

Recent changes to workplace law offer a unique chance for businesses to gain some momentum and turn it into a business advantage, if they are swift and strategic.

user iconKace O'Neill 11 March 2024 Corporate Counsel
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Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Lawyers Weekly’s sister brand, HR Leader.

The importance of leaders

We recently spoke to Dr Cecelia Herbert, principal behavioural psychologist at Qualtrics, to discuss how HR and business leaders can capitalise on recent legislative changes that are affecting the workplace.


“These legislative changes didn’t just suddenly appear. They are part of a much broader and much longer shifts that are continuously happening in HR and with businesses in Australia and abroad,” Herbert said.

“[Through these changes] we heard overwhelmingly from HR leaders that they were getting more and more involved in the strategic decision making.”

The progression of this legislation has resulted in HR leaders needing to adapt to new ways of working. They’ve begun to take a front-row seat in helping implement strategies within organisations.

“It’s actually an opportunity for [HR leaders] to have these strategic conversations with our business leaders, and say, ‘What do we want to do with this and how can we use this as a chance to not only be compliant but move towards actually building this as our area of strength?’” Herbert said.

“We can then increase our competitive advantage, particularly with a lot of change that’s set to come around workforce disruption, disruptive AI, and changing expectations that people have.”

HR leaders planning and really having a say in the decision making is crucial for businesses to gain traction and momentum from these legislation changes. However, there is an onus that HR leaders must put on themselves to be expressive in these meetings with higher-ups and not fall into the trap of being overly compliant.

“Compliance is absolutely critical, and it’s a minimum standard. But if you’re in a room and those executives are talking to you, this is that chance to actually build it into a far stronger impetus for the organisation,” Herbert said.

“[It’s the opportunity to] create a strong, strategic function that is aligned, very closely aligned, with your business growth and your business strategy overall.”

Gathering all the data

These legislative changes can be met with forms of non-compliance from business leaders unwilling to accept the changing of the times. An obvious example of this would be the hybrid-working dialogue, which has a number of business leaders up in arms, demanding employees spend more time at the office.

In this case, data plays a vital role, and understanding the full scope of the evidence rather than becoming fixated on a singular piece is key to creating a workplace that appeases both the employer and employee.

“Get the evidence to help kind of unpack it so that you’re able to fully understand the business challenge or opportunity that’s in front of you and align resources and focus your attention on the things that matter most to helping the business achieve its outcome,” Herbert said.

“Unfortunately, what we’re seeing is sometimes reactive or taking one piece of evidence without the context of other pieces of evidence or research and maybe not making the best decisions because we’re not following the data, and truly, a lot of them don’t have the data. This is where employee experience and management come in as a strategic tool.”

Rather than getting fixated on singular pieces of data, leaders can learn from their employees and gain an understanding of the working conditions that work for them and their productivity. It’s not a “one-size-fits-all” strategy, which is why leaders must put in the work to learn about their employees.

“It’s actually having access to the information that you need to make smooth and informed decisions quickly. This is the experience of understanding your employees and what they need to do their best work,” Herbert said.

Although sometimes these decisions must be made in quick succession, sloppiness is unacceptable. Leaders must ensure that their decisions regarding their employees achieve optimal business outcomes.

“How we go about making those decisions needs to have that foundation of good business intelligence. And I think that’s just missing, and a lot of leaders don’t have it,” Herbert said.

“So, they’re making decisions without it, and they’re not able to even necessarily test and see the impact of those decisions either to see whether or not they’re iterating and moving towards better outcomes, by tracking the data and the impact to measure how effective it’s been.”

Legislative changes need swift action and adaptation; however, the answer isn’t a broad policy that covers the organisation as a whole. Instead, it’s taking an approach of listening to your employees and gathering an understanding of the individual. This seems like a large-scale task for business leaders, which once again shows the importance of HR to help assist them through this process.

“It really depends on those people, the organisation, the type of work that they do, and what’s reasonable to help get the best [outcome]. And it’s going to be different across different teams, and it’s going to be different across different organisations.”

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