Apr 2021 – ‘The most unsafe workplace’ – how parliament is a lesson for us all

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It will not come as a surprise that I have been watching with growing disgust the revelations about the disgraceful workplace culture in our federal parliament.

Having worked in the Canberra bubble — and having been subjected to behaviour unacceptable in a modern workplace — the revelations from parliament strike me as problematic on a number of levels.

The sexism and misogyny in Australian politics is rightly being called out by an increasing number of people. Sharing those stories is a critical step on the path to change.

“It is the most unsafe workplace in the country,” former parliamentarian Julia Banks told the NYT this month, escalating our national shame to the world stage. But the cultural problems in parliament are not just a concern to the people who work there — they concern the future of the entire nation.

At Great Place to Work®, we have 30 years of research from the world’s best organisations showing that the factors that create a great and safe workplace not only benefit the employees, but that they also deliver clearly better outcomes for shareholders, customers and the wider community.

Unsafe workplaces mean lower productivity, poorer ideas, and defensive and insular behaviours. They stifle innovation and reduce customer satisfaction. They lift costs and limit success.

We don’t accept this from the private sector so why should we accept it from our parliament?

Here are some of the things we know:

Psychological safety is a critical predictor of organisational success. Workplaces that nurture a culture where people can deal directly with interpersonal issues and decision-making issues are proven to be more successful. In the private sector, this manifests in higher profitability and better shareholder returns. In the public sector, psychologically safe workplaces enable better teamwork, better ideas and higher levels of innovation.

High trust cultures make for better customer outcomes. Our research shows a strong connection between a high-trust culture and operational success. This success includes customer satisfaction, which is something we should all demand of our government. At Great Place to Work, we repeatedly advise leaders who care about the well-being of their organisation to make a priority of building a high-trust culture. A high trust workplace is one where people believe their employer is competent, communicative and honest and that they are being treated with respect as people in a workplace that is fundamentally fair.

Benchmarking and measuring culture are vital. Values are not what is written on the wall or espoused by the leaders, but what the employees actually experience in their day-to-day lives. There is no way an organisation as large as parliament house can truly understand its workplace culture and make genuine lasting change without detailed analysis of its workplace culture that provides actionable insights that are tracked over time and benchmarked against the best workplaces in the world.

How many of these principles are being applied effectively in Parliament House?

Our national parliament is where we want the best people working together in the best environment to generate and execute the best ideas.

How much better would it be for Australia if we could set our own parliament on course to be a Great Place to Work For All?