Most managers complain about “silos” even though they often operate comfortably in one. Having an organisational structure that operates without narrow parameters of professional turf is very difficult and sustainable change takes time. Similarly many professions operate in silos and the safety profession is a good example. Rarely does it “play well with others”. A recent workplace relations survey report from the Australian law firm, Madgwicks, illustrates the silo of the professions and its impediment to change.
Most law firms that have occupational health and safety professionals sit the unit with the Workplace Relations portfolio, for good reasons mostly. Workplace Relations, or Industrial Relations in other jurisdictions, deals with the pay and conditions of workers and the negotiation of these issues with employers and business owners. “Pay” is mostly wages and the remuneration received for effort but “conditions’ is more inclusive with OHS a major, but often underplayed, component.
Madgwicks asked two significant questions:
“Currently which workplace relations issues are the most challenging for your business?” and
“Which workplace relations issues do you believe will be the most significant for your business?”
None of the responses (pictured below) to these questions included any occupational health and safety issues. There was no stress. Nothing on workloads or working hours. Nothing on workplace bullying.
A major reason for this disparity will be that, as Madgwicks says, the
“The purpose of the survey was to gauge the sentiment of our clients about the operation of Fair Work Australia.”
This survey is intended to identify issues associated with “conditions” but not with OHS, as OHS operates under separate legislation and separate regulators, but the results do OHS a great disservice by “silo-ing” OHS out of workplace relations. It is not Madgwicks’ fault in the big scheme of things because that big scheme is governmentally controlled and the government controls the regulatory silos.
As businesses grow, organisational silos develop and grow with them. Somewhere along that growth line, businesses get the impression that issues are managed better through specialisation. This is compounded by many business service providers promoting their speciality. There are very few “jacks of all trades” because business, understandably, only want to deal with the “best”, the specialists, but specialists often provide advice that is so narrow (so “silo-ed”) that it is effectively useless.
Businesses may need “safety jacks”, OHS professionals who have sufficient experience and knowledge to interpret the expert opinions and to suggest ways of applying the expertise to the specific businesses or workplaces. Business need interpreters, but this will only work over the long term if business embraces integration and smashes the silo structures.
This structural demolition will need managers to relinquish their egos, to acknowledge the negative impacts of the empires they have built over the last few decades, and then embrace a new future.
This demolition, similarly, needs applying to the “soft management sciences” in which OHS can be included, and to the professional associations representing those sciences. The following business disciplines must develop a coordinated strategy to assist prospective clients – Human Resources, Occupational Safety, Wellbeing advocates, Industrial Relations, Trade Unions, Mental Health, Occupational Medicine, Industrial Hygienists………
This is certainly the hard way to change but it seems that the best sustainable solutions are rarely the easiest or the ones that occur with the least disruption.
It would be a step in the right direction to include OHS when undertaking workplace relations surveys, even if the response data is not immediately useful. How different, and more interesting, Madgwicks survey would have been if the challenges and issues were not restricted to those administered under Fair Work Australia.