Occupational safety advice and incident investigations are peppered with the need to have an improved workplace culture. In some ways, workplace culture is another, and broader, way of saying of “system of work”, a concept that has existed in Australian OHS laws for a long time but never received the prominence of clarity it deserved. But how does one develop an improved workplace culture and system of work? Performance Management seems to be one option.
Performance management is well established in the human resources (HR) discipline but the OHS implications are just being acknowledged in the safety discipline. The concept has been mentioned several times in the public hearings of Australia’s inquiry into workplace bullying as a positive and potential negative.
According to Associate Professor Robin Kramar (now Professor of Human Resource Management at the Australian Catholic University) of in the 2004/2005 edition of CCH’s Australian Master Human Resources Guide, performance management is
“..a way of encouraging behaviour that supports organisational objectives.” (page 19)
This is particularly relevant to the management and removal of psychosocial hazards that safety professionals are increasingly being called on to address or to assist with.
Kramar also says:
“All people that do work of organisations have a psychological contract with their employer. A psychological contract refers to the implicit expectations, obligations and promises that the individual and the organisation have of each other; what they expect to provide and expect to receive.” (page 18)
This clearly relates to the expectation of a safe working environment and the pledge by employers to not harm anyone.
Performance management is a tool for good but may also cause harm if misused. This misuse was evident in many of the personal impact statements at the workplace bullying public hearings in Melbourne last week but has also appeared in the Hansard of the public hearings in Sydney (not yet available online). Misunderstood performance management was behind many of the bullying issues raised. But, perhaps, mishandled performance management is more of a problem.
In some circumstances, performance management has been applied as a verb, such as “we’ll performance management that” but it is also possible to hear “we can performance management him/her out”. Sometimes positive HR techniques and processes can be used in unproductive and unfair ways and this could easily be interpreted as workplace bullying, perhaps even the “unintentional bullying” that has caused such concern in the Safe Work Australia’s Draft Code Practice on Workplace Bullying.
Safety professionals in Australia, and their associations, have never felt comfortable with their human resources counterparts even though a good workplace requires close collaboration between the two disciplines. The now unavoidable requirement for OHS to actively include psychosocial hazards in safety management means that the time is past when safety and OHS need to play well together. Safety professionals must begin to understand the terminology and techniques, and the loopholes, of personnel management for these are fundamental elements in establishing a positive workplace safety culture on which, increasingly, OHS compliance is relying.