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What’s a Fair Day’s Work? A Negotiator’s Dilemma

Keith Stacey
What Is A Fair Days Work. Internal Negotiation Dilemma

Considerations for managers when conducting internal negotiations with employees and colleagues... 


Most States in Australia have recently celebrated the ‘eight hour day’ public holiday, with the remaining states due to mark this occasion in October. This celebration dates from an 1856 campaign by stonemasons in Victoria for a 48-hour week, (Sunday was a day of rest.) Today most workplaces have a work week somewhere in the mid-thirty hours. 


In a case which will redefine reasonable hours, MP Dr. Monique Ryan and her former chief of staff, Sally Rugg are in dispute. While the case is complex, the central issue is that Rugg thought 70 hours per week was unreasonable on a salary of $166,000. Evidence was given of a whole of staff meeting on a Sunday morning to discuss arrangements for a Christmas party.  


If we return to the world of the stonemason, it was a time when work was challenging physical labour. Coal miners, shearers and most workers generally worked in conditions that were dirty, dangerous and potentially debilitating. Physical injuries were commonplace.  Today work can be sitting in the first-class lounge at the airport being served a canape while drinking French champagne.  


While not physical, the toll is now mental, with ‘job stress and other psychological hazards emerging as the leading contributors to the burden of occupational disease and injury’ according to the Australian Human Rights Commission. It is interesting in the Ryan/Rugg dispute that Dr. Ryan would have experienced the punishing workload of interns which was often seen as a rite of passage for young doctors. 


The widespread adoption of work from home, work from anywhere and now the distributed workplace has liberated many workers from ‘presenteeism’, an extremely blunt measure of workplace productivity. I recall one organisation where the way to impress the manager was to be in the carpark before them in the morning. This led to people arriving at 4.30am just to impress.  


The liberation of many workers from the daily commute and the office routines has been endorsed by the latest report of the Productivity Commission that concluded that although it was forced on business by the pandemic, it ‘shows that large shares of the workforce could work from home effectively, and for many, this allowed an increase in their productivity.’ 


Some have taken advantage of this new freedom and have managed to work two full-time jobs concurrently or not to bother applying for leave when flying off to a tropical island for a break. It appears that sometimes those tropical backdrops in Zoom meetings are real!  The inevitable response from management has been to introduce technologies which monitor keystrokes and time at the keyboard of remote employees to monitor their activity. 


A dilemma for managers conducting internal negotiations with employees is to get the balance right and not confuse activity with actual outcomes achieved. If we only measure time on the keyboard, we are returning to a version of ‘presenteeism’.  


In a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review magazine, Adam Waytz offered five ways to improve business: 


  • Reward output not just activity 
  • Generate genuine deep thinking by eliminating low-value work 
  • Force ‘people off the clock’ to disconnect from work, as required by law in Spain and France 
  • Model the right behaviour 
  • Build slack into the system


Happy negotiating!

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