The great remake: Reshaping our workplaces

RTM Blog Ep 8 Large

Workplaces are not what they used to be. Not so long ago, a job was for life. But we’ve now entered the era of the side hustle and seen the ascent of the gig economy. Our offices were once sacred grounds where we gathered 9 to 5 with colleagues who wore the same corporate stripes as us. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to mingle in mixed co-working hubs or slog away in athleisure in our home offices.

Along with this, the rise of the machines has killed off the jobs that used to be performed by humans – that’s across supermarkets, assembly lines, and banks. 

Company culture has also seen mass transformation – from the uptake of empathic leadership to embracing Diversity & Inclusion policies, and Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs). 

While organisations have had to learn to reorganise and adapt to this evolving pace of change, it’s also been an exciting time that has led to all sorts of innovative possibilities. 

So, in the midst of this great revision, how can research help build better workplaces? Let’s look at some of the challenges our researchers are working to solve. 

Preventing employee’s from being toast

Our emotions go wherever we go. This means they can influence our productivity at work – especially if you’re feeling stressed, anxious, frustrated, or irritated in your role. 

Dr. Mandi Baker is a Lecturer and Research Fellow at the Centre for Organisational Change and Agility (COCA). Her research examines the impact of emotions in the workplace, specifically across service sectors such as tourism, hospitality, and the leisure fields. 

Dr. Baker’s research zones in on the leisure industry, which she says, “rides on the back of relationships.”  

“When you're trying to deliver a positive leisure experience to another person you really do have to have fairly sophisticated soft skills,” she explains. 

“What we know is that when people are really good with their soft skills it creates a resilience to compassion fatigue and burnout.”

This research spans across Canada, Australia, and the USA, and Dr. Baker has written about the impact of emotion work in her book, Leisure activities in the outdoors: Learning, developing and challenging.

What the findings from this research show is that younger workforces are not well prepared for an industry that’s known for its gruelling hours and has a reputation for expecting service with a smile. Dr. Baker says, “most people leave within two to three years of the start of their employment.”

To combat high turnover and the risk of negative emotions on employee wellbeing, Dr. Baker has developed a communication tool to help the interaction between employees and employers. It’s about identifying their state of emotion – and it starts by using the metaphor of a burnt piece of toast. 

“You leave them in the toaster too long and that's when you end up with a piece of toast that's burnt. Somebody who's got to the point where they're really unable to do anything further.”

From role-play to real-play

Assessing workplace behaviours and interactions is also the domain of Professor Kerry London, the Pro Vice Chancellor of Research. As a former architect her research focuses on the building and housing sector. 

Professor London has set out to answer the question of what it looks like for companies to successfully introduce an innovation such as offsite manufacturing, which is when prefabricated building materials are transported and assembled into the onsite structure. 

This research involves working closely with a team of psychologists to help score the actions and conduct of construction workers employed in offsite manufacturing. Professor London has designed a range of problem-solving activities and scenarios that involve carefully briefing actors to deliver ‘real-play,’ so workers can be assessed and provided with feedback. 

“We say when you did this here, maybe another way to go about it is doing this. It's not role-play, it's real play. Because they are doing the job that they do in their normal life,” she explains. 

“The training package that we put together is around what we've called collaborative practice. We've worked through nine very important parts of how you get good business collaboration in the housing sector.”

“It's a fairly effective way to go about training and the Master Builders Association do this across a lot of other areas of research as well,” she adds. 

Visualising safety hazards

The building and construction industry is one of the most dangerous workplaces to set foot in. In fact, in Australia it sits in the top three sectors that are considered risky. 

Professor London and her research team have identified key decision-making tools that could prevent physical safety hazards from occurring by drawing on Building Information Modelling (BIM). It’s a case of using 3D and 4D technologies to virtually build a structure first to be able to identify any health and safety issues and mitigate them, before proceeding to the physical construction stage.

Working alongside Professor London is Dr. Zelinna Pablo from COCA, who says the research is designed to show a new and better pathway for industry leaders. 

“If the sector takes it up the most important impact would be lives could be saved and injuries could be prevented. And for me, that's a very big thing,” she explains. 

“We want a safer construction sector where work health and safety measures are prioritised along with time and costs and quality targets.” 

If the Australian government takes the findings of this research on board and implements a policy around it, Dr. Pablo says this could lead to big changes in the construction sector.   

“They could begin to mandate for BIM supported work health and safety, and this could lead to widespread change in mindsets and in practices leading to a safer construction sector.” 

Listen to Research That Matters to hear more about the research of Dr. Baker, Professor London, and Dr. Pablo in Episode 8: Community & Industry Partnerships. 

Research That Mattersis a 9-part podcast series featuring researchers from Torrens University Australia, who are working to solve complex global problems and to propel innovation. Hosted by Clement Paligaru and produced by Written & Recorded.

Find all episodes of Research That Matters at https://www.torrens.edu.au/research/research-that-matters-podcast.

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