How to keep pace with an evolving office culture

As a change management consultant and conference speaker, I’m experiencing more and more debate on culture and people management.

Most of my bookings for speaking events this past year have been focused on managing culture change and, as we begin a new year and a new decade, I expect that trend to continue. For that reason, I’m going to share my thoughts on trends in culture and people management, that will affect every employer reading this.

I also chatted with Caroline Browne, managing director of HRP Group, which provides outsourced human resource management services.

• Work/life Balance, Health and Wellness

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Never before has there been as much talk about work/life balance, health and wellness, stress and mental health. I’m so pleased the stigma that used to be attached to this topic is dissipating.

It applies to all ages and genders, but younger employees are even more open about it. While those of us a little longer in the tooth may have tolerated a manager shouting at us in the past, younger employees just won’t accept it. They are much more likely to call out inappropriate management behaviour, and they’re right, of course.

The other challenge is the ‘always-on’ work culture. Because of smartphones, home life is often interrupted with work-related emails, texts and calls. As a business owner with clients in several time zones, I choose to be always-on.

But that doesn’t mean it’s OK for employers to expect their people to accept such interruptions to their home life.

What can you, the employer, do? Consider engaging with an employee assistance programme, where staff can speak confidentially to an external specialist about work or personal issues. Also consider investing in training programmes externally or in-house, where colleagues learn how to recognise and handle mental health issues in themselves or others.

• Employee Engagement Surveys

I have seen an increase in the number of companies conducting employee satisfaction (engagement) surveys. In recognition of the changing workplace that sees full employment and a small pool of available talent, firms are taking the time to identify their own strengths and areas for improvement. These support being a best employer and having an attractive employee value proposition.

What can you, the employer, do? Conduct an employee engagement survey. Don’t do it yourself as it needs to be confidential and there is a science in constructing it. The insights that you get from it can also be benchmarked when you use an external service.

• Parental Leave

As a country, we are moving more toward the Nordic model that pays special respect to the early formative years of a child. Recent changes in legislation now provide for either parent of a child up to 12 years of age to take up to 22 weeks’ leave (increasing to 26 weeks from September 2020). This is non-discriminatory and employees will be guaranteed no break in service.

This can be an expensive time for young families as it’s not paid time off, so in reality it’s mainly the mothers that are taking it. But fathers can avail of it too. The rules are that it can be taken in one block of 22 weeks or two separate blocks of a minimum of six weeks.

However, Caroline tells me that in many cases, the parent negotiates with their employer, who might agree to break it down into smaller parts on a part-time basis, say decreasing from full-time hours to a four-day week for the duration.

In addition, we saw the introduction in November of Parent’s Leave, which again allows for either working parent to take up to two weeks’ paid leave (by the State) at some stage during the first year of a child’s life. This leave may be increased in future to up to nine weeks.

What can you, the employer, do? Don’t look at this as an inconvenience. Be prepared and be open to having the conversation with your people. Ensure your employee policies and procedures are up to date.

• Flexible Working

More and more large organisations are redesigning their office layout and have changed to a hot-desk model, rather than a dedicated desk environment. With great technology, Wi-Fi and cloud software, colleagues can work from any location. That includes working from home, which saves on traffic, stress, office space and the environment.

What can you, the employer, do? Obviously, this opportunity is not possible for the retail or hospitality sectors. But if it is relevant for your business, then see how you can introduce it. It requires a high degree of trust and it means you as an employer will need to measure employee performance by what they have achieved (outputs), rather than the hours they put in (inputs).

• Contracts of Employment

In the past, employers got away with being lax about issuing contracts to their new starters. It is now a criminal offence if key contract information is not issued inside five days of commencing work. This applies to all contracts, whether full or part-time. It’s actually good practice. How many of you reading this don’t have or cannot find the signed contracts of your people?

There is even more to this Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018, which became law on March 4, 2019. For example, there are also rules on casual hours and zero-hours contracts.

What can you, the employer, do? End of year is often a good time for housekeeping. Use this time to review and refresh your contracts – and ensure they are signed. To see a sample contract template, contact Caroline at

The Last Word

Our national culture is changing to be more tolerant and inclusive. Your firm benefits from that in so many ways. Many are mandatory changes and you have no choice but to embrace them.

But don’t see them as a nuisance. These changes are good for society on the one hand and also good for employer/employee relations.

Being a best employer will help you attract and retain the best talent. And if you harness that, it will drive more value in your business.

  • Alan O’Neill, author of Premium is the New Black, is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to

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