NSW Parliament isn’t the only place with office culture problems

Unfortunately, this is not an issue confined to the NSW Parliament. Harassment and bullying – a shadow side of human behaviour without fear of consequence – exist in every sector of business, and retail is no exception. 

A 2019 study revealed that nearly half (45 per cent) of Australian professionals have experienced bullying or harassment at work due to gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability. 

The figure rose to 64 per cent of people living with a disclosed disability, 58 per cent of people who identify as LGBTIQ+, 50 per cent of women and 50 per cent of mature-age people. 

Clearly, retail leaders would do well to absorb the lessons currently being learned on Macquarie Street. In an age of ultimate transparency, behaviour is reputation and what previously may have been accepted is now being publicly called out, with organisations being held to account. 

Live your values, don’t just speak them

Workplace culture can be defined as the mindsets and behaviours of ‘how we get things done around here’ and is experienced through what is accepted, rejected, encouraged, or discouraged. 

Great workplace culture needs to align strongly with your organisation’s purpose and values. This isn’t just a ‘nice to have’; employees are demanding clarity around what a business stands for and accountability through the lived culture, decisions, and actions taken. 

There’s often a gap between leaders and front-line workers when it comes to a company’s values. This year’s Purpose Power Index revealed that while 72 per cent of senior management agreed “my company’s purpose motivates me to get up and go to work every day” only 45 per cent of front-line workers agreed.

For retailers, living and breathing your values is about more than writing a statement on your website or sharing a vague list of positive qualities with new starters – it’s about living and breathing what you stand for every day. Your purpose and values need to be modelled from the top down, embedded into the employee and customer experience, your brand, and strategy, through to your day-to-day decisions, policies, products, partnerships and any other expression of your brand. This is especially important for leaders who oversee multi-site operations, where micro-cultures can exist. 

Digital gifting platform Prezzee is a good example of a retailer that has evolved its purpose and values from words on a page into something more meaningful. The digital gifting solutions business brings its employees into the fold when pioneering their purpose, enlisting value ambassadors to spearhead company-wide events and initiatives representative of Prezzee’s core values: give greatness, give openness, give magic, and give a damn). 

We are seeing public pressure from consumers, who are calling on retailers to offer up more transparency on the physical, emotional, and psychological safety of not only their employees but also those involved in their global supply chain. 

Embedding a culture of safety

As NSW Premier, Dominic Perrottet said in the wake of the NSW Parliamentary report, which he called sobering, confronting and unacceptable, “Every workplace across our state should be free from harassment, sexual harassment and sexual assault.”

A safe workplace must operate with a culture of demonstrated and encouraged psychological safety. 

We Are Unity’s own research with a leading logistics organisation reveals that when an employee identifies with working in a culture of transparency, openness to feedback and information sharing, they are up to 37 per cent less likely to be involved in a workplace safety incident. 

While embedding a culture of psychological safety and open communication won’t eliminate risk entirely, it equips teams and leaders with the tools they need to empower a safe workplace, and encourage positive behaviours and transparent action against unsafe practices – including bullying and harassment. Retail leaders can look at three opportunities to take action on their own culture: identify the moments that matter, mobilise your leaders, and build a shared narrative that encourages transparency, which will let staff know there will be constructive outcomes when reporting incidents with no backlash on themselves, their career or reputation. 

Together, as leaders, we can change workplace culture for the better. Whether it’s public service, front line retail or head office staff. Everyone deserves to feel safe and fulfilled at work.

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