In the reseller world, there are two forces that will undermine employee wellness and productivity: excessive workloads and customer relationships. Both are killers.
Canberra reseller Cool Chilli treats both of these as a priority. It is part of the HTG (Heartland Technology Group) peer group of reseller companies which has identified workplace wellness as a key issue for the industry. HTG is a network of 250 independent companies divided into groups of no more than 12. To be part of any group, your company cannot compete with other group members. As a result, companies in the group that Cool Chilli is in come from all over Australia.
Cool Chilli director Andrew Smith says workplace wellness has been an issue that keeps coming up. “Certainly, there have been discussions around what we do from that perspective,’’ Smith says.
Some companies in the group tackle it differently. Leap Consulting, for example, gives its employees one rostered day off a month. It also has an Xbox that they can play with at lunch time.
Smith has his own view on workplace health.
“From my perspective, it’s more about allocation of work, managing relationships with customers and being sensitive to how some customers will be with our staff,’’ he says. “Providing some counsel with customer relationships is one of the most significant things you can do.”
So, for example, a customer might be upset because something is not working, or perhaps it is not doing what they had expected it to do when they bought it. Perhaps they feel they had been left waiting for too long, perhaps they claim they couldn’t get through to the company on the phone. In those sorts of cases, many of them
will get stuck into staff, leaving employees frazzled and stressed. That will affect staff productivity and commitment to the job.
When that happens, the company needs to act. Smith says it becomes a case of managing expectations, both of the customer and the employee. It is a form of therapy.
“There are times when people can get a little emotional about issues, if something is not working or their expectations are not being met,” Smith says. “You have to get across those sorts of issues. I find it’s about educating people in both directions.“ He says that having a warning of potential issues allows management to head off problems.
Much of that involves talking to the customer about their expectations and how to handle it. “A lot of that is industry experience,’’ he says. “If there is the potential for something to go belly up, we need to get ahead and state the terms in very plain English and make them aware of what these terms are. That’s one of the best antidotes.
“The other part involves counselling staff. Quite often what helps there is to get across to staff the customer needs. In their position, they are very technology and transactionally focused and they are not necessarily looking for the merit side or being able to assess the customer expectation or any of those sorts of things.
“For me and my senior guys, it is important to educate them about what the customer is looking for and change their perspective on it from
being such an issue that personally affects them to being able to see how it affects the customer.”
If that happens, he says, they will know how to deal with the problem if it happens again. The key is about changing their perspective, getting highly technically focused staff to look at things differently.
“It certainly does change their perspective a lot,’’ he says. “When you are working with a technical workforce, their perspective
is about the perfect technical implementations but really the customer wants to see other results. They are not particularly concerned with the technical matters and all you had to do to make it compatible.”
Smith says workloads need to be managed carefully to ensure staff are not left stressed and stretched to the limit. Work-life balance is absolutely crucial.
“In terms of resource management, we meet frequently to try to assess our commitment and maintaining as much as we can an open dialogue with customers and looking at when we can achieve things for them, particularly with projects where there is a significant amount of work required,’’ Smith says.
“Obviously, getting ahead of time is important. These days you have to be keenly aware of the work-life balance that everyone needs. It’s simply not acceptable to accept all the work in the world and expect the staff to work excessive hours and out of hours.
“We are certainly not perfect at it but we are certainly aware of the issues and we try to get ahead of that. A lot of it is about trying to pace the demand correctly, so we do a lot of forecasting with time.”
Having part-time staff working on weekends is all part of that mix, he says, to ensure the workplace remains healthy.