Change might reasonably be thought of as the defining characteristic of the modern world.

Changing regulatory, trade and economic contexts regularly prompt shifts in how things are done in Australian workplaces. Many work roles and processes would be unrecognisable to workers from only a generation ago, if not less.

However, most people are creatures of habit. We prefer routine and predictability, and generally like to do a task the same way we always have.

This creates a common tension – management introduces a new policy, process or documented requirement in the workplace, and workers grumble and complain and try their hardest to get out of doing it.

It’s only human to complain about being asked to adapt ourselves to new requirements. But rather than giving into the knee-jerk reaction, we’d often do better to stop and think first.

A new policy or procedure rarely comes out of the blue without an underlying reason. It’s usually a response to an external or internal factor that’s been identified as requiring to be managed. While there has probably been a degree of consultation during the development phase, until it has been implemented and tested, it’s impossible to be sure whether it’s the right or best response. But unless management and workers cooperate with the process of implementing and testing, it can’t be properly assessed.

Therefore, we would advocate a ‘comply before complaint’ approach is adopted when a new or changed policy or process is rolled out. Workers may not immediately understand the rationale behind the change, or the reasons may not have been properly or fully communicated. But unless it’s given a chance to operate, any push back is really just resistance to change rather than a legitimate complaint that the process is flawed. Comply first and test if the new process actually works – then complain if it doesn’t.

By all means, seek clarification or raise questions if the new requirement appears to be risky/hazardous or has clearly missed something important. One of the steps that can be glossed over in the design and implementation of a new process is whether or not it introduces a new risk. But if there’s no evident risk, give it a test-run.

The ‘comply before complain’ approach also supports the integrity of the management system. Frequently, procedures as documented do not reflect practices on the ground. Auditors are told on the quiet “the procedure says this, but we do that”. This leads to a breakdown in the management system, with neither workers nor managers feeling able to trust it. Instead of creating a predictable workplace, people start doing their own thing and working at cross-purposes in a way that usually creates risk for both the organisation and the workers.

Rather than fostering this unproductive workplace culture, test the new requirements, then complain constructively and suggest improvements if there are problems.

Please contact QRMC for more information.