Managing people in the modern workplace is about as complicated as it gets and many of the human resources practices we rely on are based on assumptions, not facts, says Professor Julie Cogin.
Cogin – the first female director of the world-class AGSM and Deputy Dean of the UNSW Business School – recently attracted global media attention with her far-reaching study into the elusive work-life balance. She and her team found that even companies with supportive policies in place could fail.
In the world-first study conducted across 27 countries, Cogin found traditional gender roles, which placed higher expectations of family involvement on women than men, persist in workplaces with “high masculine orientation” in management, regardless of company policy.
“Organisational values cascade from the top down to impede employees from using the options available,” Cogin explains. “Likewise, individuals who take advantage of initiatives to better balance work and non-work, and thus visibly demonstrate interest in personal life, can face negative judgements about their lack of commitment to the organisation or their team.”
More rigorous human resources management (HRM) can help identify factors of success and ensure knowledge is translated into superior outcomes for businesses – in terms of profits and many other non-financial benefits, such as innovation and customer satisfaction.
Cogin says her own two decades working and consulting at high levels in Australian and international corporations, such as Australia’s top four banks, Qantas, GE, Munich Re, News Corp, Boral, Deutsche Post DHL, PWC, KPMG and Optus, has helped her bridge the gap between theory and practice.
The challenge, however, is not insignificant. Despite an abundance of HRM research, its usefulness is often limited by flawed methodologies and study designs that fail to provide convincing evidence of the efficacy, or otherwise, of many of the current workplace practices. Much of Cogin’s published work extends and improves methodologies.
“The contemporary workplace is almost infinitely complex – with four generations in the workforce, the rise of multinational corporations and different work cultures, histories and individual personalities to take into account, we need much more rigorous designs in HRM research,” she says.
As a manager herself, Cogin says she is passionate about bringing out the best in people. This enthusiasm went a long way towards her extraordinary rank of 6th in the world for Organisational Behaviour teaching within a MBA program – an honour she received prior to taking on the directorship of the AGSM.
Now with the AGSM to run, Cogin says she’s “big on ideas, but short on time”. So she’s turning her own workplace into a lab, to complement her ongoing research, including an ARC Linkage project investigating the role of HR in determining outcomes in hospitals and ongoing collaborative projects with industry.
A personal goal, she says, is to create meaningful jobs at the AGSM for people with disabilities.