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Down-sizing, upgrading, outgrowing and restructuring – change in the life-cycle of a business is inevitable and changes in size and operational needs often demand a relocation.

Relocating a business is a huge logistical challenge in itself and as a result, it’s not uncommon for the employment and HR aspects of a relocation to become secondary considerations.

In this two-part blog, we outline some of those key considerations and touch on a few issues that HR, managers and business owners can expect to be confronted with when relocating.

We need to move, we’ve found a new place – what now?

Develop a plan.

It is critical to have a plan for a relocation that includes who will be required to achieve what and by when. Timelines for when a move will take place are essential for managing employee expectations and enabling employees to plan mentally and physically for imminent changes.

A plan should, of course, involve the practical elements (such as when equipment will be uninstalled from the current location and reinstalled at the new location) but it should also involve a communication and consultation timeline – when will an announcement be made to employees, what will that announcement say, when will the business start accepting feedback on the relocation and when will it respond?

What do we tell our employees?

Communication is absolutely critical during any major change. Not only is it important for keeping employees engaged and updated, but it may also be a requirement under an industrial instrument like an enterprise agreement or a modern award.

For example, most modern awards contain a “consultation” term which states that an employer must notify employees about a decision to introduce a major change to the workplace that is likely to have significant effects, including the transfer of employees to other work locations. Under a consultation term, an employer must also discuss the change with employees, provide written material and must consider any matters raised by employees.

Good communication in announcing a relocation and the roll-out of a relocation plan can tick both the compliance and the good management boxes.

There are also a number of small communication strategies that can assist in a relocation. The first is regular updates – it is important for an employer to keep employees in the loop about how progress on the relocation is tracking and what their role in the relocation will be. Studies have shown that major organisational change is linked to an increase in reported stress, the taking of sick leave and employees exiting following the introduction of the change.

Recently published guidance material from SafeWork Australia also lists poorly managed organisational change as a psychosocial hazard with the potential to cause a work-related psychological injury (see Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties, published 7 June 2018).

Regular updates can be delivered in tool box talks or weekly email blasts but in whatever form they come, updates should be consistent, concise and relevant to employees.

The second communication strategy is to involve employees in the process. This does not mean that an employer is required to concede to every demand or accept every suggestion made by employees, but rather that employees should be invited to contribute constructive ideas to relocation plans. Employers might also consider incentivising employees to contribute to a successful relocation or even take an afternoon away from the current site to visit the new site to give employees a feel for what to expect.

Final comments

Planning is essential to a successful relocation and employers should have a logistics plan as well as a communication plan. Nothing breeds discontent in the workplace like uncertainty and so it is important to ensure that employees understand their individual roles and feel supported during the transition via regular updates and open communication channels.

Addressing the key considerations about planning, notification and communication set out above can assist an employer to minimise a range of risks including breaches of an industrial instrument and claims of work-related psychological injuries.  

In Part 2 of this blog, we will look at a number of issues that regularly arise in the course of the relocation process.

Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog, or from links on this website to any external website. Where applicable, liability is limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

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