If employers can measure well-being...

Last September, you might have seen Qantas CEO Alan Joyce received a pay increase of $278,000 per annum. It seems that Joyce has met or exceeded the performance goals set by his employers and contractually has earned the reward. It does, however, raise a larger question.

Joyce's pay increase for the year is around 5% of his annual salary, which on the face of it is not excessive in the current environment where government employees are routinely receiving 4% increases. However, there has been plenty of adverse comment on the actions of Alan Joyce. When he is managing the outsourcing to the lowest bidder of some of the services required to get their planes off the ground, regardless of the damage to former employees or the company ‘brand’, not to mention claims of unreliability of Qantas flights operating to timetable (if at all), you can understand why his pay increase made headlines.

While the Qantas Board has clearly looked after their CEO’s interests and well-being, they seem to be far less concerned with the well-being of a considerable number of now former employees that have been outsourced and retrenched over the years. It seems the CEO and Board have made decisions based entirely on economics when it comes to the continued employment of thousands of other staff.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers is discussing the concept of promoting ‘well-being’ as a required outcome in the budget process, a position that some, including the Coalition, can’t see any benefit in discussing. But what would you expect? The Coalition drove the Robodebt process that is currently under investigation by a Royal Commission. While the Commissioner is scheduled to report next April, so far there seems to be nothing positive for the former government from the enquiry, with evidence pointing to the relevant ministers, including Scott Morrison, encouraging the implementation of the system despite the concept being flagged as potentially illegal prior to introduction.

Despite this, it seems that the Coalition continued with the introduction of the Robodebt system to save money and perpetuate the myth that all recipients of income support payments were rorting the system to the detriment of the Australian community. In addition, the introduction of income management measures such as the Basics Card and the Indue Card was supported to add more weight to the claim that those on income support would otherwise waste their money and did not deserve our help. As this opinion article in The Guardian suggests, the outcomes are devastating.

The introduction of well-being measurements into the Budget process will assist the government of the day in correctly targeting economic measurements. Most large employers now run surveys of staff on a routine basis that measure to some extent the well-being of staff. From the measurements, employers have some quantifiable information that assists them in ensuring that staff feel valued and as a result more likely to stay in their current position, seek internal promotion from their current role as well as the staff perception of the ethics and practices of the company. Employers can and do also seek input from others on various third-party websites. Obviously measuring well-being also makes economic sense otherwise profit driven companies wouldn’t bother funding the time and expense required for the work to be done.

If for no other reasons than it is common business practice and there are economic benefits in employers finding out what their employees think, why wouldn’t a government implement similar processes to determine where they can get the best ‘bang for their buck’ when targeting measures to improve the community they are supposed to be supporting? The previous government claimed they wanted government to act more like a business. They also supported programs that targeted electors they thought could be convinced to trade their vote for a new railway station car park, sporting facility or similar community grant. Fortunately enough voters didn’t take the bait for it to make a difference at the last election. Yet the same group of politicians are suggesting that finding better ways of targeting support to improve the conditions for those that need some help is a waste of time. In reality, well-being measurements can demonstrate how government assistance is improving lives.

Well-being measurement is a work in progress and undoubtedly there will be mistakes made and blind alleys traversed before the system is perfected. It seriously can’t hurt that the government knows if they have correctly identified and filled a gap in supporting the community — in reality it’s their job to understand, locate and fill the gaps. After all we know when income support payments were doubled during the pandemic lockdowns, recipients’ well-being, mental health and engagement with their communities increased. There’s nothing wrong with that.

What do you think?

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