Social impact

The Program’s research has resulted in substantial end-user impacts, as evidenced by three cases that were shortlisted for the 2016 QUT research impact competition.  The following examples showcase this research impact and engagement:

Communication and CSR

Associate Professor Jennifer Bartlett’s research on communication and CSR has impacted on practitioners and professional services. The wave of corporate scandals and collapses in the 1990s led to a call for organisations to be more accountable for their social and environmental impacts. From this the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement emerged as a mechanism for organisations to manage perceptions of their broader societal impacts. This represented a significant financial and reputational investment in developing and articulating the practices which would represent ‘social responsibility’, implementing them into organisations, reporting on them, and thereby managing the perceived ongoing financial risks to the value of the firm.

Jennifer’s central theoretical work has been around a longitudinal media and organisational document analysis of shifting narratives around CSR and the adoption of new organisational practices to deal with stakeholder concerns. Her work has articulated the role of communication in creating and understanding meaning of organisational practice, how stakeholders understand and interpret the organisation’s actions, and underpinning the perceived value and risk to the organisation value. In co-editing The Handbook of Communication and CSR, insights from global scholars were brought together to articulate how organisations are defining practice and the challenges for organisations going forward. The Handbook has subsequently been voted 6 out of 25 most influential contributions to the practice of corporate communication executives. Jennifer have been invited to act as Advisor to the development of CSR training for Governance Institute of Australia, the leading provider of education for company secretaries in listed companies in Australia.

Sexual harassment and predatory behaviour in Victoria Police

In 2014, Victoria Police commissioned the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) to undertake a comprehensive and independent study of sexual harassment and predatory behaviour in the organisation; problems that were considered significant and damaging. VEOHRC convened an expert panel to undertake the review, with Professor Paula McDonald the academic expert member. Her research on the systemic causes of and solutions to workplace sexual harassment directly and substantially informed the methodology deployed for the Review.

In 2015 the VEOHRC released the Independent Review into Sex Discrimination, Sexual harassment and Predatory Behaviour (Phase 1) Report. The results, as noted by the Chief Commissioner made for “confronting reading”. The Report detailed entrenched sexism and a high tolerance for sexualised behaviour which had serious consequences for the safety and welfare of Victoria Police’s 17,000 employees.

Paula’s research on under-examined themes, including tactics used by harassers, bystander interventions and the sexual harassment of men, directly shaped several recommendations in the VEOHRC report. In response, the Victoria Police committed to implementing all of the recommendations contained in the report. Given the size of the workforce, the extent of the problem and the broader benefits to society of a more respectful police force, the impact of this research is profound and longstanding.

The reach of Paula’s research is further evidenced through its use by organisations such as the Australian Human Rights Commission [AHRC]; the Australasian College of Sports Physicians; Qld Police, Fire and Emergency Services and in expert evidence to a Canadian Standing Committee. It has also contributed to broader public engagement through prolific media engagement over many years, including informing the focus of an SBS Insight Program.

Not just part time, not just women: Challenging the myths of flexible work

Associate Professor Abby Cathcart and Professor Paula McDonald’s innovative research challenging myths surrounding flexible work has had wide and varied impact on policy development, public debate and organisational practices. Direct beneficiaries of the research include a large finance sector organisation, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and several government inquiries. Policy impact is demonstrated through the use of research findings in various policy development round-tables and government inquiries, including in the Productivity Commission’s Workplace Relations Inquiry Report.

The research has shaped training and employment practices in finance, community and defence organisations. The findings culminated in 3 major industry reports and seminars to over 50 finance industry managers and more than 100 senior ADF personnel (Canberra, Oct 2014).

The research has also generated interest and debate beyond academia, with research findings being disseminated via public and industry forums, media articles and interviews and a chapter in a popular book.

The underpinning research was conducted in the QUT Business School between 2010 and 2015 by Paula and Abby, primarily through an Australian Research Council funded Discovery project, Customising work through manager-employee exchange (2010-12, with Assoc Prof Keith Townsend, Griffith University). It built upon Paula’s earlier work on an ARC Linkage grant addressing the gaps between the provision and utilisation of work-life policies in the Queensland public sector.

Data for the Discovery project comprised in-depth interviews with nearly 300 employees in five small, not for profit organisations; a large, private sector organisation in the finance industry; and 12 Australian Defence Force Army, Navy and Air Force sites. Additionally, telephone interviews were conducted with individuals known as ‘discontent nonrequesters’; those who desired to use flexible work but felt they could or should not ask for them.

The research revealed the complex process of social exchange that occurs between a frontline supervisor and their subordinates in seeking and responding to requests for customisations to the ‘standard’ terms and conditions of their work. Unexpectedly, the number of requests per year made by employees across the various industry sectors was markedly similar. However, the types of requests were dependent on sex, seniority and the nature of personal obligations. Responses to requests; that is, whether they were approved, 1 partly approved or denied, were shaped by individual, managerial and organisational dynamics.

The research also yielded several new lines of enquiry with respect to customised or flexible work including employee silence, issues around job mobility (especially in the ADF), and the ways in which organisational functions above line manager level (corporate, senior management, HR) impact supervisor support.