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Home | Got a Minute | Bullying and harassment | No. 36 – HR is pressuring my sister to go part-time. What can she do?

No. 36 – HR is pressuring my sister to go part-time. What can she do?

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3 November 2021

My sister is in her 60s and has worked most of her life with animals. Human Resources (HR) is harassing her to work part-time in the job she needs and loves, and it looks like there is a plan to get her out altogether. Like many women our age, her superannuation is not enough to retire on yet. I advised her to join the union and get advice. If they fail her, what else can she do?

Your sister’s situation is all too common and an important reminder that despite a lifetime of working, women will retire with 47 per cent less super than men. Women in Super estimate that more than 40 per cent of older single retired women will live in poverty. Working full-time has no doubt been a combination of your sister’s passion for her work but also a financial necessity. And it’s worth pointing out that an employer cannot make such a significant variation to your sister’s hours (and contract) without with her agreement or without paying her a redundancy for a full-time role that no longer seems to exist.

I recommend your sister seek advice from a union as you suggest, or else speak to the Fair Work Commission about her rights and see if there is a way to negotiate with her employer an outcome that will work for everyone. If there is someone at her workplace she trusts and who may be able to help advocate her position with her boss, that could also be helpful.

My friend’s daughter asked me how I have coped with bad behaviour from men over the years in a corporate environment. She is a young, competent woman and her lecturer has been belittling her. She also finds him misogynistic, and she asked me if she should complain to the university. As an older woman moving to the end of my career, I note with sadness that things seem to have gotten worse, not better. I’m afraid my advice is not right because during my career I tended to accept and ignore bad behaviour. What advice would you offer her?

Like you, I ignored bad behaviour for much of my career too. It just seemed easier to get on with things than cause a fuss. But with the benefit of hindsight, I sincerely wished I had called it out.

My recommendation would be for this young woman to speak up. She may find safety in numbers – if she is finding this lecturer to be misogynistic and belittling, other women most likely are as well. I would encourage them to make a complaint together so that she does not need to feel so exposed and alone. Most universities should have a well-developed complaints procedure. I suggest that she investigates what is involved and seeks any advice she needs to.

And to any male lecturers who are reading this column and have a pit in their stomach wondering if this letter may be referring to you, be forewarned, your time is up. Stop behaving in a way that could see you in the pages of this paper.

Do any workplace “norms” exist anymore? I see a lot of the letters sent to you in this column about email response times as well as usage of BCC and wonder if the lack of understanding around “norms” is adding to workplace stress and therefore anxiety?

Easily one of the letters I received the most feedback on was the one published last month about the boss who sends emails at all hours of the night. What struck me most was how divergent views were in response and how differently people perceive and respond to the issue. To that extent, I think you are right to suggest that workplace norms no longer exist. But I also think it is more nuanced than that. Workplace norms no longer exist in a way that are consistent across all ways of working but I do believe they still exist in individual workplaces. Ultimately, that it shows up in the company culture or “the way we do things around here”.

For example, in arguing about whether bosses (or frankly, anyone) should be able to send emails any time, there was a clear divide. One side of the argument said that in their companies, they used the delay send function or perhaps had messages on the end of their emails reminding people there was no need to respond. That was ingrained in their company culture. But there were just as many people who commented that where they work, the responsibility is on the person receiving the email to manage their own time and priorities. They argued there are no standard working hours anymore and so expecting emails to only be sent between 9–5 is out of date.

In terms of whether it is causing people stress and anxiety, I suspect you could be right, and it may be a sign that the company culture you are part of is not for you.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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