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‘Bludgers watching Netflix’? Bosses, be more constructive with your feedback

In the greatest remote-morale passion killer of Victoria’s recent past, Mr Cartwright reportedly named the “bludger factor” as a problem among at-home workers and implied people were pretending to work while secretly vegging on the couch.

As one of the multitude for whom 2020 was such a peak year of productivity we barely had time to shower, let alone learn one shred of a new language, skill or hobby while we frantically worked, chaos-wrangled and coped, my response to this is “as if”.

It sums up the old-school … Boomer view of those on high towards underlings that leads neither to increased output nor enhanced trust.

My more grown-up reaction is to quote the great New Zealand comedy duo Flight of the Conchords: “Be more constructive with your feedback, please.”

At a time when distanced employees are feeling burnt-out (from consistent hard work with often inconsistent internet), deprived of collegiate warmth and corporate connection – and, if we’re honest, occasionally anxious that being out of sight could mean reduced job security – this kind of attitude is at best unhelpful and at worst highly destructive.

It sums up the old-school “us and them”, and dare I say Boomer, view of those on high towards underlings that leads neither to increased output nor to enhanced trust. And it reflects a return to bad old days of a hard divide between bosses and staff in which faith was not a given and fear was fuel.

It is also an illuminating insight into the challenge we face as the “new normal” of work goes permanently hybrid and some regular hours from home are embedded into the business practice in most office-based organisations. Employees have said they want it, and large companies are frantically offloading acres of CBD space in order to capitalise on that.


But if managers do not have confidence in the work ethic of their people, and are so comfortable in their condemnation as to let it fly in a spectacularly open forum, how is a functional work society going to hang together?

It is not only Millennials who are motivated to go above and beyond at work – which so many of us lucky to have retained our jobs have done in the past year – if they feel appreciated, understood and even a little bit loved.

The best contemporary bosses are those in tune enough with the human beings in their charge to, at least, treat them like adults, and at best offer authentic encouragement to elicit dedication – plus nurture the ultimate golden goose, creativity.

Quite apart from the deflating effect of learning just how little some CEOs believe in the integrity of some within their community, Mr Cartwright’s alleged assessment of his team’s work ethic reveals little understanding of what will be a far greater challenge than getting bums on office seats; adequately caring for employee mental health.


If people are not producing at the desired speed and intensity (and research shows a quarter of businesses felt productivity went up last year while the same amount felt it decreased in the pandemic), rather than to belittle people, surely it would be more profitable to reach out with support.

Employers of choice in 2021 and beyond will be those in which people who have endured a significant psychological event, ie all of us, are given the latitude to operate in ways that make us feel seen, satisfied and acknowledged. Happy people are natural givers, even at work.

Creating this ideal need not involve rolling out free foot massages and Netflix subscriptions, but it should include more than a small amount of grace.

Wendy Tuohy is a Sunday Age senior writer @wtuohy

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