Current economic conditions, advances in technology and improvements in operational processes are constantly changing and challenging the way businesses operate. In order to compete and survive, organisations may regularly find themselves having to evaluate their day-to-day operations and functions, which can ultimately lead to workplace restructuring.

Workplace Relations & Safety Partner Neil Napper said, "We are often asked by our clients for advice about best practice when undertaking a workplace restructure and how to negotiate the associated sensitivities and complexities, so we recently held a briefing session to try and give them some practical guidance on what can be a pretty complex and involved area.

"Corporate restructures are often driven mainly by market demands. Commercial, operational and tax issues tend to dominate executive thinking. In our experience, people issues are often considered late in the piece—sometimes when it's too late—leading to missed opportunities to ensure success on the ground. For project success, it is critical for organisations to get the people issues right. HR needs to have a seat at the planning table from the outset to help ensure a smooth transition."

Co-presenter Aaron Goonrey said that, "Every organisational restructure is obviously unique. However there are some key practical steps that employers can take to minimise the risk of an adverse outcome, being:

  1. Be aware of your legal obligations. This includes consultation and notification obligations under modern awards, enterprise and employment agreements.
  2. Consultation and notification are about informing the affected employees and getting their views; it is not just about having a 'chat'.
  3. Proactively explore alternative employment options for affected employees to try and obtain acceptable alternative employment.
  4. Where applicable, ensure that the 'customary and ordinary turnover of labour' exception is expressly included in enterprise and employment agreements and policies.
  5. Remember that redundancy is about the position, not the person—plan and document the process to minimise your exposure to litigation.

"Finally, make sure any employment agreements and termination or redundancy polices are current and do not provide contractually enforceable obligations that your organisation is unwilling or unable to meet."

Both Goonrey and Napper stressed that employers should plan for change continually and be adaptable, as a "one size fits all" approach will not work. To meet the challenge of disruption, organisations need to re-think their people strategies to ensure they not only survive but thrive in the face of change.