Eight Skills Every Employer Should Have (With Free Mini-Courses)

Employer Giving Speech On Meeting With Employees Sitting In Office

Every employer wants a more efficient, more profitable business.  To get there, though, you need to do more than improve your operations or increase your marketing spend.

You need to invest in your people – and one way to do that is by making yourself a better employer.

In this article, we’re going to break down eight skills every employer should have.  We’ll explain what traits you should practice, demonstrate what being a good employer looks like, and direct you to free Fair Work Australia courses for each skill.

1. Compliance Knowledge

Compliance is an undervalued employer skill. It isn’t just a way to keep the ACCC happy – in fact, good compliance can help your business run more effectively.

First, let’s define what compliance is. There are two types: external compliance (abiding by laws, regulations, and standards) and internal compliance (abiding by the rules set by your own company).

External compliance can include things like registering for an ABN, having a privacy statement on your website, abiding by work health and safety standards, and paying your employees the correct award wages.

Failing to properly comply with the relevant laws and regulations can often leave your business open to action from watchdogs like the ACCC and WorkSafe Victoria. If a consumer suffers damages as a result of poor compliance, you could also be held civilly liable.

Internal compliance involves making sure both you and your employees are following the standards set down by your company. This helps maintain an even playing field where everyone knows the rules. It includes things like employee privacy, penalties for damaging business property, and conflict resolution.

While failing internal compliance doesn’t have legal consequences, it can still harm your company’s reputation and operations. If your employees feel as though there isn’t a consistent standard, they won’t trust you and will be more likely to leave.

Internal compliance is also important if you’re a franchisee. As a member of a larger brand, you may be expected to follow certain company protocols and rules.

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Franchisee Workplace Essentials

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2. Hiring Knowledge

Hiring is essential for any growing business, so it’s important to understand the right way to do it.

As a potential employer, the first thing you need to work out is whether you’re ready to hire an employee. For many roles, using contractors or agencies gives you more flexibility with less paperwork. If an employee is the best option, do you need a full-time equivalent, or is a part-time or casual employee a better fit?

Once you’ve decided on the right worker, you’ll need to understand appropriate compliance. Your obligations may include things like:

  • Paying the national minimum wage or award wage for your industry
  • Paying superannuation
  • Providing a safe and healthy workplace
  • Granting leave

If you’re happy to move forward with hiring, the next step is to find the right person for the role. Recruiting can be difficult, so, if you’re struggling to find time for job advertising, screening, and recruiting, it can be a good idea to use a talent acquisition agency to help you.

Finally, you need to make sure you have a smooth onboarding process. This includes things like providing training, developing employment contracts, and creating educational resources.

Hiring employee

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Hiring Employees

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3. Empathy

To be a successful leader, you need to be empathetic. Empathy is different to sympathy – it involves understanding why a person is feeling a certain way.

Being empathetic towards your employees can help you understand their fears, wants and needs, allowing you to create a better, more productive workplace. When people feel safe and listened to, they work harder, function better as a team, and are less likely to churn.

Empathy can also help promote diversity and prevent discrimination. A team that is diverse demographically and psychographically can help you do things like:

  • Hire the best possible talent
  • Improve cultural awareness
  • Cater more effectively to different customer segments

Diversity, in turn, helps make discrimination less likely. Discrimination occurs when you treat people differently based on traits like:

  • Age
  • Race, colour, national or ethnic origin, or immigration status
  • Religion or political opinion
  • Sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity
  • Marital status
  • Pregnancy or breastfeeding
  • Family or career responsibilities
  • Physical or mental disability

By using empathy to put aside your personal biases and perspectives, you can choose the best employees from a diversity of backgrounds, which will help you avoid discriminatory hiring, compensation, promotion or dismissal practices.

Diversity at Business Meeting

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Diversity and Discrimination

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4. Flexibility

Being flexible in how you allow your team to work is a management trait closely related to empathy.

Employers used to follow the nine-to-five stay-in-your-cubicle model because they felt like employees were more productive when their work was being monitored. Today, though, successful leaders empathise with their employees. They know that their team has personal lives, and they know that not everyone works well sitting behind a desk for eight hours. The focus is shifting from hours worked to outcomes produced – and it’s better for everyone involved.

COVID-19 has played a huge role in accelerating flexible workplace environments. Most employers embraced either remote or hybrid work during the pandemic, and it’s a change that’s unlikely to go away any time soon. Why? Because the results show that flexible work options reduce employee stress, increase job satisfaction, and improve productivity.

If it’s appropriate for your workplace, consider implementing the option for hybrid, remote, or other types of flexible work. Keep in mind that certain employees also have a legal right to request flexible working arrangements. 

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Workplace Flexibility

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5. Motivating Leadership

No-one wins alone. Every great business leader has been successful because they knew how to choose the right people for their team and give them the tools they needed.

When you’re building a high-performing team, think of yourself as a gardener. Your people are plants, and you need to create the optimum environment for their growth.

The first thing you need is to find out what motivates people. Good compensation is important, but other motivators, like career growth or creating positive change, also need to be considered. Once you know what drives each of your employees, you can respond in the right way.

The best motivators won’t matter, though, if your workplace environment is poor. Make sure you create a space where your employees can achieve their best outputs. This might include flexible working arrangements, an open communication culture, and pleasant physical working conditions.

Finally, you need a way to deal with the weeds – workplace problems and dissatisfaction. Are you complying with external and internal standards? Do you have a dispute resolution function? Is there an employee feedback mechanism in place? Do people feel safe coming to you with grievances and problems?

You can’t force high performance. It needs to be nurtured organically, and creating a great environment is the best way to make that happen.   

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Managing Employees

Learn how to build a high performing team and develop your people management skills.

6. Record-keeping

Record-keeping is a practical, essential skill that every employer should have. Whether you’re dealing with team-level records for things like task time-tracking, or business-level records for things like gross sales and COGS, you need to keep accurate data for both compliance and decision-making purposes.

Here are a few areas you should keep records for:

  • Business registrations
  • Customer information (where appropriate)
  • Contractor and supplier records
  • Activity statements
  • Income tax returns
  • Employment and payroll records
  • Lifecycle management for systems and equipment
  • Liabilities
  • Expenses
  • Safety procedures and checks

Employment records are particularly important. You’re legally required to keep records of things like:

  • Your employees’ names, ABNs, commencement dates, and employment type
  • Pay rate, amount of pay, deductions, and incentive-based payments
  • Hours of work, start and finish times, and overtime
  • The leave each employee has and how much they take, as well as any cash-out agreements
  • Super contributions
  • Flexibility arrangements
  • Guarantee of annual earnings
  • Employment termination
  • Employees transferred if you sell or buy a business
  • Pieceworkers

These records are confidential and should only be accessed by authorised individuals like accountants and bookkeepers. If you fail to keep your records private or properly maintain them, you could be issued with an infringement notice.

Office worker filing document

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Record-keeping and Pay Slips

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7. Performance Management

Performance management is a subset of motivating leadership. Being good at helping your team do their best work – and knowing how to coach underperformers – is a trait that differentiates great managers from merely good ones.

The easiest way to help your employees work well is to properly set expectations. If you aren’t clear about the scope of each role and the quality or rate of work, your employees won’t know what they need to do. You should have clear performance criteria that are achievable – don’t set unrealistic targets and then blame your team for failing to meet them.

You should also set aside time for onboarding employees into new roles. Even if they’ve held a comparable role at another company, teaching them how things work at your business can streamline their learning curve and set them up for success.

It’s also important to give regular feedback on how your employees are doing. Depending on the size of your business, this might fall to your team leaders or managers. Make sure you tell employees if they’re doing something incorrectly – don’t wait until their performance review to point it out.

Annual or bi-annual performance reviews are also unhelpful for actually improving performance. By moving to monthly or quarterly check-ins, you can deliver more concise feedback that employees will find easier to take on board. It also means underperformers won’t spend a year underperforming – addressing the problem earlier means it gets solved faster.

When you do give feedback, make sure it’s practical advice that gives employees a clear roadmap to success. If someone isn’t producing enough output, for example, telling them to work faster is unhelpful. Instead, find out why they aren’t producing as much as other team members, and then develop an action plan that helps them work more effectively.

Finally, if you’ve tried all the above steps and an employee still isn’t meeting output or cultural standards, you might need to terminate them. If that happens, make sure you conduct the process with compassion, empathy, and in line with all legal and HR requirements.      


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Managing Performance

Learn how to promote good performance and deal with underperformance in your workplace.

8. Good Communication

We already talked about things like understanding how to nurture employees and address underperformance, but it’s also important to learn how to hold difficult conversations. Every employer will have to conduct them at some point, so knowing the best approach is key.

The first thing you need to do is think about what you’re going to say. Gather evidence of the issue, review your HR policies, and then consider the outcome you want to achieve. There should always be a clear path forward once you hold the conversation, so identify what that looks like.

When you’re ready, schedule a time to discuss the issue with your employee. Make sure it’s at a time when emotions have cooled and neither of you feels rushed. While difficult conversations should be conducted in a confidential setting, bringing HR or legal personnel into the meeting may be appropriate.

When you talk to your employee, use the evidence you collected to show your understanding of the issue. Be clear about your concerns, but don’t use inflammatory or accusatory language. Your goal is to solve the issue, not express your personal feelings. It’s also important to give your employee a chance to respond. There may be nuances to the issue that you aren’t aware of, and a two-way discussion where the employee feels listened to will lead to more productive outcomes.

Conclude the conversation with a clear action plan that uses SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). Make sure you properly document the conversation and any discussed outcomes – this is essential for good compliance.    

HR Manager Interviewing Candidate

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Difficult Conversations in the Workplace

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Being a great employer doesn’t just benefit your employees. By decreasing employee churn, reducing compliance issues, and improving productivity, it helps your business operate more profitably. 

Here are eight traits every employer and manager should practice:

  1. Compliance knowledge
  2. Hiring knowledge
  3. Empathy
  4. Flexibility
  5. Motivating leadership
  6. Record-keeping
  7. Performance management
  8. Good communication

If you want to learn how to improve those skills, try the free online courses from Fair Work Australia.  They’re specifically designed for SMB and franchise employers, and each course only takes 20 to 40 minutes to complete.


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