There is no doubt that the last couple of years have created some of the most challenging environments that individual Australians and businesses have ever faced. From mass redundancies of 2020 to “unprecedented” skill shortages of 2021/22, few could have predicted the challenges that slowed migration combined with a COVID recovery would present. So, staring down the barrel of “the great resignation” and 3.4% unemployment rates, one thing is crystal clear: people matter and your success as a business, more than ever before, will rely on your ability to create and environment they love being part of and where they are empowered to achieve their career aspirations.
As a business, you can always think of more and more ways to engage staff and create a more inclusive and open workplace, but below are a few ideas we have seen implemented to great effect:
1. Ask for feedback
Ask for feedback from staff, even if you don’t think you will like what they’ll have to say. There are several anonymous survey platforms you can use the key is to create a feedback loop. As Abraham Lincoln said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time”. That being said, you will be amazed at how consistent feedback can be across a business. If you are truly committed to creating a safe and inclusive workplace that retains its people, then its starts with identifying what you can do better as an organisation.
2. Conduct Regular Career Reviews
The benefits of regular career reviews have been long documented, and we could do an entire blog on this point, but I will try to keep this brief. Career reviews help you create a culture of open communication in your business and provide a chance to understand what motivates your employees and the growth opportunities they are looking for. They also help you recognise and value your team members, clarify their roles, identify training and development needs, and agree on both behavioural and performance expectations. Too often we see employees leave organisations because they feel that expectations are inconsistent from one staff member to another, which in turn erodes culture. Career reviews should be frequent and well documented with agreed plans, strategies, and measurable goals in place to ensure these do not become box ticking exercises.
3. Flexible Work Arrangements
Victoria’s infamous work from home certainly proved one thing; a lot of the work can be done from home. The genie is out of the bottle and whether you feel it is the right fit for your business or not, if you do not provide flexible work arrangements you WILL lose staff to those companies that do. Let me say that again, YOU WILL LOSE STAFF. Every business is different and the degree of flexibility and whether or not there are performance criteria in place to be eligible is a decision for you, but it is a decision you need to make, or risk being left behind. Rather than focussing on the reasons people must work from the office, turn your attention to how you can create a culture and office environment people want to work in.
4. Find Ways To Engage
One of the biggest challenges businesses face as a result of working from home is the perception that culture is lost and the glue that holds us together will weaken with time. We have seen more and more clients address this by looking for opportunities to bring their team together. Some of the area’s clients have explored include “in person” training and development with external facilitators, team bonding activities, end of month/quarters drinks, charity days, sports teams and social events. There will inevitably be staff who prefer to work from home but finding reasons to bring people together for shared experiences only serves to strengthen the teams’ relationships.
5.Employee Assistance Programs
Two years of lockdowns, families divided, and shut borders was a heavy burden for many to carry. Employee Assistance Programs and engaging with an independent provider allow employees to connect with trained professionals who are able to help them work through challenges that as an employer you may be unaware of. Having recently engaged with Acacia EAP ourselves, some of the services providers can offer include things like:
· Crisis Counselling: 24/7 access to immediate crisis counselling with qualified Psychologists
· Holistic Support: access to legal support for simple, non-work legal matters; qualified financial coaches for assistance on overcoming financial difficulties; and highly qualified Dieticians that can assist with nutritional queries and individualised nutritional support
· Management Assistance: to support managers through decision making and courses of actions
· Critical Incident Support
Implementation of an Employee Assistance Program is likely to result in your business saving money in the long term. There is strong evidence that concludes the overall return on investment for a successful program is 5.74 times the company spend, measured by a reduction in absenteeism and increased productivity (Hargrave et al, 2008; Jorgensen, 2007).
6. Loyalty Programs
Don’t take your most loyal and trusted staff for granted. Loyalty Programs have become more and more common in the industry and are a way of both recognising and celebrating. Whether it is paying for subscriptions, gifts, additional paid leave, celebratory dinners; the important thing is to be celebrating your staff and their contributions over the journey.
7. Training and Development
Investment in your people, is investment in your business. One of the most common reasons for candidates exploring other opportunities is when they feel they have become stagnant and have no room to grow. Use career reviews to identify areas for training and development that empower your team to achieve their longer-term aspirations. Set budgets and allow them to identify training they are interested in.
How often have we heard the saying people don’t leave business’, they leave managers. My question is, what are you doing to ensure managers are aligned and set up with the tools they need to be successful? Investing in the external training of both established and emerging leaders in your business is key to opening communication and creating alignment. Open communications and adaptation of diversity and inclusion initiatives enables businesses to leverage diversity of thought and has been demonstrated to yield a quantifiable uplift in performance. Alignment of your leadership team not only serves to enhance consistency across the business, but also builds resilient leadership and clarity on how and why decisions are being made in the business.
9. Manage Burnout
With increasing staff shortages this is becoming more and more important. There will undoubtedly be times where staff may need to work longer hours to get over a peak in workload, but this should be the exception not the norm. Unfortunately, it is often your highest performer and most loyal staff who go above and beyond without being asked to do so. Introduction of things like time in lieu, paid overtime, or contractors to help manage these pinch points not only limit burnout, but also create a great tool to identify internally when more staff may be required either on a contract or permanent basis.
10. Live Your Values
Live and work purposefully and follow through on what you say you will do. Your values and behavioural expectations are dictated by what you are prepared to walk past. There are so many businesses that talk about their values but fail to live them. Consistent expectations of what is and isn’t acceptable are vital to creating and retaining a high-performance team. Failure to address shortfalls in behavioural expectations, whether it is a manager, a top performer, or a new employee, severely impacts your ability to keep teams engaged as it undermines culture and erodes trust.
11. Conduct Exit Interviews
We started this piece by stressing the importance of asking staff for feedback on what you do well as a business and what you could improve. It is vital that you obtain this feedback from staff who have decided they no longer see a future with your company. Best practice dictates the following:
· Communicate the purpose upfront.
· Have someone other than their direct manager run the meeting
· Send questions in advance.
· Ask for feedback.
· Make it a positive experience.
· Take detailed notes.
· Discuss the feedback and implement changes where possible
Unfortunately, it is inevitable that you will lose staff but I say again: People matter and your success as a business now more than ever before, will rely on your ability to create an environment they love being part of, and where they are empowered to achieve their career aspirations.