In a time of skills shortages, businesses are doing all they can to retain good staff. While many business owners believe employees decide to leave because they’ve been offered more money somewhere else, the real reason is usually more to do with working conditions.
Ian Hutchinson, chief engagement officer of Life By Design and the author of People Glue, believes employees don’t leave organisations, they leave leaders. He says good leadership is the key to keeping employees engaged and motivated, especially in times of change.
According to Hutchinson, almost 90 per cent of managers believe that employees leave because they are after more money, whereas in reality 90 per cent of employees leave for other reasons. He says there are seven key drivers that engage and motivate staff: leadership, purpose, reward, opportunity, relationships, job fulfilment, and work-life balance.
“Managers should not assume that they know what motivates their employees, as everyone is motivated by different drivers,” he says. “Rather, leaders need to spend time communicating with them and working out what their three top drivers are.”
Mark Novak is principal of the real estate firm The Novak Agency, based in Dee Why on Sydney’s northern beaches. He says employee engagement is an important strategic initiative that has helped to ensure his staff stays motivated.
“For the first three years of its existence, the company had a high turnover but now most staff remain for a long time,” Novak says. “I had to change my focus from working in the business to working on the business.”
He says where he feels employers can get it wrong is that they don’t treat their staff as their number one customer.
“[In my line of work] they either focus on landlords if they are rental agents, or vendors if they are selling agents, and jump out of their skin to provide service to them if they call,” he says. “But landlords and vendors should be their number two customer; it is your staff that’s number one and you need to treat them that way.”
One way he keeps his staff engaged is with the use of a staff trainer who comes in for half a day every fortnight and works closely with eight to 10 agents at a time.
“The trainer works on the business with the staff as well as on aligning their personal goals with their work life,” Novak says. “Often staff are able to have a conversation with the trainer that they may not feel they can have with a manager.”
Novak also runs informal staff engagement activities such as birthday parties, monthly social gatherings – which staff take in turn to organise – and Christmas parties.
Robyn Turner, managing director of recruitment company Communicat Careers, says she is often asked by organisations about what others are doing to hang onto their staff.
“One of the ‘buzz’ things at the moment is community days,” she says. “This is where businesses offer employees a chance to take a day off to work with the charity of their choice.”
She says the more standard incentives include offering staff gym memberships, flexible hours or the ability to log in from home so they can work from there.
“Another innovative practice is offering incremental leave,” she says. “For example, for each year you work, you may be offered an extra day’s holiday per year so if you stayed with a business for five years that would be an extra week’s annual leave.”
Turner says businesses are really keen to hang onto good staff, especially when they do the sums to see how much it costs to replace them.
“By the time you factor in the costs of hiring a replacement, [including] the loss of client goodwill if a customer left with the previous employee and the fall in productivity while a new person comes up to speed, then it becomes an expensive exercise to lose someone.”
Making the premises pleasant to work in is another way to motivate staff.
Novak designed his office so the environment resembles a hotel lobby.
“We also spent $20,000 building a cafe area, which is nice for staff and customers,” he says. “My staff are proud of their environment and the payback is huge.”