Dream employers turn the tables on traditional practices

Anne Majumdar talks to award-winning employers about what it really means to be a great boss

WHEN YOU THINK of your dream employer, do you think of a bulging pay packet, on-call massages, bean-bags and lounge suites to work from or a roof-top bar with free Friday night drinks? You’re certainly not alone if you answer yes to any of the above. But the reality is often far removed from the daydream. Perks and salaries, while very nice, are only part of
the equation and there are lots of other important factors which come into being a great employer.

The winner of the much-coveted Executive PA Magazine Awards Employer of the Year award,  financial planning firm Invest Blue (nominated by Executive Assistant Natasha Harmer) says it’s vital to be a good employer in order to attract the best people.

Invest Blue Manager People and Culture Kasey Patterson says, “it’s critical for us to
have the ‘right people in the boat’ to achieve our ‘Big Dream’. It requires all our people to
pick up the oar and row in sync.”

She says then once you have that A-team in place, you need to align them to a common
purpose.

“All our people understand our ‘why’ and as a business our people come first.”

So, what exactly does putting your people first mean?

For Invest Blue, it means the implementation of a significant “people budget” to offer employees learning and development opportunities as well as a number of benefits.

Core values also play an important role, forming part of the company’s daily
activities. Demonstrating adherence to them is actually a KPI for the company’s staff.

Celebrating staff is also important, Patterson continues.

“A key initiative we have recently launched is the release of our first ever People Year Book which highlights all the people within our business and key achievements.”

“We hope to reflect on this document each year and be wowed by the amazing people within our business and the things they achieved throughout the year.”

Other initiatives include workplace flexibility, an employee recognition program that offers additional days leave on milestone anniversaries, a day off on your birthday, an employee share scheme, a Value our People (VOP) program as well as individual and team bonuses.
The company also holds a future leaders event where its people are invited to provide insight into what the company is doing well, what it can do better and genuinely provide strategic input into the future direction of Invest Blue.

Other companies are also doing amazing things with a slightly different approach.

Employer of the Year runner-up Suncorp was nominated by Management Assistant Kristin Blewman for encouraging a work-life balance.

“Suncorp’s Smart Environments create dynamic work environments including flexible working spaces, supported by technology that promotes connectedness, productivity and mobility,” says Blewman.

“The technology enables employees to work anywhere, anytime.”

Staff are encouraged to work from home one day per week with an additional entitlement to a set number of days of flexible leave, which can be taken to attend to personal commitments during ordinary working hours. These could include settling your newly purchased home or attending unexpected vet appointments.

Creating opportunities for employees to enhance their skills and experience is another way Suncorp goes above and beyond, according to Blewman who says short term secondments are available as a way of exposing employees to different areas of the business and growing their knowledge-base.

She has herself been supported to develop her own potential through internal training, as well as being encouraged to attend professional development courses.

“My leader also takes time to hold regular one-on-one meetings to assess my development which is great to keep my goals on track.”

Bupa Australia, also a runner-up, was commended for its family spirit and for “genuinely” caring about its staff by assistant Michelle Taylor.

“I recently lost my mother and the ‘Bupa family’ gathered around me. I received flowers, messages from our directors. Even recently they still check in on me ensuring I am doing okay and if there is anything they can further help with.”

As a major player in the health and wellness space, Bupa also offers some great incentives in this area for its staff ranging from support in quitting smoking, skin checks or even massages.

Taylor says the overall culture has changed dramatically in recent times.

“Bupa is completely different, no matter what part of the business you work in, we are one Bupa – we respect and value each other.”

She says having an executive team that is both “visible and approachable” is also a
major plus.

“No matter which state office you visit, you will always see them wandering the corridors, always happy to have a quick chat or wave to you from a boardroom.”

And while Bupa has given Taylor a number of opportunities to progress her career and
development, she says the greatest thing they have done for her is to believe in her.

“My managers are always right beside me cheering me on. You always have great
opportunities to expand and as a PA/EA you have many projects you can put your
hand up for.”

As Taylor points out, a company’s work ethos is undoubtedly important, but equally
important is the approach of the people that you deal with on a daily basis, and
particularly your manager.

Winner of the Boss of the Year category Claerwen Little, from Uniting, says she has
no doubt how important the culture of an organisation is in order to be a great boss.

“If the culture values its employees, values their work and values their development then
it will equally invest in ensuring that those who are in charge have the right level of expertise and experience, and, more importantly, the right attitude toward their role and their staff.

“You can tell almost immediately if an organisation does not have this through its narrative, its morale levels, staff retention, bottom lines, whether it invests in training, and by speaking to customers and consumers about how they are treated and the quality of what is produced.”

She says it quickly becomes clear when an organisation that claims to be values driven does not stand by those values with the impact felt all the way down the company ladder.

“It is very difficult to sustain your role as a good boss without the culture and structures
to support you.”

More than just an exercise in good HR, implementing a positive culture can result in significant benefits for the company itself.

“Becoming a great workplace is a sound business strategy,” says Zrinka Lovrencic, Managing Director of Great Place to Work Australia.

“Having a culture of trust benefits the organisation at every level; employees are more innovative, creative, loyal, demonstrate respect, and genuinely care about each other and the company.”

Being a great workplace with outstanding employees leads to better client retention, customer satisfaction and ultimately a healthier bottom line, she explains.

In fact, the average revenue growth for companies that made the most recent list of Best Places to Work over the 12 months to July 2016 was 39.6%.

The moral of the story? Companies should nurture those daydreams then reap the rewards. It really does pay to be nice.