How to keep your staff longer

New Zealand employers, particularly those in IT, apparently still have much to learn if they are to get the best out of their workforce and so for their company to strongly prosper.

Two new surveys herald grim news about the state of the New Zealand workplace.

New Zealand employers, particularly those in IT, apparently still have much to learn if they are to get the best out of their workforce and so for their company to strongly prosper.

The University of Auckland has found, in what it claims is the first major piece of research on staff turnover in 20 years, that firms lose, on average, a 10th of their workers every year. This, naturally, is hitting productivity.

Furthermore, staff aren’t stimulated by their work or appreciated by their bosses, the survey suggests, and regardless of employment law, are only valued when their skills are in short supply.

A few days later, global recruitment firm TMP Worldwide proclaimed that a lack of employment flexibility was making workers move on, with IT the worst offender.

Local TMP HR consultant Jacquie Duffin says less than two-thirds of IT firms are committed to flexible working policies and practices, helping to give IT the highest turnover of all the employment sectors -- 26%.

The TMP survey, quizzing 80 New Zealand organisations employing more than 100 staff, also found IT had a worse record than other industries on study leave, even though it is a fast-changing business that demands skills that need constant updating. IT also apparently lags other industries in letting staff accrue leave.

Companies are realising that to retain the best people for longer they need to make their organisation a more attractive place to work, Duffin says.

Pay is not the only issue, says TMP. Flexible working hours, child care leave, holiday programmes, personal days, on-site creches, training and coaching can also help firms keep their staff.

Auckland Regional Council information chief Tony Darby and Compaq HR director Bridget O’Shannessey both agree with the university findings that suggest a link between staff age and turnover, citing New Zealand's strong "OE" culture in which younger people are keen to gain overseas experience.

O’Shannessey highlights Compaq’s offices abroad as ideal opportunities for those wanting to head off and later transfer back home. O’Shannessey claims Compaq is improving its staff turnover by encouraging “professional growth” coupled with an undisclosed “retention strategy”.

Darby says the OE must be "factored" into recruitment, and says he is "flattered" to see staff wanting to return to the ARC after seeing what is out there in the world. He says staff turnover can be a good thing if a company has non-performing staff or their skill sets don’t match what is needed. Only if good people are being lost does it become a serious problem. Darby says his IT section has over the past five years enjoyed an average 7% turnover rate.

In today’s era of flat management structures and reduced bureaucracy, IT firms have apparently not yet learned what to replace the rules and regulations with. But Darby has an idea.

“It’s quite simple really: a conversation. Talk to your people and ditch the interpersonal mush -- when people are left in the dark to make up their own conclusions and interpretations about what is going on in an organisation."

TMP and Auckland University are right in their findings, Darby says, and point to policies good organisations have practised for years. “Your people need to know their input is valued and don’t try to ‘buttonhole' them. Good leadership is critical."

In addition to the usual training and treating people as individuals, Auckland Regional Council offers “a leadership development programme for the real stars”. Those concerned about pay alone are unlikely to stay around, Darby says, so the council tries to recruit those who are passionate about their jobs, work hard and care for their environment.

He says the organisation pays a "fair market rate" but, more importantly, cares for its people and constantly talks to them. “We do lots of interesting projects and continually push ourselves to learn." The ARC’s human resources team looks at the behaviours and approaches of candidates rather than technical skills alone. “If the people have the right approach, then anything is possible,” Darby says.

Greenwood is Computerworld's human resources reporter. Send email to Darren Greenwood. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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Tags careersstaff retention

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