By embedding its core values into HR practices, performance management and employee interactions, the HR team at RSL Queensland has created an AHRI-Award nominated employee experience.
The Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) has served and commemorated Australian veterans and their families for over 100 years.
Many of the communities served by the organisation rely on its support to thrive; last year, the Queensland branch alone welcomed over three thousand new clients, provided $3 million in emergency funding, helped 243 individuals and families into safe, permanent housing and helped 246 veterans and their partners secure new employment.
Despite serving a century-old institution, the people and culture team at RSL Queensland has always been future-focused.
Built around the concept of ‘HR with heart’, the team’s grass-roots approach to designing a positive employee experience has allowed the organisation to continuously achieve better outcomes not only for its workforce, but for people they serve: veterans and their families.
“We have an organisation that connects us to a purpose greater than ourselves. That in itself brings great drive to do things differently and create a culture that supports giving back,” says Amy Cameron, Principal HR Business Partner at RSL Queensland.
The success of its endeavours to create the best-possible workplaces for its people has seen the team nominated for AHRI’s 2023 Best Employee Experience Strategy Award, which will be announced at a ceremony in Sydney later this week.
Learn more about this year’s AHRI Awards here.
Designing HR with heart
In designing their employee experience strategy, RSL Queensland endeavours to treat its workforce with the same care, compassion and individuality they provide to its clients.
“They’re not just an employee – that’s one aspect of them,” says Cameron. “They’re actually a person who happens to work for us. And the way we approach it is about thinking of the whole person, and coming from [a place of] kindness, empathy and always maintaining people’s dignity, regardless of what situation that they’re in.”
Over time, this holistic attitude led to the conception of the team’s core mission: to practise ‘HR with heart’.
“People often talk about the art and the science of something. We say the heart, the art and the science,” says Jenny Hanna, Chief HR Officer at RSL Queensland. “And the heart part normally shows up in our culture.
“[For instance], instead of saying, ‘Our policy says three strikes and you’re out,’ it requires us to say, ‘How did we get here? What is our process, but also, what’s occurring for the person in this process?’”
She offers a recent example of practicing ‘HR with heart’ with an employee who was reported by a colleague for treating others unkindly. Rather than issuing a warning or initiating a disciplinary process, the team paused and took stock of the employee’s unique circumstances.
“When we inquired to find out what was happening in her world, [we found] she had an injury. So we were able to do an ergonomic assessment to help her out with that. She was also [experiencing] a very complex situation at home, and we were able to get our consultant, who’s a specialist in domestic and family violence, involved.
“Instead of just treating what might be a symptom, we’ve been able to put in place some really nice support. And that’s HR with heart: you’ve got to step out from behind the rulebook and really think about the person in front of you.”
Maintaining a positive employee experience
As an organisation whose success relies on effective collaboration, it was essential to Hanna and Cameron to get RSL Queensland’s workforce on board with their employee experience strategy, and to ensure they were living and breathing the organisation’s values.
One of the company’s most effective initiatives to achieve this has been the modification of its performance targets to include expectations for how employees treat one another.
“That’s HR with heart: you’ve got to step out from behind the rulebook and really think about the person in front of you.” – Jenny Hanna, Chief Human Resources Officer, RSL Queensland
The team refers to these targets as ‘what KPIs’, which relate to the responsibilities and actions required of a role, and ‘how KPIs’, which look at how employees are behaving while they work to achieve these goals.
“It’s received really well across the business, because it really does put money where our words are – we [not only] talk about our values, we’re actually going to incentivise you to live those values,” says Cameron.
“And it sends a strong message that we’re not just about achieving great things at the expense of people, and at the expense of relationships.”
Protecting culture and wellbeing with peer support
As members of a client-facing organisation, RSL Queensland’s HR team recognises the fact that there are certain factors influencing the employee experience that are largely out of their control.
In addition to a robust occupational violence program and a zero-tolerance policy for aggressive behaviour, the organisation has created a new peer support initiative to help employees support each other to manage the demands of their professional and personal lives.
“We actually pulled this from the emergency services,” says Cameron.
Under the initiative, employees are selected as peer support responders who can provide an approachable, confidential pathway for employees to find immediate help and be linked to external support services. These responders are then trained up in mental health first aid and additional training on how to direct their peers to the wellbeing support they need.
“[Responders] actually have to be nominated,” says Cameron. “We [go] to the business and we say, ‘Tell us who you go to when you’re having a bit of a rough day.’ And they can opt in or opt out.”
The engagement with this initiative has been overwhelming, with over ten per cent of RSL Queensland’s workforce volunteering as peer support responders, all of whom are accredited in mental health first aid.
Want to become accredited in mental health first aid and enhance your understanding of mental wellbeing? Book your place at AHRI’s mental health first aid course now.
The success of the program and the team’s mission to deliver ‘HR with heart’ is evidenced by positive trends in employee engagement. In 2022, employee feedback showed a satisfaction score of 71 per cent. This result represented a six per cent increase from the 2021 results and was 13 per cent higher than the ANZ not-for-profit benchmark.
Having these achievements recognised with an AHRI Award nomination has reinforced the team’s mission and their commitment to continue championing HR with heart.
“People might think of us as the RSL clubs and pubs – a place to play some pokies,” says Hanna. “Things like [the AHRI nomination] are so helpful for us, when we’re advertising a role, to get people to say, ‘Hold on – maybe I need an extra look. Maybe this organisation isn’t what I thought it was.’
“Lots of hard work goes in. But it’s more than that, too – it helps us sell ourselves.”
“Nothing we do in people in culture or in HR is by accident,” adds Cameron. “We have two very strategic leaders who lead HR with heart, and they are creating really targeted changes to create a beautiful [culture]. And AHRI is our mothership – it’s our professional network of recognition of all of the hard and targeted and purposeful work that we do.”
AHRI will be announcing the winners of its 2023 Awards later this week. Learn more about the Awards program here.