Episode 4: Sweetening the deal
We know how much people are loving remote work – being able to spend more time with family/friends and being more autonomous with our schedules has given many people a new lease on life. So how should employers shift their rewards, recognition and engagement approaches to suit employees’ new expectations?
In this episode, Monica Watt, chief human resources officer of the ELMO Group, shares her secrets for making a business more attractive to existing and potential workers. She also tells us why in a post-COVID market short on talent, holding on to your best people is more important than ever before.
“If you don’t do anything, your competitors will take your talent. So you are better off starting and doing something right now when it comes to wellness as well as reward and recognition.” – Monica Watt, chief human resources officer of the ELMO Group
Bullet points of key topics & time stamps:
- Building connections with employees in a post-COVID world [00:02:29]
- Creating new spaces to engage and focus on wellbeing [00:07:27]
- Rewards schemes that give workers what they really want [00:12:09]
- A personalised, flexible schedule to replace the traditional work week [19:48]
- Finding the right strategy to support and reward your workforce [00:23:00]
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Read the full transcript here
James: Hello and welcome to ‘HR in the driver’s seat’, a podcast for HR professionals and leaders looking for helpful insights and advice to shape their future workforce strategies.
My name is James Judge, I’m a human resource and organisational development specialist, a commentator in these fields, and a content creator – and I’ll be guiding you through this limited series and introducing you to our stellar line up of guests who’ve got plenty of practical tips and insights to share with you.
This series is brought to you by LeasePlan, saving you time and money, and keeping you mobile.
Employee expectations have shifted dramatically since COVID-19 hit our shores; some things that were once considered an employee perk have become a basic expectation of employment. For example, researchers found the majority of people would give up a higher salary if it meant they could continue working from home. And other research suggests some employees would rather quit their job than give up remote work.
One study with Microsoft revealed that 40% of the global working population is considering looking for a new job this year, and Australian employers are looking down the barrel of a massive skills shortage. It’s never been more important to hold onto your best people. So how can you make your business attractive to both your existing and potential workers? We put this question to Monica Watt, Chief Human Resources officer of the ELMO Group of companies across Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Monica is passionate about talent, organisational development, technology, engagement and culture.
Monica, thanks for joining me today.
Monica [00:01:59] It is great to be here, James. Thank you.
James [00:02:01] Today’s episode is all about how employers can sweeten the deal for employees in the new world of work. But before we tackle that, I thought I’d start by getting your thoughts on how approaches to employee engagement may have changed over time. I’m thinking about what’s sometimes referred to as the three Fs: fruit, flu shots and fitness that were once all the rage. But the conversation seems to have become more nuanced. Have you noticed any interesting shifts or evolutions in approaches to rewards or employee engagement over the last decade?
Monica [00:02:34] Really good question, I use the three Cs, which is culture, collaboration and career path, that coupled with consultation and communication then enables you to actually be enriched and growing and scaling inside your business. What you’re thinking about, why there’s such a societal shift but there’s also a behavioural shift, and there’s a cultural shift from our employees as well as our customers, as well as the global expectation of how we’re going to operate. So it’s not just about making sure you’re being fed, that you have your flu shots, you know, and you’re being rewarded along the way.
It’s saying, who are you as a human being? What are the opportunities that I can present to you? Because in an environment and a world that is really short on talent, if we’re looking at just what’s happening here in Australia at the moment, we are more than 100,000 skilled migrants short, so what are you actually doing and building and ensuring your talent is staying put? So retention is key. How am I building and creating connections with those people? How am I innovating through creating spaces and environments that collaborate? I think it’s definitely move beyond the three Fs. The other opportunities that we have really found, and it’s come through COVID, we are hardwired for connection, so the environment has shifted so much that we’re looking at social connection, social spaces, the way in which we encourage our people to come together, to be together, to connect, to communicate, to collaborate, really – and that’s what you want. And I think that’s the biggest shift that I’ve been saying for these last, I think, five to ten years but more significantly in the last two.
James [00:05:01] Right, I’m glad you brought up COVID, because that takes us very nicely to the next question I was going to ask you. There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has changed the way people work in both positive and negative ways. What do you think the lasting legacies are here and do you think it’s fundamentally impacted employee expectations on issues like remote and flexible work arrangements?
Monica [00:05:22] Meaty question, a very meaty question, that I think I wish we all had a crystal ball to try and know the answer to that. But there has been a significant shift in the expectation, that expectation itself, to do with the employee experience and also the customer experience and the synergies between those.
The opportunities that we do have are understanding the entire touch point that we have from hire to retire with our employees. As you can imagine, through the pandemic, the employee experience has changed so dramatically that there are two key areas that we do need to focus on, the expectation about employee wellness. We ran a HR industry benchmark survey and that industry benchmark survey highlighted that one of the number one priorities was wellness. We’ve seen this through COVID, we’ve seen this pre-COVID and we’re going to see this greater post-COVID.
Whilst we’re still in the thick of it, in many areas, it’s understanding that wellness is no longer a ‘nice to have’; it’s a compulsory component. But there are four tiers of wellness that we do need to consider and that’s physical well-being, that’s mental wellbeing, that’s financial wellbeing, but also the social wellbeing. How do we engage? How do we connect? How do we demystify that it’s okay to talk about subjects that we’re not altogether certain of?
The second one, which you’ve already highlighted, is flexible work arrangements. Again, I think we wish we had a crystal ball and there is no one right way of working because it’s now expected.
And what you’ve got to think, it’s no longer good enough to have a one size fits all approach, but I think the conversation that has to be had is – what is flexibility? Flexibility is more than just working remotely. Flexibility is creating an opportunity in space for you to have your life and your home and your work and have synergies between each of those.
So whether it’s flexi time and start and finish, whether it’s job share, whether it’s return to work parents, whether it’s sabbaticals to go and do study leave, there’s a lot around flexibility. COVID-19, I think, was the tipping point for employees and employers because they didn’t actually have a choice.
If I look at ELMO, we did our disaster recovery and business continuity plan testing on the Friday and we decided it worked that well, we shifted and pivoted to remote working on the Monday – that’s it, literally just went overnight. This is where HR definitely stepped up, and we’re frontline responders to business success and being able to sustain them over a period of time, but we didn’t have a choice. We had to adapt our processes and practises. And once you’ve done that, it’s actually hard to try and put the genie back in the bottle. So you’ve actually got to be open and having those conversations.
Now, companies may have seen their productivity shift, productivity has changed, the engagement didn’t suffer because they created more spaces. Those organisations that leverage technology ensured they were connected to people, focused on wellbeing and the wellness space, meaning they were trying to create different environments in everybody’s individual homes. But I think there’s a key point here to remind you. Focusing fully on remote based working runs the risk of becoming a very short sighted view of what is changing in our workplace. A business needs to look beyond remote working and look at what flexibility is offering. Look at the opportunities and the engagement that you can have by creating – whether it’s a four-day work week, whether it is the job share, whether it is increasing in encouraging parental engagement and activity, flexi time that enables parents to attend assemblies. An individual who wants to do a triathlon to go and do their training for a triathlon, somebody who wants to do a study, so I think it’s not the remote working that has come into focus. I think it’s the flexible work environment that has come into focus.
So the rules of engagement have shifted. And I think what’s ultimate to understand is nobody is denying that performance and productivity didn’t increase during COVID, which is why the remote working conversation has really bubbled up. But I think that they’re missing the point, the conversation is that we’re actually better together.
James [00:10:58] Really interesting to hear your more expansive views and ideas around flexibility but I just want to return to remote work for a second. So it might be a possibility for knowledge workers, but what about those workplaces where people need to be physically present? Or those organisations where some employees need to be in the workplace and others don’t? So a grocery store which has a, you know, a corporate office and people working on the floor, check out, stacking shelves, how do organisations with mixed workforces like these fairly introduce and manage policies on remote working?
Monica [00:11:32] Really good question and not an easy answer, James. The opportunity that you’ve got to consider is – what is your flexible work policy that you’ve got in these companies? Remote work might be considered as part of the broader flexibilities to an organisation.
As I said, flexibility is more than remote working. So for these organisations that have a hybrid or mixed mode of working, then that’s where you’ve got to be able to leverage your flexi time work schedule that has variable start and finish, compressed work week, you know, with fewer longer days or job sharing where you’ve got two or two part time persons that are working with their responsibilities in a pro-rata salary.
The key to a flexible working environment is the communication and so you need to explain explicitly from the start. I appreciate that your role, you’d like flexibility and let’s look at somebody who’s in a call centre, being in a call centre for them to be away other than a rostered day off is going to be slim to none versus somebody else who has more autonomy because their schedule – client facing, let’s say – client facing and they know that their clients don’t tend to be, I guess, online or engaged on a Friday so I can have my flex time on a Friday.
So it’s having those conversations that not all roles are equal, not all roles can be treated as equal, but what you do need to look at is your inclusive environment that does say just because your role doesn’t have it, it doesn’t mean I can’t offer you something else that can sustain you as a human being and still give us the work-life balance that you need or work-life integration that you need, as well as us to be operationally successful.
James [00:13:22] How do you think reward and recognition programmes can best cater to these mixed workforces? Are there different initiatives that employers should introduce depending on the type of worker they’re targeting?
Monica [00:13:33] I think if you’ve got the right mission and values set inside your organisation and behaviours that support values and people that understand those, then I think you can roll out a rewards and recognition programme no matter where people are actually based.
Everything fundamentally right now, if COVID has taught us anything about technology and digital applications, whether it’s through social network, whether it’s through building out your understanding, whether it’s you’re learning, whether it’s understanding or measuring performance inside your business, technology is going to be key here.
So everything should be accessible and online at all times. I’d suggest having peer-nominated rewards and recognition programmes; that’s what I have at ELMO. We encourage each other. We use badges and reward people or acknowledge people through the small things. It’s very easy to reward and recognise big ticket items such as bringing in revenue, closing clients, reducing churn, you know, implementations, all of those sorts of things – but what about the small things? What are the things that your people are doing that are helping your life be easier, whether it’s engagement in a meeting or amplifying me to share my knowledge instead of hoarding something, so you’re actually calling out some of those behaviours.
It’s really important to make it personalised that it doesn’t belong to the business, the business establishes the framework, reward and recognition from peers belongs to employees. And so it’s very important that businesses work with their employees to establish a framework that works but it’s important to make it personalised. Each manager should have a very distinct and clear understanding of what their employees or people need. They should know who they are as human beings and what makes them tick.
We talk about extrinsic and intrinsic. Is it monetary? Is that non-monetary? All of these things work, some people love birthdays off, other people just go, no, I don’t need a birthday off but I’d like maybe an extra leave day or I’d like some extra cash or whatever it is, it’s trying to work with that.
During COVID and post-COVID at ELMO, we ran so many different things and the target ratio that I have is about 94% success ratio. Now that means 6% of my people, and which is quite normal in the scheme of things, may never be happy with anything that I possibly do. They just want salary and that’s okay.
We have team lunches. We have Yanga Yoga and meditation because we have wellness spaces. We run with tai chi. But it’s looking at – ultimately the differences of those organisations is looking at the whole employee. What is that individual need? I can’t cater to everything specific. We can’t fundamentally, we also couldn’t afford to do it. But what you need to do is talk to your people and think what works best for them? What resources and funding could I use to do that and then implement but also remember, switch things off when they stop working.
There are so many things that organisations can do that are free of charge, that can be driven by employees themselves, that are actually supported, whether it’s a photo, a photography club, run club, cook club, makes no difference. We run a Toastmasters club. All of these things are driven by the employee but they’re supported by the business. And that’s the thing, it needs to be a ground up and a top down support. So ground up implementation and engagement, top down support. I think with that, it doesn’t matter what organisation that you’ve got, you’ll find something that works for you.
James [00:18:38] Right, some great insights and tips there. One of the things we ask every guest in this series is whether you have an interesting case study you wanted to share. A novel approach to rewards or employee engagement that you’ve come across and you believe will work well in a post-COVID environment. I think you’re going to share some information about Seek.
Monica [00:18:58] I have loved what Seek have done. They were named AFR’s best place to work for 2021. Why did they get this accolade? It’s really interesting.
They listened to their employees, they sought their feedback and then they took and created a personalised approach for each of those. And whilst they’ve tried to maintain and cater to the needs of each employee, senior managers have, meanwhile, been able to put together a set of principles that everyone can follow.
So what they actually did was focus on an innovative approach to employee leave programmes. The company extended their carers’ leave to be unlimited and changed to enable flexible working to allow parents to come and engage when they worked. This was really important. When schools were locked down, we had schools – I had three of my grandchildren that were in many of my Zoom meetings because they live with us. There were so many things that were occurring that you couldn’t hide. So parents had to work around their life and we had to be very respectful in saying, I can’t have that meeting at that time, because how many could you possibly corral that have got five children in different locations, and find one perfect spot? Absolutely not possible. So you had to find different ways of working. I think Seek did that very well.
Their parental leave, they extended it from 12 to 18 months because it took into the gauge that we didn’t know how long COVID was going to be. They didn’t know. So they preempted that it was going to be longer than 12 months. And they were damn bloody right. For new parents as well, balancing work life with home life skills, Seek appointed a company called Transitioning Well. They were an agency that specialised in helping management and employees to navigate major transitions back into the workplace and in their work lives.
They implemented and created non-financial benefits and those non-financial benefits were including the ability to work from home, at least part of their week, so part of the work week being more flexible, practices with greater opportunities for professional development that was funded professional development. So in our HR industry benchmark survey and this is the reason why I really liked this programme that Seek ran with, the HR benchmark survey, said that 85% of respondents, which was 1,800 HR professionals across Australia and New Zealand, said that they were either going to increase or at least remain – their headcount would remain the same. And in doing so, the second priority was to upskill and re-skill employees. Coming back to one of our earlier points, when you’ve got such a tight labour market, you’ve got a skilled migrant shortage, to actually create space for professional development as well as wellbeing and wellness, which they did. I think they did meditation. They did massage. They did remediation. There were lots of things that they did that were about saying, I appreciate that your life is here and I appreciate my work, our work is encroaching on your life. How can I help there to be some synergies between them?[SPONSOR MESSAGE BEGINS]
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James [00:22:52] I was looking at some research recently on the benefits of organisations introducing a four-day working week, and they were pretty astonishing both in terms of improvements in productivity and engagement. Almost two-thirds of employers in this particular study, it was a Henley Business School study I was reading, said that providing a four-day working week has helped them to attract and retain talent. And one-third of business leaders said switching to a four-day week will be important to success in the future. What are your views on this?
Monica [00:23:21] It’s an interesting topic and I know full well that New Zealand has been testing that more recently and a solid, flexible working policy enables that to occur. And you just need to switch it on. But it is understanding that every organisation needs to create its own framework because there is no one way that is going to work for them, because not all industries, and as we’ve already discussed, not all roles can actually accommodate for that, and if you don’t have the technology or the digital means or processes and systems to enable that, that’s not fundamentally successful as well.
And let’s be honest, not all employers want that. I know, I come to work for a break from home all my life. I love what I do and trying to keep me away would be very hard. And COVID was a definite challenge for me. But a flexible work policy enables that to occur. And I think you’ll find many organisations do that, whether it’s a contracted work week, whether it’s a shorter work week, whether it’s through flexi time. When you think of the new generation of work, our smart devices enable us to be able to work 24/7. So why shouldn’t we be able to work across 24/7 when I want and how I want with notwithstanding client facing engagement?
I think the world of work is going to transition not to a four-day work week but it’s going to transition, possibly to a seven-day workweek with as many hours or as less or as more as we need. But I think with the right technology and measures of performance, anything is possible. And so it’s worth having a look and looking at what operating models that the business is working with and leveraging a flexible policy that enables anything to occur.
James [00:29:17] I think there might be some dangers in some of these extremely generous provisions we’ve discussed, such as unlimited leave or four day workweeks. What are your views there?
Monica [00:29:27] I think the first thing we need to do is tread very carefully, as there’s no one organisation that can apply that in the same way. It’s also really important to understand that we’re not time-bound, remember output is not outcome and busyness is not performance. And so by utilising those, you actually will remove the ability or the human nature’s proclivity to take the mickey out of anything that’s offered to them.
Most employees remember policies are only designed for the 1% of the population. They’re the ones that you really don’t want in your business. So if you’re using those, if you’re looking at performance measures, you’re focused on outcomes, then it’s not time-bound. And that also then respects your employees work life as well.
Somebody who does have constraints, that means it takes them longer to do a task versus somebody who doesn’t, meaning that they can get things done faster. It doesn’t mean you load up the person who can go faster and it doesn’t mean you penalise the person that is going the normal time. It’s finding the right way and it has to be outcome-based. And then that doesn’t matter if it’s limited, unlimited, but it removes the time-bound.
James [00:26:25] Finally, is there any advice you can give to listeners on introducing or changing recognition or engagement programmes to reflect shifting expectations of employees, maybe things to avoid or maybe simple steps to ensure success?
Monica [00:26:38] I think this is where another crystal ball is needed. You’ve got to be asking your employees all the time. You know, it is a conversation.
But I think it’s really important to remember to keep tracking employee sentiment because employee sentiment engagement is changing all the time if you consider what’s happening in their world, what is happening with their families. If we look at what’s happening in India at the moment and the impacts on our people that we’ve got, and have they had calamity in environments that they can’t get to?
So understanding them, saying that you were fine last week but something’s happening in your world this week, there’s a key change that you need to be asking people instead of saying, what are you doing? The first thing you should be changing is from what to how, how are you doing? Encourage more one-on-one check-ins between employees and managers. Key driver here, managers need to know exactly how to manage and if there’s something that we’ve all learnt and through my peers, through conversations through COVID, many managers themselves had never worked distributed format, so they didn’t know how to work themselves. And so the challenge that they had was how do I then know how to help my people if I was struggling myself?
So working with managers and helping them to find the right strategies for them to be successful, as well as understanding by giving more parameters and support, you don’t need to micromanage. You need to ensure that you’ve got a solid performance management process in place, so using technology so you can differentiate between high, between your good performers and then your poor performers and then do something with your performers, using the effective rewards and recognition programme that is going to work for your organisation. If you’re not sure where to start, look at your other organisations, look at your competitors, look at what’s happening in the market, find something and then build upon it. Just don’t not have it because when you’re thinking about it, if you don’t do anything, your competitors will and your competitors will take your talent. So you are better off starting and doing something right now when it comes to wellness as well as reward and recognition.
James [00:29:09] Monica, thanks so much for coming in today and giving us so much of your time. It’s been a really interesting discussion.
Monica [00:29:14] Thanks, James. Great to be here.
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