7 secrets to unlocking employee happiness

Smart practice

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Re-think retention strategies to keep your most talented people

Selecting the right candidate for a new role is important. But so is keeping them, given the time and cost involved in hiring, training and rewarding the right people.

According to McCrindle’s research summary Australia in 2020:
 A 
Snapshot of 
the
 Future, by
 2020
 the average job tenure will 
be
 around 
three
 years
(compared with four 
years
 today) and voluntary
 annual 
turnover 
will be close to
 20%1. It’s also likely you’ll see staff turnover more frequently in the future.

“When we lose someone, I call it a ‘minor tragedy’ in our office,” says Paul Hines, CEO of GSA Insurance Brokers.

“As a consulting firm, our success is down to the strength of our individuals and their advice. It’s imperative we have outstanding people – and losing a good person really hurts.”

With 50 staff, Hines knows retention strategies still need to be genuine and authentic – even as you grow.

“I feel lucky to work in a supportive and caring environment – we care about everyone achieving their goals and doing great things. It’s not just about contribution to the bottom line.”

We are a 'high performance, high rewards' environment and nothing is off the table.

With that in mind, he shares what he has learned about keeping everyone happy at work.

  1. Happiness starts on day one

    “Having left nothing to chance in the selection process, we are big on getting the induction right,” explains Hines. “Before people want to know what you know, they want to know that you care. That starts with a safe environment – our induction is designed to remove any anxiety, build trust and create a positive platform.”

    Setting clear expectations and performance objectives is part of this. “People need parameters for their performance and behaviours. We all want to know when we’re performing or falling short.”

    They also want to know that their values and the company’s values align. Balancing life and work is not just about time, it’s about aligning purpose.

    “We have a ‘Little Blue Book’ that describes our values, which include ‘surprising’, ‘human’ and ‘energetic’. That’s intergral in how our people become our point of difference,” says Hines.

  2. Rewards are highly individual

    When it comes to rewarding performance, Hines says he is open to anything.

    “We are a ‘high performance, high rewards’ environment and nothing is off the table. We need to know what really matters most to each person, we all have different motivators and few people are solely interested in money.”

    For example, one GSA staff member has his golf club membership paid for, while another is more interested in attending a conference overseas.

    “One of our managers loves presenting and wanted to improve his skills. So we paid for him to get experience in the US; he came back so motivated from the new skills and positive accolades he received.”

    Hines says rewards could be about personal happiness – like an all expenses holiday to Hamilton Island – or learning-focused.

    “Skills development is one of the most motivating things I see. You can improve someone as a professional and as a person, and give them greater confidence in themselves.” What could be more empowering?

    GSA’s senior management all have mentors, drawn from personal relationships at an executive level. “I’ll personally ask a recognised figure in the industry to support someone, matching their style to the individual,” explains Hines.

  3. Genuine care takes times and energy

    When LinkedIn surveyed over 10,000 job changers, it found that 42% were unsatisfied with senior management and leadership2. In a culture of ‘genuine care’, Hines says it’s important to notice if there might be an issue and then spend time getting to the root cause.

    “I do a lot of informal meetings, one on one, to help that person relax,” he explains. “I don’t do all the talking, I just ask questions to get to what’s really going on. I think that's a management skill that’s underrated – being able to have a genuine, friendly chat.”

  4. Nurturing good managers takes patience too

    In larger firms like GSA, having good line managers can make all the difference for staff retention.

    “But that’s a challenge in our industry. You can have someone who's a brilliant consultant fee earner – it doesn’t mean they’re going to be a natural leader.”

    In a bigger organisation, they might never move beyond their ‘high level producer’ role. Hines says it takes patience to nurture their management potential.

    “In two recent cases, it has taken a couple of years. They’re becoming brilliant, but they’ve made mistakes along the way. They need focus, honesty and trust.”

  5. Flexibility is business as usual

    Personalised performance rewards are one thing – but when it comes to flexible work from home practices, and transitioning people back into their roles after maternity leave, Hines says that’s just expected.

    “Remote working is essential for staff engagement and happiness. Flexibility is a given. It’s what we do beyond that, to create a happy, creative and safe environment, that really counts.”

  6. Collaboration is a social activity

    People come to work because of the other people there. A 2015 TINYPulse employee engagement and satisfaction survey found three main reasons for happiness at work. Working with great people was number one, for 34% of respondents3.

    “I’d say we have a collegiate atmosphere, it’s very social and we celebrate the little things and the big things,” comments Hines. “Expense is never spared when it comes to giving back to our team, they deserve it!”

  7. Keep your finger on the happiness pulse

    So, apart from staff vacancy numbers, how do you know if your retention strategies are working? Hines says you can sense it when you talk to people, you just need to be aware.

    “Quality of work is also an excellent indicator, and client satisfaction surveys. But all this has to be underpinned by personal interaction with every individual – it’s based on openness and trust.”

    And while it clearly takes time and financial investment, any retention strategy is also designed to build sustainable performance – for the individual and also for the business.

    “I’m willing to give people every tool they need – a safe and inclusive environment, resources, training and clear parameters,” says Hines. “But if they don’t perform, or reach their own personal aspirations, it’s on them. That’s what a high performance, high reward culture really means.”

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