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Sydney Xref event: Improving retention through employee engagement

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Xref team members posing for a photograph with speakers at an employee engagement and retention event organised by Xref in Sydney

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The Xref team was delighted to host our second Sydney event of the year, we focused on "Improving Retention Through Employee Engagement". We had a panel of experts discussing the relationship between engagement and retention. Our guest speakers shared their opinions about balancing wellbeing with employee engagement and how "boomerang talent" impacts retention. We also learned practical suggestions to increase engagement. Let’s explore what was shared.

Before getting into the discussions, let's introduce our guest speakers: 

  • Jacqui Gulczynski - General Manager: OD & Talent at HammondCare, Jacqui boasts a commendable record of driving strategic organisational outcomes via human capital initiatives.
  • Jenny Varley - As the Head of HR at Hannover Life Re of Australasia Ltd, Jenny's extensive experience shines through her innovative HR strategies and commitment to fostering an engaged workforce.
  • Nicole Millar - A seasoned People & Culture, Director and Organisational Development Leader, Nicole brings her expertise, emphasising holistic approaches to organisational wellbeing and development.
  • Dr. Peter Langford - As the General Manager of Xref Engage, Dr. Langford's research-driven insights into employee engagement offer invaluable perspectives that bridge academic findings with real-world applications.

Charlie Manyweathers, Director of Client Development at Xref, moderated our discussion.

Here's a recap of the enlightening insights shared during the event.

Photograph of speakers and attendees during an event on improving retention through employee engagement organised by Xref

Understanding employee engagement and retention

In the current climate where retaining employees is crucial, our guest speakers were presented with the first question: "What does employee engagement look like in your organisation, and why is retention important?".

Jacqui Gulczynski from Hammond Care highlighted their use of Xref Engagement Surveys to gauge employee involvement. HammondCare has marked a commendable engagement score of 86% this year, up by 4% from last year. A cornerstone of this success? The emphasis is on fostering open communication with their team.

Jenny Varley from Hannover champions the importance of accessibility and open dialogue between employees and leaders. Their annual engagement surveys show the organisation's commitment to transparent communication. Their achievements, including the Change Champion and Best Workplace awards by Xref Engage, speak volumes. A standout figure Jenny takes pride in is the 98% ethics rating from their recent Engagement Survey.

Nicole, on the other hand, offered a unique perspective. For her, engagement transcends mere job satisfaction; it goes into commitment levels. She stressed the distinction between a pleasant workplace environment and authentic engagement.

Shifting the angle to retention, HammondCare, catering to the aged care sector, explained that a stable workforce enables consistent, high-quality services to residents, clients, and patients.

Nicole underscored a pivotal aspect: it's not merely about retaining employees but ensuring those truly engaged and adding significant value have a career progression.

To sum up, the essence of robust employee engagement lies in maintaining transparent communication, upholding ethical practices, and valuing each employee's unique contributions.

Wellbeing and retention

Does improving wellbeing improve retention? Dr Peter Langford accentuated the importance of maintaining a balance between wellbeing and engagement. He highlighted that while wellbeing is essential, engagement correlates more directly with an organisation's performance. The true success of an organisation depends on how successful and engaged its employees feel. Peter cautioned against making wellbeing the sole focus, as it might inadvertently affect performance.

Jacquie Gulczynski from HammondCare provided practical insights, echoing the sentiments around safety and engagement. Their recent safety strategy review, incorporating feedback from frontline services, brought forth the nuanced perspective of "feeling safe." This deeper understanding of wellbeing and safety is now central to their strategy, emphasising the link between engagement, retention, and the safety of their employees.

On the other hand, Jenny Varley from Hannover offered a distinct approach from the financial industry perspective. Hannover has looked beyond traditional wellbeing strategies. Jenny mentioned how they've embraced broader initiatives, such as financial literacy programs. These initiatives have resonated well with their employees. Jenny firmly believes that if employees feel content and stable in their personal lives, it translates into a positive work environment, leading to better engagement and retention.

In essence, the panellists agreed that tailored wellbeing initiatives, rooted in the specific needs of their respective organisations, can significantly boost employee engagement and retention.

Impact of employee engagement on organisational goals

When asked, “What is the impact of increased employee engagement on organisational goals?” Nicole Millar emphasised the undeniable relationship between them. Nicole affirms that aligning engagement strategies with organisational goals is crucial to ensure their effectiveness. Engaged employees don't just benefit internally but also create stronger bonds with external stakeholders and customers, underpinning a more connected and appealing organisation.

Dr Peter Langford underscored the importance of genuine action in backing up any set goals, terming it as "walking the talk." Tangible actions that prove the organisation's dedication to its employees are required. Peter's research at Macquarie University identified the quantifiable benefits of enhanced engagement. A 5% hike in engagement can relate to a 10% rise in payroll value, supporting the sustained benefits of higher engagement, like decreased turnover, heightened productivity, and increased customer satisfaction.

Jenny Varley shared that Hannover’s focus on employee engagement has led to a surge in job applications and retaining employees with impressive tenures of up to 38 years. The strategy at Hannover is clear: By placing employees at the heart of their decisions, they ensure the preservation of intellectual wealth and foster a nurturing work environment, creating mutual benefits for both the organisation and its workforce.

HammondCare's journey offers another lens, where engagement ties directly into broader organisational goals. By focusing on distinct objectives like career pathways and aligning employee value propositions, they not only boost engagement but also cater to the organisation's overarching aims. This approach creates a positive virtual circle where happy customers also bring happy employees. 

In summary, the panellists agreed that increased employee engagement is not just an HR metric. It impacts an organisation's bottom line, reputation, and long-term success.

The value of boomerang talent and its role in retention

When asked if ‘boomerang talent’ can support retention goals, Jenny mentioned that a significant number of departed employees tend to realise the unique culture and industry reputation that Hannover enjoys, leading them to return. This "boomerang talent" showcases their desirable workplace environment. Additionally, Hannover's internal recommendation system for hiring further emphasises the value of maintaining strong relationships with former staff.

Jacquie highlighted the importance of the exit process. By ensuring a smooth and positive departure experience, organisations can set a foundation for potential future returns. She recounted an instance where a team member left and wished to return merely three days later. How an organisation handles an exit impacts the departing employee and sets an example for the remaining staff, demonstrating the company's values and care for its team members.

Nicole drew from her experience in an organisation with high engagement levels, noting that it had an impressive rate of returning employees. Introducing an alumni program during the exit process is a good practice. Nicole believes organisations can significantly boost their chances of welcoming back talent by focusing on individual growth and maintaining connections even after an employee's departure. She also stressed that engagement shouldn't end upon an employee's exit but should be seen as a continuous effort, even extending beyond their tenure.

All three experts agree on the value of boomerang talent in supporting retention goals. The key lies in recognising the organisation's culture, ensuring positive exit experiences, advocating for the company's developmental opportunities, and maintaining lasting connections with departed staff.

Engagement tips and tricks from the experts

During the last section of the discussion, each panellist shared one impactful strategy for engagement.

Jacquie emphasised that being true to your purpose brings rewards. Peter mentioned that having senior leadership involved increases engagement. Jenny highlighted the power of active listening as well as acting on employees’ feedback from engagement surveys. 

Meanwhile, Nicole underscored the importance of transparency and connection with context-rich communication strategies. Stating that the "why" behind decisions can significantly elevate engagement.

The panellists agreed that robust engagement is anchored in authenticity, mutual understanding, and trust.

Final thoughts

Our Sydney Event was more than just a discussion; we explored the heart of employee engagement and retention. The expert panel, with their diverse experiences, painted a vivid picture of the evolving landscape of engagement. The message was clear: organisations that prioritise genuine engagement, transparent communication, and individual recognition, can benefit from true employee satisfaction, leading to broader organisational success.

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