Staff turnover is an ongoing headache for most businesses. Even booming industries like mining & resources are experiencing their fair share of hurt with 18% of workers leaving within the first 12 months and total turnover costing over $140 million per year. The recruitment industry is certainly up there with rates ranging up to 45%. Factors contributing to this include long hours, demanding client expectations, cultures that don’t support work/life balance initiatives as well as poor leadership and performance driven by deadlines and commissions.
Certainly in my first few years of managing a recruitment business, I was a culprit for churning through staff. I made all the classic mistakes of hiring on experience, rather than culture, ‘hoping’ they would make it and leaving performance issues to fester. The results were certainly consistent with the industry averages and left me tearing my hair out.
One of the instrumental factors in turning it around was creating, supporting and encouraging a flexible workplace culture. Let me just start by saying it wasn’t easy. There was no quick fix or magic cure to move from the traditional 8am – 6pm workday with “nazi style” metrics and expectations of ‘being in the office’. It was a gradual process that required ongoing communication, buy-in from all employees and a commitment to leading by example. Trust me the first time I left the office before 6pm it felt very strange!
In the end, I had nearly half my workforce on part-time flexible arrangements and a 100% voluntary staff retention rate. I also experienced the highest levels of revenue and profit in our history. It taught me that a flexible approach and creating a culture where part-time is possible, creates loyalty, increases performance and reduces staff turnover. Tips to making it work include:
1. Be realistic – I learnt that high performing Consultants moving from full-time to part-time need to manage their own expectations of what they can achieve. Being able to step back and say perhaps I can’t take on as many clients as I used to, or being able to ask for help is okay. You can only do what you can do after all.
2. Prioritisation – the key to finding the balance is to make sure that you are doing the important rather than the urgent. In recruitment there always seems to be something urgent, but it is critical to be clear on what makes the difference and doing those important things first is essential. As General Manager, I worked 3 days a week and ensured that I divided my time between coaching consultants, seeing clients, performance management and planning.
3. Productivity – in my experience part-time employees work fewer hours in the office, but are capable of being just as productive as full-timers. When those Consultants were in the office, they didn’t have time to waste and they were extremely good at juggling a range of tasks. I had one Consultant who billed 80% of her full-time billings in the year that she reduced to 3 days per week.
4. Strategic approach – Recruiters and leaders taking on flexibility requests, need to have a big picture view of how it will work. This involves planning and being more structured with tasks and time management. Just saying we are going to be flexible and family friendly doesn’t work unless there are real strategies in place on how this will work in a practical day-to-day sense.
5. Support – I learnt very quickly that part-time Consultants need the full support of their leader, their teammates and family for it to successfully work for everyone. This ranges from having tools of the trade such as remote access; Ipads and iPhones through to open communication, disciplined notes in the database and having the right attitude. Once part-timers feel they have this support plus your trust, they will always (in my experience) put in more hours and effort. Funnily enough this commitment by high achievers will always deliver greater results than what you pay them. Wouldn’t any boss want to increase billable hours with no increase in fixed costs?
All in all, I found creating a flexible work culture to be nothing but a positive and productive experience. I truly believe it creates a strong competitive advantage and goes a long way to attracting and retaining top talent.
Nicole will be speaking at the 2012 RCSA International Conference in Fiji on: How creating a culture of flexibility will win the race in attracting and retaining top talent