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What does it take to be an employer of choice?

A conversation with WRK+ CEO Zrinka Lovrencic about how to become an employer of choice.

Written by
Brad Joffe

The qualities that make a great place to work have evolved since the early 2000s. Today, employers of choice are offering holistic wellbeing strategies and investing in benefits that drive results. 

I spoke to CEO of consulting firm WRK+ Zrinka Lovrencic who's spent the past 14 years helping companies transform their workplace experience. She was previously Managing Director of Great Places to Work Australia and regularly speaks on workplace trends and management strategies. 

Here's what she had to say:

The term ‘employee engagement’ has been around for some time. When did this really take off?

The early 2000s was definitely the catalyst for greater focus on employee engagement. This is because so many technology companies at the time knew there was a finite number of highly skilled specialists, so they needed to bolster efforts to attract and retain them. These organisations all started to think outside the box to create a workplace where people would bring and put in 100% of their skills and knowledge. 

Back then, there was a lot of novelty in the benefits space. You could get your meals at work, you could ride your skateboard to the office and you could bring your pet to work, it was all such a novelty. This was a catalyst for companies to think, ‘what can we do to stand out so we can attract the best talent?’

Since that time, what has changed when it comes to creating a great working environment?

The fundamentals of creating a great workplace hasn’t changed much over the last decade or even since the 60s when the concept of employee engagement really came about. You want to have people who come to work and say they are proud of the work they do, who see a future for themselves at the organisation and who strive for the organisation’s success. I don’t think those elements will change. How they are achieved however, will continue to evolve. 

What are the factors that matter most for employee engagement through Covid-19?

One factor is organisational alignment. We need to make sure every employee understands the important role they play in achieving the company’s success. Good communication and talent development both play a role in that. Conversations with your team leader about your performance, your future and the skills you have that can positively impact others in your team are all important. 

Good communication is also always going to be important. That can include informing your team about what the organisation’s mission is, where it’s heading, how this has changed due to Covid-19 and so on. This has an impact on employee wellbeing and mental health because good communication plays a big role in supporting people. 

Why is trust so important in becoming an employer of choice?

Trust is important because it creates a sense of transparency and equality among different levels of the organisation. We definitely don’t want organisations where the workers feel it’s ‘us and them’ against managers or leaders and so on. So when you build a network of trust within your organisation, you build an organisation where everyone knows they have an important role to play and have the organisation’s best interest at heart. 

Why do the best workplaces focus on employee wellbeing?

Wellbeing is important because we know that people perform their best when they are feeling their best. Individuals are affected by events outside of the workplace. They can suffer from family issues, financial issues or health issues. None of these are left at the door when they walk into the workplace.

If you think back to the early 2000s, the benefits being introduced were to support employee wellbeing. But the way wellbeing is supported has continued to evolve. Today, companies are looking at more holistic wellbeing solutions, understanding that we are individuals with individual wellbeing needs. 

If you think about physical wellbeing, that can cover all sorts of things such as the set-up of desks people are working at to occupational health and safety and insurance. When looking at mental health, a lot of organisations are increasingly relying on their employee assistance program (EAPs) and other tools that cater for individual stressors and situations. The area of financial wellbeing has definitely been lagging the most. 

Would it be fair to say financial wellbeing is the next frontier of employee health?

If organisations aren’t thinking about financial wellbeing, they really need to assess their benefit offering to employees. It’s astounding that almost 50% of Australians are living pay cheque to pay cheque and that one in three can’t access $500 in an emergency. This really paints a picture of where the nation’s at. 

Financial stress is one of the biggest causes of divorce and of domestic violence in our society, plus a whole range of health issues. We need to look after people because we want them to be their best and feel their best when they come into the workforce. I would say the best organisations in Australia are investing in employee financial wellbeing, but I would also say this is a finite number of companies. 

What should employers look for when choosing benefits?

First of all, you need to understand the demographic of employees you have and know what is going to have a meaningful difference to their workplace experience. Are the things you’re investing in gimmicks or are they things that people are going to value, things that will make a difference to their work lives?

It’s also really important to be open to the fact that benefits can change over time. Do an assessment, run a report on what’s used and what’s not. Continue to get to know your people and make sure they are able to get the full value out of the benefits you’re investing in.

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