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Happy staff can pay off

In the final part of a series on industrial relations Noel Dyson examines how companies can add value for their employees.

UNDERSTANDING what workers want is one of the key ways of keeping them happy and ensuring industrial peace.

With the technology available to most companies, gauging the needs and wants of employees is not as difficult as it once was.

Tools such as the Internet and intranets have made the process much simpler.

Robert Walters Inc Western Australia general manager Bruce Henderson said that by getting that feedback, a company could better understand the mood of its workers.

“It’s not right to assume that management knows what people want anymore. The tools to do this are easy to access,” he said.

It can also help a company attract and retain high calibre employees.

By winning the hearts and minds of workers, employers can also help fill the void that unions once did in the workplace.

One of the main ways of attracting top employees is with money.

Innovative salary packages that include things such as education funds for the employee’s children, motor vehicles and superannuation benefits have become popular over the past decade or so.

There is evidence from numerous studies – that often end up quoting the hierarchy of needs and make references to Pavlov’s Dogs – to show that high salary is not the only thing attracting people to a company.

Beilby general manager Rick Dunn said some companies were trying to become employers of choice.

“That’s usually done with things other than money be it a commitment to staff development or some other mechanism,” he said.

Some of the things companies use to attract top quality employees include childcare, ongoing reviews of the staff including their performance and attitudes to the workplace, flexible working hours and professional development.

Mr Henderson said one of the best ways to add value for employees was to have a professional approach from the time they applied for a job with the company.

“One of the first things to do as an employer of choice is to run a professional recruitment program,” he said.

“People get a pretty quick impression of the company at the interview. You need to demonstrate that there is a vision. People get a comfort from knowing the organisation is going somewhere.”

Mr Henderson said once the recruitment process had been concluded the successful candidate needed to have a proper induction into the organisation.

“That means more than just showing them where the toilets are and where the coffee pot is,” he said.

BGC Construction, surprising perhaps because of the controversy often attached to its relationship with the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, is one company that several human resources experts indicated had managed to win the hearts and minds of its workers.

The company’s general manager Gerry Forde said that it had a very simple approach to its workers.

He admitted that money was part of the attraction for workers.

“We pay above the award,” Mr Forde said.

“But with tradesmen I find two things are very important – that they have work to do and that they get paid on Friday. It comes back to the old adage of an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.”

Another benefit from keeping workers happy that employers may find is that unions may become less of an issue in the workplace.

With private sector union involvement below 20 per cent, Chamber of Commerce and Industry director employee relations Bruce Williams believes employers can fill that void and win the battle for the hearts and minds of employees.

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