05/12/2007 - 22:00

Incentives part of the gen Y culture

05/12/2007 - 22:00

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Playing an Xbox computer game at work in the middle of the day may sound like some university students’ fantasy job, but for employees at Como-based online flower company, Ready Flowers, it’s all part of the culture.

Playing an Xbox computer game at work in the middle of the day may sound like some university students’ fantasy job, but for employees at Como-based online flower company, Ready Flowers, it’s all part of the culture.

The company has installed an Xbox in a general meeting area, with its 12 employees free to take time out for a gaming session during the day or after work.

According to operations manager Adam Feilding, it helps to foster the creativity needed to develop online technology systems, which is a core part of the business.

“Because we’re effectively a technology company, it’s important to have a relaxed, non-regimented atmosphere,” he said.

It’s strategies like this that Western Australian businesses are using to retain generation Y staff in an increasingly tight labour market.

At iiNet Ltd, the average age of staff members is 28, while for new members it’s closer to 24.

To cater for this, the company has installed purpose-built recreation rooms featuring an Xbox, pool table and Foxtel.

Managing director Michael Malone believes generation Y is seeking meaning and social contacts from their place of employment, which a recreation space can provide.

“I think that a lot of young people are looking for social networks and a sense of belonging in the workplace, which they’re not getting from extended family or the community,” Mr Malone said.

iiNet has also introduced a ‘healthline’ phone service to provide professional medical advice to employees and their immediate family members, and provides free counselling services for staff.

While generation Y has developed a reputation for being quick to change jobs, a recent national survey by Brisbane-based employment consultancy, Onetest, showed 54 per cent of graduates would stay with the same employer for five years if the conditions were right. 

The survey of 1,600 university graduates also found 61 per cent of respondents planned to work overseas at some point.

While most companies can’t offer an international posting, travel benefits are becoming more common.

Subiaco-based public relations firm, Clarity Communications, flies staff members anywhere in the world after three years of service, while mobile phone company Vodafone Australia has an awards program with an overseas holiday as the main prize.

Other companies, including accounting firm Ernst & Young, have negotiated unpaid travel leave with young staff, in order to retain their graduate pool.

Entertainment and travel benefits may keep staff in the short term, but employee recognition programs such as BHP Billiton’s apprentice of the year award are important for long-term tenure, according to retention specialists.

Career development is also a major focus in staff retention.

Henderson shipbuilder Austal Ltd has a policy of ensuring every employee has a defined career path and structured program to achieve their goals.

“We’ve got a big number of apprentices here and young people want to know they’ve got a career path from day one,” human resources manager Linda Devereux said.

She said that, while Austal faced a staff drain to the mining industry, the company had to focus on its strengths.

“When you get down to it, we can offer a working environment in the metropolitan area, not fly-in fly-out, without having to work weekends or nights,” Ms Devereux said.

“You might spend $3 million a year on training but if you lose 30 people a week, it doesn’t take long [for costs] to start to add up. We’re not only getting staff retention but productivity improvements as well, so you can spread the training costs across the board.”

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