Work-life balance : Diversity champions – Why they win talent wars

New Zealand’s labour market is already tight and, given the pressures from workforce that is growing more globally mobile and steadily older, likely to get tighter. It’s good incentive for employers to get bit more creative about how they attract and engage staff.
And if the innovation apparent in entries to this year’s EEO Trust Awards is anything to go by, there’s dead simple recipe any employer could try: listen to what staff say they want.
Those who reckon limited budgets or restrictive hours limit their options for flexibility could check out what the Franklin Kindergarten Association (FKA) has achieved despite such constraints – plus dispersed workforce which also has to juggle increasingly heavy administrative demands with inflexible classroom hours.
As an umbrella organisation for kindies in the south Auckland area, FKA employs 70 teachers, plus 30 support staff, in 25 locations. It sees staff retention as critical because, as professional practice manager Raewyn van Lingen says: “It’s important children receive continuity of care with adults they know and trust.”
To help keep staff happy FKA provides as much flexibility as it can and supports staff in variety of ways – after consultation process to discover what’s important to them. As result it now commits $30,000 year to provide release time for head teachers to carry out administrative work to help reduce its impact on their home lives.
FKA also manages to give individual staff financial support for career development as well as personal allowances towards activities that promote work-life balance. All this on shoestring budget.
As result of this approach, the organisation has no teaching vacancies and all its permanent teaching staff are qualified and registered. Turnover over the past three years has averaged around eight percent and estimated savings through retaining employees who’ve returned to work after parental leave tot up to more than $300,000. There’s little doubt that staff appreciate being heard.
One teacher who recently completed registration describes the support provided by FKA as brilliant. “The fact that we registering teachers were involved, listened to, and had an outcome which meant the things that we felt would be of most benefit to us were delivered has been great.”
Awards judges were also impressed. FKA earned the EEO’s large organisation award for “making use of some innovative ideas given their operating constraints”.
This willingness to listen to what staff want and to try out different approaches to meeting their needs is feature common to many of this year’s record number of award entrants – and perhaps highlights the sort of flexibility employers need if they’re to adapt to the changing workforce.
For the first time this year, the EEO Trust offered specific award for diversity and that really struck chord, according to EEO’s chief executive Philippa Reed.
“Today’s organisations do have more diverse workforces and that creates specific challenges. It tends to be harder for people who are different in any way – whether in terms of nationality, age or physical impairment – and we received wide array of entries from public, private and not-for-profit sectors as to how they’re addressing this. And they’ve come up with some really good solutions.”
Beca Infrastructure, which picked up the private sector diversity award, is case in point. The Auckland-based company is part of the wider Beca group which, with 1900 employees stretched across 30 offices within New Zealand and around the world, is international in scope and has the cultural diversity to match. It also operates in an area where global competition for skills is fierce.
Beca Transportation’s technical director Matt Ensor believes that any company with global aspirations must acknowledge the need and acceptance of diversity as management philosophy.
“Believing all markets and the people within them are the same is probably the most limiting mindset any company can retain. It limits opportunities, blinds to real needs, stymies understanding and ultimately prevents real and sustainable growth.”
In spearheading series of management initiatives to make his company workplace that encourages and supports cultural diversity Ensor found the process had to be two-way street – that learning how to adapt applied to the organisation as well as its ‘new Kiwis’.
“While friendly team is important, we discovered this alone may not be enough.”
For instance, study discovered that new migrants were under represented at after-hours work functions because they were uncomfortable with the Kiwi beer-and-banter style of socialising. Simple changes like introducing more soft drinks and holding some team events at yum cha restaurants soon changed that.
The company has also changed its traditional holiday shut-down periods allowing those who wanted to work through Christmas but take time out to celebrate Chinese New Year.
Other initiatives were in response to specific needs. Because key issue limiting employees’ ability was poor written English, the company engaged tutor to improve their English language skills.
While its diversity initiatives tot up to around $50,000 year, the company is happy to count its benefits – staff growth (11 people have joined whilst other companies are losing employees), record profits and team of staff who reckon their section is the best place to work. The multinational culture (26 staff from 13 countries) and dynamic working environment are among reasons why 80 percent of them named their own section as where they would most like to work at Beca.
As EEO Awards judge Gary Saunders notes, Ensor has “really proved the whole meaning of diversity as way to attract and keep talent”.
Picking up the inaugural award for diversity in public sector is the NZ Defence Force which has been undergoing huge period of culture change for the past three decades to fully integrate women into what has traditionally been highly masculinised environment.
From an initial focus on eliminating sexual harassment, it moved into addressing discrimination against gays and, more recently, the introduction of more family-friendly policies. The NZDF sees this ongoing programme as pragmatic response to recruitment needs. Gender integration, it says, is capability issue and it’s all about getting the best people.
It now looks to diversity as vehicle for further change on the basis that its cultural strength is “partly derived from the differences each individual brings to the organisational team”. Given its forces are increasingly being deployed in different cultural, social and regional settings, valuing and leveraging diversity is seen as “an integral part of competent leadership”.
Also prominent in this year’s award entrants are policies that address the challenges of demographically aging workforce typically by introducing range of flexible work options. Other standout initiatives, says Reed, are those related to workforce literacy. It’s not just about ensuring workers can read health and safety instructions.
“In areas such as manufacturing, some quite precise literacy demands are made so there’s an impact on productivity when people become more competent. It’s not about being warm and fuzzy – these issues link into the economic shifts we want and need to make in New Zealand.”
“It’s really heartening to see the amount of focus and commitment that goes into this across whole range of sectors. You see real passion there as well as an openness to explore how best to deal with issues of morale or productivity. These people are operating from very pragmatic business base – because the initiatives they introduce do generate bottom-line benefits.”

EEO Awards Winners 2007

Large Organisation Award: Winner – Franklin Kindergarten Association; Runner Up – Anderson Lloyd Lawyers.

Small to Medium Organisation Award: Phoenix Inc Supporter Employment.

Diversity Award: Private Sector Winner B

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