Why do you go to work?

01:54, Dec 13 2012

Why do people go to work? The answer to that question may be the key in keeping young, talented workers in NZ's small to medium-sized businesses rather than losing them to Australia or other foreign markets.

One Auckland workplace learning and development company says the key to retaining staff if you're a smaller company is not throwing money you may not have at higher salaries but learn what it is your workers really want from their jobs.

Director of The Learning Wave, Martyn McKessar says there's a misconception among many employers that their staff are being poached by bigger companies, often based overseas, willing to pay more. But when employers are asked their reasons for leaving a job, money comes about third down the list.

“What they say is that the most important things are a sense of engagement, of feeling they are having an influence on the business and their voice is being heard - and enjoying their job.

“If those needs aren't being met and they start looking for a job, then they may be drawn by a higher salary, but it tends not to be why they look in the first place,” McKessar says.

He adds that modern graduates, particularly those in the science, maths, engineering and technology sectors where there is a world-wide skills shortage, are becoming much more demanding in what they want from an employer.

“They want to see a career path and they want to know what a business can do to develop their skills to help them get ahead.

“These graduates often come out thinking they can run your business better than you; imagine if you can harness that enthusiasm and freshness, and temper it with some wisdom and experience. Then you can direct it in a way that will help the business grow.”

Retaining staff in the modern employment market requires a management model, one that engages staff rather than dictates to them. “It's really not rocket science,” says McKessar. “Invite them to an ideas meeting, ask them how they think the business is doing, or what it could be doing better.”

The key then, he says, is to follow up. “Even if you can't afford to implement a great idea, work with your team to come up with a way to at least start laying ground work. Not everything has to be done instantly.”

He says flexibility is also an increasing factor in businesses retaining staff, allowing them to work around their lifestyle by on occasion working from home or working hours that lets them miss rush hour traffic.

Kevin O'Neill, Australasian chief information officer for recruitment company Randstad, agrees flexibility is more in demand from workers, including location and hours.

He says technology advances allow even greater flexibility to give SMEs a better chance of hanging on to staff.

“It's not just that you can work from home more easily, it means that you can work for a business in New Zealand but still be part of a larger, global picture, dealing with clients overseas.

“Or a SME in New Zealand may contract to a larger multinational, given staff access to a broader skill set.”

O'Neill also agrees that learning and development have a crucial role in keeping staff based in New Zealand.

“People want to see a career progression; they want to see that they can develop a variety skills and be working on different and more interesting projects,” he says.

But Candace Kinder, CEO of the Information and Communication Technologies Group

(NZICT), a lobby group working to grow NZ's technology skills and businesses, says

employees, especially recent graduates, leaving the country is not necessarily a bad thing. What is important is attracting them back, and filling the skilled employment gaps in their place.

“They go to broaden their interest, gain skills and wider experience. That's a good thing. In the end SMEs must accept that the days of workers staying in one company for 20 or 30 years are long gone, and that's not a bad thing,” Kinder says.