Flexibility opens up untapped talent pool

by 16 Feb 2012

Flexibility opens up untapped talent poolWhat can HR do when the calibre of talent walking through the door continues to rate below par? Think laterally – don’t get them to walk through the door at all.

That’s exactly what Donna Stewart, executive manager of Suncorp’s commercial insurance claims area did when she was having trouble attracting enough skilled employees above the level of a ‘McDonald’s graduate’.

Stewart said they weren’t attracting the calibre of people that were able to interact at a market leading level, and after workforce collaboration, it was decided that tapping into the manpower of the flexible workforce could be the answer. Offering a range of new flexible work options has helped Suncorp’s commercial claims division recruit the kind of skilled insurance employees it needed but had always struggled to attract. The new approach to flexibility is also delivering productivity increases way beyond expectations, and some 70% of the division is now on flexible work arrangements. “The team includes mothers, fathers, as well as people in retirement transition, a few university students and even an Olympic athlete who works part time from home.”

Claims officer Susan Dunlop said the decision to swap her four hour commute was not difficult, and working from home has been a huge saving in time and cost. “While I used to rush off to catch a train from the office, now I’m willing to give that to my employer because I get a great benefit already. The incentive is there to work harder,” she told the Australian Financial Review.

Stewart added the advantages of the new workforce surprised even the optimists. “Aside from attracting new employees, there have been substantial savings in office space and business continuity. When Suncorp’s office in Brisbane was flooded early last year, staff who worked from home were able to cover the high demand as affected customers sought help and were able to minimise disruption.”

The recruitment shift was significant, but according to Stewart, by specifically spelling out that they offer flexible work arrangements, that have been able to recruit the high-calibre people they had been looking for.

Addressing the potential issues in IR has been a HR focus, and Stewart said they have ensured that the agreement includes a clause that that the work-from-home arrangement can be ceased if the company’s needs or business imperatives require that in the future. “The expectation is that initially, before we would agree to people working from home, they have got to be meeting all the performance expectations and productivity and behaviours we require.”

Westpac chief executive Gail Kelly recently said that they have now set up communications links so contact-centre staff can work from home. “They don’t have to deal with the traffic in the morning. They’re at home when they want to be. They absolutely love it. And guess what? The productivity is better.”

Kelly also said the old days of people working from eight to five are definitely gone. “There are lots of people who actually prefer to work shorter hours or shifts or weekend work or whatever because it fits in with their lifestyle and [they can] work longer into their careers and so on.”


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