No longer out of sight, out of mind: HR at Medibank Health Solutions

by 31 Oct 2011

It’s a dilemma facing any HR team tasked with managing teams dispersed over broad geographic regions: how to keep those employees engaged and retain them in the long run.

Medibank Health Solutions, the health services delivery arm of Medibank, has faced just such a problem. The company has around 4,000 people in total and Medibank Health Solutions is the biggest part of that in people terms, with around 2,500 employees. Approximately 1,500 of those are clinicians, including a raft of psychologists, doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals – 600 of whom work remotely.

The company provides a range of telephone, face to face and online services. Alongside a suite of health and wellness tools, the company offers visa medicals, travel medicine, workplace injury and assessment. Phone and online tools include the Nurse on Call service in Victoria, healthdirect in other states, and GP After Hours, whereby any member of the public can call through to the health lines, and if they need a GP consultation they can have that on the phone (and soon via video conference).

Retaining remote workers

Denise Moore, general manager, people & culture, Medibank Health Solutions, says it’s been an “interesting” path to address retention issues for its remote staff. “Initially we were hiring nurses and the nursing work pool is very limited; there’s a lot of competition for talent. We went towards the work at home model as an attraction strategy. And that was great, as it was really popular, but we learned a great deal as we went along,” she says.

Moore concedes her team found out very quickly where the “pain points” were: they had to tidy up documentation and change the way the OHS environment was addressed. They also kept it limited to employees based within one hour of a metro centre. “If we had to call people into a call centre we could do so. So there was really a safety net. However, we quickly found that the pools ran dry, so then we had to go remote.”

The recruitment team determined where the demographics lay for this type of work, and targeted those demographics in their recruitment efforts.

“We have an online recruitment system and we would do initial screening over the phone,” Moore explains. “We would then travel to the location, interview people in a hotel and go through the whole assessment centre process. We’d then come back to the office, do all the credentialing, and basically hire them remotely. They would then come back into that hotel environment for two weeks of training ... then they would go home and we’d never see them again.”

It quickly became apparent that these new hires were not being properly socialised with their team leaders. “Little things, like every event we had, the work at home people became a bit of an afterthought,” says Moore. In addition, staff members were not given the moral and emotional support needed to help them cope with an emotionally draining job – fielding distress call after distress call from patients is emotionally challenging for anyone, even the professionally trained.

An employee engagement team was formed, which kicked off a range of initiatives, including reward & recognition programs and, most importantly, new technology.”We wanted to ensure we had regular interface so we use things like instant messaging and so on. But a big piece in the last couple of years has been the introduction of Citrix GoToMeetings, which has been fantastic for just having team leaders engage with their teams.”

This tool enables remote teams to be included in presentations, and for ‘face to face’ meetings to occur with half a dozen people present. It’s also now used for real-time training as well. “If we need to upskill our remote workforce it gives us the opportunity to bring together a whole bunch of people online, and then they can actually do a practice session; you can give them control of the key board and the mouse and you can actually say ‘now you try it’. People love to see each other’s faces, or even just hear the voices. It’s enabled us to do all sorts of things like Movember and Pink Ribbon Day.”

It appears to be paying off. In the last employee engagement survey conducted by Medibank Health Solutions, the work at home team actually ranked higher in almost all categories than office-based workers. Areas such as supervisor relations, information sharing, and understanding goals and objectives came out particularly strong.

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