Diverse Workplace Small

By Calum Woods and Lindsay Carroll, NRA Legal

Last week, Westpac’s workforce voted overwhelmingly in favour of a ground-breaking new enterprise agreement. The agreement, which was supported by the Finance Sector Union, contains a novel entitlement for transgender employees undergoing gender transition to access up to four weeks’ of paid leave per year. It also extends the existing entitlement to 5 days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave to 20 days of paid leave, increases the amount of compassionate leave from 2 days to 3 days per occasion, and creates a new category of leave for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees to deal with “Sorry Business.”

Despite the inherent differences between financial institutions and most retail businesses, there are valuable lessons that may be learned from Australia’s oldest company.

The retail industry has historically struggled with staff retention, and quality candidates are more often prepared to wait for the right opportunity. While workplace culture has and will continue to be a key consideration, the demand for higher rates of pay and more career opportunities are increasingly significant motivating factors.

Earlier this year professional networking platform LinkedIn reported on the top 25 companies for employees to work in Australia. While many of these companies boasted extended parental leave, flexible working arrangements, and philanthropic projects, retail conglomerate Wesfarmers also featured on this list with offerings of additional training for staff and social activities.

Providing additional opportunities and entitlements for employees is not a new concept for retailers. During the Fair Work Commission’s recent decision to implement an entitlement to 5 days’ unpaid family and domestic violence leave, and the subsequent Senate inquiry, it was revealed that many businesses either already provided employees with a similar entitlement on an “as needed” basis, or would not hesitate to do so should the need arise.

While salary will always be a significant motivating factor for quality candidates, there are a number of other steps retailers can take to improve retention.

Increasing staff engagement through regular one-on-one meetings will assist in building an understanding of what matters to your workforce. In most cases, providing training and development opportunities to staff, and options for career progression will have a demonstrable benefit to your business. This may simply involve on the job training, or more formal opportunities such as obtaining qualifications in retail.

While it may not always be practicable to increase rates of pay over the award, consider implementing other entitlements such as birthday leave, or encouraging your employees to participate in social activities.

Thin profit margins and fierce competition require retailers to strike a fine balance between attracting quality candidates and maintaining viability. However, achieving this balance will lead to enhanced productivity and all the benefits that it brings.