Emma Higgins, QBE’s Chief People Officer, explains how listening carefully and engaging with employee advocacy groups have helped QBE build a positive work culture that delivers best-in-class for employees and customers.
The so-called Great Resignation has become one of the most talked-about issues in UK business in the past year, with almost every sector struggling to recruit and retain talent.
The fourth quarter of 2021 was the first time since detailed records began in 2001 that the vacancy rate for jobs in the UK overtook the unemployment rate, according to a recent report from McKinsey.
And while there is hope in some quarters that the labour market will soon return to normal, a recent survey of the UK workforce by PwC found that nearly one in five (18%) said they were “very” or “extremely” likely to find a new employer in the next 12 months. A further 32% said they were “moderately” or “slightly” likely to do the same.
It is a challenging time for employers in any sector as employee demands increase exponentially, covering everything from salaries and benefits to flexible working and work-life balance.
It is vital QBE meets those needs properly if we are to deliver the right kind of service to clients. If businesses want to compete for the best talent, we have to meet these demands head on, whatever they may be.
Everyone will have their own strategy on how to do this – but at QBE we have tried to keep our initial approach simple: by listening.
When the Great Resignation was supposed to be in full swing, we certainly saw an increase in departures. But it soon stabilised because we quickly got in touch with the individual teams to understand the motivations for employees leaving.
We looked at the six or seven issues that could affect employee attrition within individual teams and set about fixing those local issues.
Of course, we have the resources of a large corporation – which we really appreciate – but you don’t need to be big to listen. However, it appears too many of us just don’t have that habit.
A 2020 report from the OC Tanner Institute found that 66% of UK companies weren’t good at listening, while a further 28% actively retaliated when given negative feedback by an employee. What’s more, 46% only listen when there is a problem.
It could be that it is that kind of culture, far more than increasing employee expectations, that drives people to seek opportunities elsewhere.
One of the issues that came through loud and clear in our conversations with teams was the importance of flexible working. One survey found that 61% of employees who resigned in the last 12 months did so because they were unhappy with their company’s hybrid working policy.
Lots of companies have dictated what the hybrid working style would be – but we believe it’s important to offer as much flexibility and autonomy as we can. That’s why, with the support of their co-workers and managers it’s our people who decide what the right schedule is for them, their teams and their clients.
Our listening approach uncovered other issues, too. The support and benefits we provide were also key points upon which our people were deciding to stay with us or seek opportunities elsewhere.
Of course, having good policies – covering holiday allowance, parental leave policies, emergency family leave and healthcare, for example – will help differentiate a business. But employees are asking that we take a deeper and more tailored approach.
As one example, we recently removed all menopause exclusions from our employee healthcare policy. We’ve also added a policy to support people experiencing gender dysphoria and introduced a programme to help neurodivergent individuals and their families secure diagnosis.
The response has been hugely positive, even if everyone can’t directly benefit. And we knew it was the right direction to head in because our employees told us it was.
These changes have been driven by employee advocacy groups operating across QBE. They are the grass roots, set up and chaired by employees. We give them the budget and infrastructure, but they are not answerable to me or anyone else.
Regardless of what kind of business we are in, we are all facing the same challenges with recruitment and retention. We all need to work hard to attract and keep the talent we want – and that won’t change. But if we can build and maintain a great employee promise, a great work culture with great benefits, that provides plenty of good reasons for people to join QBE and stay with us.
And, of course, with the best people we can deliver the best for our customers.