In this interview Inside Ageing (IA) talks with Feros Care (FC) about what makes a good HR team great.
IA: Congratulations on your win at the recent ‘Stevie Awards’ The judges described your efforts as ‘HR with heart’. What do you think they meant by that?
FC: We were very chuffed that the judges recognised this aspect of having heart for our people. From our perspective, this means that we undertook a holistic and considered approach to our COVID workforce strategy to ensure that all our employees felt supported, heard and had tailored options to suit their needs.
Our response was interactive and based on genuine care and wellbeing requirements to reduce risk and concern for the team during a challenging and unique time. Quite often in crisis situations, organisational responses can be quite transactional in nature to tick the safety or legislative box – we chose to take a people-centred approach.
IA: It seems a large part of your win had something to do with how you handled COVID-19 from a HR point of view, including managing risk and providing alternative workplace options and employee wellness plans. What can you tell us about that?
FC: It is important to us that our COVID workforce strategy and response was not a ‘one size fits all’. This meant that considerable effort was spent assessing risks, identifying opportunities and tailoring solutions to meet a range of needs for people.
Our COVID workforce strategy was multifaceted to balance the needs of the business with the personal circumstances of our people.
Our Feros Care values are very important and we call our fellow team members ‘our tribe’. Everyone matters in our organisation. Our goal was to ensure every staff member was well supported, informed and given the tools and knowledge they needed to stay safe and well.
Our People Services team worked tirelessly to support all our teams in developing and implementing redeployment plans, work safe plans, wellness programs, alternative work arrangements, workforce contingency plans, communications and daily support of staff across our service delivery times in six states and territories.
We recognised that to support mental and physical wellbeing during the pandemic we also needed to build capability for our leaders. We did this through establishing routines, rituals and restorative practices for their teams to maintain engagement; educating our staff about what support was available to them; normalising feelings of concern during the pandemic; and creating pathways to continue supportive relationships within the business to maintain productivity, safety and engagement levels.
IA: You have an Employee Experience Division that manages your HR needs. How big is the team?
FC: Our HR team is multidisciplinary – encompassing work streams of technical HR including Industrial Relations, Return To Work, an internal Business Partnering account team, organisational design, learning and development, trainers, organisational development and people projects. The team size is compatible with our workforce size, industrial, internal complexities of role diversity and governance as well as geographical distribution across Australia.
IA: Attracting and retaining staff in the aged care sector is a challenging issue. It sounds like Feros Care has taken a strategic approach in how you do this. Have you seen significant improvements in the areas of retention and attraction of staff?
FC: Feros Care values each and every staff member and we work hard to gain and reward their loyalty. We are proud to have high retention rates and to be below industry average in regards to employee turnover within the business.
COVID has presented unique and additional challenges for our industry in relation to attraction and retention of staff. As part of our COVID response, Feros Care focused on redeployment planning, attraction and retention activities.
Some of these strategies included organising alternate work locations with access to company equipment where required for safe set up; redeployment or other arrangements for more vulnerable staff members to safer roles or locations; and a proactive internal communication plan.
IA: Being an employer of choice is fast becoming a key differentiator in the market. Describe some of what you do that is maybe unique and something that sets you apart?
FC: One of the key differentiators in the market for us is that we approach culture from a holistic perspective with a focus on employee experience. Our Employee Experience Division sits within the broader Experience Management portfolio which also includes Customer Experience.
This provides a unique opportunity to apply experience-focused expertise when working with our people regardless whether it is attraction, retention, development or performance. Our commitment to ensuring that the experience and wellbeing of our people is as important as our legal or process obligations, brings “HR with heart” as a lived experience within our culture.
IA: Technology is playing an increasing role in the operation of facilities and I’d imagine it is a critical area for HR, especially with respect to communications. What type of technology tools do you use to better engage with employees and manage their interactions?
FC: Feros Care is an early adopter of technology and we’ve been awarded internationally for some of our innovations that have helped shape the way care is delivered in the community. When Covid hit, we were well and truly prepared to increase our use of technology for both staff and clients and were therefore able to continue our high standards of care and service delivery throughout the challenging times.
Feros Care was able to utilise technology it already had in place to help keep our staff, clients and volunteers safe, while continuing to provide care and assistance in our residential villages and the community.
In terms of technology that assisted our staff-to-staff communications, we expanded our existing use of technology within HR and also more broadly in the business. We quickly set up a centralised Sharepoint page which housed all staff communications, links to internal Yammer feeds, fact sheets, briefing kits, videos, updates and quick links. This created a backbone of information for our staff to access from one location.
We also collaborated across a number of service teams including technology, contact centre and other frontline operations to ensure that we provided multiple communication channels including SMS, Microsoft Teams and virtual check-ins so that individuals, teams and leaders has access to technology that suited their needs.
Our engagement strategy also utilised online webinar forums to provide education and connection opportunities to establish routines, rituals and restoration for teams who had never worked remotely before. We also took the opportunity to improve our connectivity at our residential villages by expanding bandwidth and facilities. This meant more opportunities to connect for our staff, residents and their families.
Some managers also implemented their own initiatives such as an online awards night that recognised the efforts of staff within the team, with all employee awards being peer nominated. This boosted staff morale and gave our team an opportunity to connect and socialise. The awards event was a huge success with high engagement and something we’d look to repeat in the future.
We adapted our Bold Wisdom mentoring program to a virtual offering rather than suspending or postponing it for staff. The program pairs mentors and mentees with a focus on learning, sharing of knowledge and building connections.Each participant were posted their ‘kit’ ahead of time to ensure they were well-prepared and to provide a consistent experience as these would ordinarily be held in-person.
IA: Are there any tips or advice you can offer others on the topic of HR?
FC: Positioning your HR team as true partners and enablers for the business is critical to generating sustainable and strategic workplace solutions. Our team could not have mobilised or implemented with the agility and buy-in from the business that we did, without a solution-focussed collaboration and genuine care for our people’s wellbeing and experience during this pandemic.
Also, in challenging times such as COVID, look for the opportunities to learn, take different perspectives and evolve your ways of working to help shape your ‘new business as usual’ so that the effort is not lost.