Career Advice HR Focus

Employee engagement and talent retention tips

As the economy gathers steam and companies activate plans for expansion, human resources professionals and senior executives can be sure of one thing. They know that staff retention will become more of a problem in the months ahead as competition for talent heats up and employees have more cause to consider their options.

Anticipating this challenge, leading companies in the banking and finance sector have plans and strategies in place. Quite deliberately, these do not rely on short-term or reactive measures, nor do they depend on mere monetary incentives. Rather, the focus is on implementing policies that are built around core corporate values, are consistently applied, give due attention to employees’ all-round well-being, and accept the realities of the broader job market.    

“If people join just for money, they will leave for money as well,” says Rosetta Fong Sut-sam, chief executive of Convoy Financial Services. “We can’t worry too much about losing staff if that is the reason. Instead, we want them to think about the company’s prospects and vision, and to see how far they can go with us.”

The starting point, she says, is to create a generally happy work environment. Since people spend such a significant proportion of their lives on duty, it is only natural they should want to feel their jobs offer more than just hard grind. A key principle for Convoy is to help staff to be “happy, healthy and wealthy”. The company does this by promoting a corporate culture that acknowledges the concept of fun, and recognises that recreation and volunteering can contribute in a big way to job satisfaction and, thereby, to better rates of retention.

“We also try to establish a culture that encourages loyalty and a sense of ownership,” Fong says. “It comes from having an open and transparent commission scheme for frontline staff and benchmarking every year against industry standards for back-office roles. We know that competitors offer each person a special package, but that also leads to a lot of internal politics and jealousy, which we hope to avoid.” 

She adds that fair and appropriate remuneration is important. Overall, though, financial incentives, signing-on bonuses, and “guarantees” of promotion after a certain period does little to raise average rates of retention. What really makes a difference is building relationships with staff, providing new opportunities and helping them achieve ambitions in their careers, and in life.

In doing this, it is a big advantage if the company is well set for growth, rather than static and stable.

“As an organisation, we are young and energetic, and attract that sort of person,” Fong says. “It is both good news and bad news that we are then a target for headhunting in the industry. But people here can see and feel that if they are hard working and committed, they will advance. There is no special promotion programme, but a big number stay with us because they know they have career prospects, will get coaching and will have the chance to build their own team as the company grows.”

Nita Law, Standard Chartered’s regional head of human resources for North Asia, is similarly preparing for changes in the competitive landscape as the economy bounces back. Demand for experienced banking professionals is taking off, making it all the more crucial to fine tune both recruitment and retention strategies.

“To have sustained success in attracting and retaining people, we must win their hearts and minds and find ways to stand out among other employers,” Law says.

The secret is to have well-defined people management guidelines centred squarely on employee engagement. Experience shows it is possible to draw a more or less straight line linking engaged employees to higher customer loyalty and satisfaction, and from there to better business performance.

Standard Chartered has found that the way to initiate this chain of events is by having regular and effective communication in town-hall style meetings, work groups and individual engagement sessions. The objective is to create a “great workplace” where staff can make a difference and make things happen.

“We believe that people will excel if they are in roles that play to their strengths,” Law says. “But we also take risks by encouraging them to stretch themselves and expand their career horizons.”

This philosophy, she suggests, is the key to offering an environment in which, firstly, people are keen to work and, subsequently, want to stay. It also helps to have a culture that rewards performance and an organisation which can offer international exposure and multiple career paths.

Noting the diversity and different generations of today’s workforce, Law does not hide the fact that strengthening engagement and improving retention pose a tremendous challenge. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. It require responsiveness, imagination and, at times, experimentation.       

“People have very different needs and expectations during different stages of their employment life cycle,” Law says. “But by developing exceptional managers and providing a caring environment, the bank is able to drive engagement and enable employees to achieve their professional and personal goals.”  

In considering the key aspects of Sun Life Hong Kong’s retention programme, chief executive Roger Steel highlights learning and development. The company values its diverse and talented workforce, but realises that holding on to staff entails the right balance of encouragement, support, communication and rewards. With this, each person can contribute to the full extent of his or her potential and have less reason to think of trying their luck elsewhere.

To back this up, the company has invested in a dedicated learning and development centre in the belief that “winners” must be equipped with the level of professional skills that come only from continuous self-improvement. In progressive stages,
this covers everything from trainee programmes to world-class leadership courses, meaning every member of staff has plenty of opportunities to keep moving forward.  

“As part of our employee branding, we want to make staff feel proud to work here,” Steel says. “Nowadays, the remuneration package is not the only concern for Hong Kong people. They are looking for a balanced lifestyle, so we also have an assistance programme to counsel and help staff if they face any difficulties or worries.”

Overall, Steel says, in terms of improving retention, good communication is often the “glue”. Employees have a right to know what is happening and how it affect them, so the company makes an effort to provide daily e-news updates and arrange occasions where staff at different levels can offer feedback.        

“Every quarter we have a separate briefing session for a group of 120 managers and they are required to cascade the message down the organisation,” Steel says. “Good communication and strong relationships between the different levels enable us to have an efficient organisation with high productivity [and better rates of retention]."