Understanding employees

TRUE or false: mine operators and contractors are losing a quarter of their staff annually? I have been doing some research on this issue and unfortunately, it’s true, writes Jane Slack-Smith*.
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Investors Choice' Jane Slack-Smith.

Angie Tomlinson

In fact, according to Western Australian consulting group Mackie Employer Solutions – who recently released the results of their first Resources Industry Turnover Analysis Survey – the average industry turnover rate is now 24.4% and is putting employers under increasing pressure to find ways to retain key staff and avoid losing them to rival companies.

Don Larkin, CEO of AusIMM (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy) agrees. “When you consider that the cost of turnover ranges from 0.5 to 2.5 times the annual salary, this is a substantial amount for any business,” he said during an industry conference last year.

It is a well known fact that happy and secure employees are less likely to chase the next biggest salary. So in the current resource boom when those in the mining industry are earning more than they have ever earned before, are you doing all you can to give your people a reason to stay?

The times are changing

As a young graduate mining engineer, I recall my manager saying to me not long after I’d started: “So when are you going to buy a house so I know we’ll have you for life?” Bucking the norm, however, I have never lived in my own home. I prefer instead to rent in areas that appeal to me, but would be cost prohibitive for me to buy in. I have used the excess money for buying investment properties.

Gone are the days when employees took a good job and stayed for life. While it may have been common even 10 years ago for employees to purchase property and tie themselves to a 30-year mortgage – which of course they needed to stay in the job to cover – these days employers are faced with a generation of young people with a completely different mindset.

My experience is that while the large salaries currently on offer in the resources sector may be enough to attract employees, salary alone is not enough to make them stay.

This issue is compounded when you place it alongside an emerging trend, that of the “first home investor”. While many baby boomers believed the path to home ownership involved paying off one mortgage over 30 years and then maybe saving for another property, employers are now faced with a younger, wealthier workforce who are increasingly choosing property investment rather than following the traditional path to home ownership.

You need them more than they need you

The concept of long-term job security, a cherished goal for many older Australians shaped by the hardship of the Depression, is not that important for the new generation. Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that Gen Ys are likely to have 29 jobs in five different industries during their working life.

Those who also have financial interests outside of work (through shares or property investment for example) make it even more important for employers to look for other ways to engage and reward them.

To hold on to these employees for as long as possible, I would suggest you will have to make some significant changes to both your recruitment strategy and your management style and you’ll also need to be aware that what attracts people to join an organisation differs from what keeps them there and, more importantly, from what generates their full engagement and commitment to the work they do.

The ball is in your court

Highly engaged employees know that you, their manager, understand what makes them tick and really care about them. So what will you be doing this year to demonstrate this and to help your employees stay with you?

While you’re thinking about it, let me leave you with one final point to consider: it is generally accepted that “the organisations that will thrive … are those with employees who have the option to leave but choose to stay. Those that fail will be populated by employees who are there only because they are afraid to go elsewhere.”

* Jane Slack-Smith of Investors Choice is running mining industry-specific sessions during the first half of 2006; and throughout the remainder of the year will be offering onsite discussions with employees regarding budgeting and her investment experiences. She has 17 years experience in mining.

Australia’s Mining Monthly