It has more awards in the trophy cabinet than almost any other brokerage its size but Simplex Insurance Solutions has not won its success on the back of employees putting in long hours chained to their office desks.

In fact, the firm’s Ballarat headquarters can sometimes seem understaffed. That’s because of the 14 employees, six often work remotely and of the team as a whole, four are part-time and two are casual.

For Director Kay Jackson, this hugely flexible approach to workplace hours is key to attracting and retaining the most talented staff available. “Not every broker is purely about the dollar,” she says.

“I’d prefer the right person in the role 20 hours a week than the wrong person in a role for 38 hours a week. Anyone can attract a staff member based on the dollars offered, but it is the flexibility that promotes retention.

“Simplex Insurance has been able to achieve greater outcomes, retain and recruit a number of high-calibre staff who offer unique or specialised skill sets, which leads to higher performance and greater returns.”

Technology has played a large part in liberating the average white-collar worker from the shackles of the desk, but changing generational expectations are also playing a role.

Flexibility infographic

A recent Suncorp white paper predicted the rising desire for flexible working practices had the potential to remake the industry. “During the next decade, the employment landscape across Australia – and certainly the insurance industry – will look very different,” it states.
“The insurance industry has to prepare for a future in which workforces will have fewer permanent employees and many more part-timers, contractors and freelancers. If insurers do not prepare for these changes, they will not be able to secure the right workforce [and] put achievement of business objectives at risk.”

Suncorp Commercial Insurance HR Executive General Manager Victoria Mackenzie-Andrew says the days of treating employees as interchangeable cogs have long past.

“A truly flexible workforce is formed at the individual level and acknowledges that people have different working styles. Ultimately, people are becoming more autonomous about where, when, how and why they work,” she says.

“This means employers must incorporate the preferences, aspirations and skills of each individual in their workforce into their people strategy.”

Happy families

For Rockhampton’s Piranha Insurance Brokers, flexibility is an integral part of maintaining a happy and productive workplace. As well as giving staff members free rein to duck out of the office whenever they need to attend a child’s sporting event, Piranha is also very flexible about who comes into the office.

“Most afternoons we have five or six students that we affectionately call the 3pm fridge raiders’ at Piranha Insurance Brokers, waiting for Mum to finish work and take them all home,” he says. “We all know how expensive after-school care is and, as such, all the employees’ children are welcome to come in after school.”

In addition, Piranha lays on a proper sit-down lunch for staff every day. The expense, Peirano says, is more than offset by the boost to morale.

The gender agenda

“People say ‘Happy wife, happy life’ but I’d add ‘Happy staff, productive business’!” he says. “It’s a big cost to replace staff if they leave and if they’re not happy they are not productive. No one leaves very often because it would be very hard to find somewhere else they are treated so well. We get it back in spades and that helps make business run well and work go easier.”

Bringing it together

Lizzie Moyle, Principal, Talent and Rewards Consulting at Aon Hewitt, sees flexibility as enabling employees to meet their obligations in the workplace as well as at home and in their communities. “Flexibility can be a really strong driver of individual engagement and commitment to the organisation, which correlates directly to high performance and high productivity and other positive talent outcomes,” she says.

“There’s all sorts of options but I think increasingly workers are looking to do the same work but at different times of the day or in different places, but for the same pay. Individuals are seeking autonomy and control, which impacts their engagement and their willingness to go above and beyond.”

Moyle recommends a staff-needs assessment and intensive work role analysis, and to look at opportunities for flexibility within any given role. “Assess what’s going to suit your business and your staff, document the arrangements clearly so there’s a policy behind it, because too often this falls down when managers don’t know how or when to apply it,” she says.

“Investing in support for managers is therefore important. Ensure an environment of shared accountability, so that everyone really agrees on the performance expectations.

“Also, we found that just because there is a policy, it doesn’t mean it will be taken up, so communicate it in different ways across the organisation. Finally, continue to measure it.

“Look at the impact it’s having on the engagement of your staff and how it affects metrics important to the business.”