Attracting and retaining staff

Although Ashburton is a vibrant and dynamic place to live, its remote location impacts on Councilís ability to attract and retain staff. From April to October, clear blue skies and sunny days with temperatures hovering between the low to mid 20s offers an idyllic lifestyle. In spite of all mod cons, the hotter months of the year are more of a challenge, with days averaging 35 degrees and temperatures as high as 45 degrees not uncommon.

For Ashburton Shire, the problem of retaining staff created a situation four years ago where annual turnover had hit an all time high of 98 percent. A number of strategies put in place to address this situation has resulted in turnover being greatly reduced to a more stable 28 percent.

A major plank in this turn around has been an organisation review. This has improved working conditions, provided staff with more flexibility and delivered higher remuneration based on a continuous improvement program. The organisational review saw the three divisions of Councils restructured into four, and a number of new positions created to improve service delivery, such as an Emergency Safety Officer.

All senior staff have an agreed contract and salary package. Council has established workplace agreements with other staff that include all award conditions plus a number relating to local conditions. The key has been a simplified payroll with a single hourly rate. Staff now have a greater flexibility as to when they work their 160 hours per month.

This has proved popular with workers particularly in balancing their family responsibilities. At the same time, Council is able to have tasks completed whenever required without paying overtime rates.

The next phase of the organisational review is to implement a proactive system where all employees can feed in their ideas for improvements to service delivery or more streamlined processes. Commencing in April this year, each staff member worked with their supervisor to draw up an individual performance agreement.

Through this process, goals are set which become part of the workerís annual performance appraisal. The appraisal identifies additional training taking account of current performance, plus opportunities for greater job satisfaction and career enhancement.

A recommendation for a salary increase can also be made as a result of the appraisal process. As a remote location, housing costs are high. To address this, Council owns 40 houses which are available to senior staff as part of their salary package. There is also a program that assists new staff and their families in settling into the local community.

As a result of these programs, Ashburton has been more successful in attracting high calibre, staff clearly reflected in the increased applications for vacancies. With attractive packages coupled with work conditions that are flexible and rewarding, Ashburton is not only attracting skilled staff but, by retaining them over the longer term, building greater loyalty and continuity.