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Learning how to make staff stay Back  
Retention strategies were top of the agenda at the Dublin Funds Industry Association Human Resources and Training Conference 2006, with latest statistics revealing that staff turnover in the industry is at 24 per cent. Fiona Reddan reports from the event.
Increasing competition for staff in the investment funds industry is leading to increased headaches for those working in the firms’ human resources (HR) departments, with latest statistics showing that attrition rate in the industry is 24 per cent, rising to 28 per cent for general staff positions, and falling to 12 per cent for senior positions. A strong turnout for the Dublin Funds Industry Association’s (DFIA) Human Resources and Training Conference 2006, indicates however that companies are committed to improving working conditions in order to retain staff.

Debbie Kelly, vice president in human resources with JP Morgan, gave an insight into the employees’ mindset, when she presented a study the DFIA’s HR and Training committee had conducted on flexibility and ‘work life balance’.
The study consisted of a short questionnaire, which received over 50 responses, and focus groups with over 50 participants amongst member companies.

The survey revealed that the biggest retention factor was job satisfaction in the role, while the number one reason for leaving was cited as being long hours – including ‘too much overtime, lack of payment for extra hours, lack of flexibility over hours worked’.

When asked to rate how important ‘flexibility/work life balance’ is, 43 per cent of respondents accorded it the maximum importance – the majority of those were female.

Flexibility also plays a big role in determining whether or not employees are satisfied with their compensation packages. When asked ‘what aspects of compensation are the most important?’, 53 per cent mentioned market based salary/bonus, while 43 per cent said flexibility, ‘work life balance’, ability to leave early if finished, more holidays etc. Other important factors noted include health insurance, pension, payment for overtime and further educational support.

Improving retention
A number of suggestions aimed at improving retention were put forward by the participants. These included ‘more flexible working options, less over-time, flexible benefits, better communications and ad hoc ‘pick me ups’, such as the distribution of ice-creams on sunny days.

Kelly said that it is important to determine what flexibility means, as it can mean different things to different people, and that it is important that management ‘buy-in’ to the idea of flexible working, as there is no point in having flexible policies, if managers don’t implement them.

Clodagh Logue, HR manager with Microsoft Ireland, gave her perspective on retention strategies in the information technology sector.

With turnover rates of around 10 per cent, retention in Microsoft is not as big a problem as in the funds industry, and Logue maintains that a zero attrition rate does not necessarily equal success, as good people will always leave.
However, the loss of key employees is always dangerous, and Logue recommends identifying those personnel, that if they were to leave, would create major disruption within the firm.

Her retention analysis focuses on three levels of warning signs. Early signs include the ‘grass is greener’ syndrome, commute issues, and verbal curiosity about other opportunities. Urgent signs include recent management changes, lack of engagement from the employee in meetings, and consistent concerns about pay/level/title. At a critical level, signs include increased absenteeism, a significant life change, and an outside offer.

Raising the industry’s profile
Also on the agenda was improving the funds industry’s reputation and profile amongst young professionals. Andrew Blair, chair of the DFIA’s HR and Training committee, and head of human resources at Bank of Ireland Securities Services, proposed that in order to do this, better use can be made of the DFIA umbrella, to ensure more co-ordinated action on the recruiting and training of staff. The imminent re-branding of the association, to acknowledge a national funds industry, should also give broader reach and the opportunity to attract greater media attention, he said.

Work permits
With the pool of skilled staff looking to work in the funds industry declining, work permits are an increasingly important tool to enabling firms meet their headcount quotas.

According to the DFIA’s latest industry survey, between 2005 and 2006 100 per cent of responding firms experienced an increase in the number of new staff from EU accession states. Twenty-five per cent of firms hired new staff from outside the EU.

However, most non-nationals working in the funds industry come from the EU. The UK accounts for the largest supply, followed by Italy and Spain in second place, Poland in third, and France in fourth. China, Germany and the US are joined in fifth place.

Employers have experienced the most difficulty in getting work permits for staff from South Africa, USA, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, which is proving to be an extremely frustrating process. One responding firm gave the example of offering jobs to two Pakistan nationals - due to the work permit processing time, and the strict regulations for Pakistanis, the applicants accepted positions in other countries.

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