Making Aotearoa an Awesome Place to Work

Our CEO, David Morrison, shares his lessons for creating a workplace culture and environment that your employees will look forward to being a part of every day.

In 2022, it’s no longer okay to just pay well.

Good pay is a given but if you’re looking to win the war for talent, you’re going to have to do a lot more than that as an employer.

This is a lesson that Thankyou Payroll has lived out. In mid 2021, we went through some planned organisational change which resulted in some bursts of staff churn. This was expected, but coupled with the impact of Covid-19 on recruitment and wage pressures, it would be fair to say we struggled to attract and retain the talent we needed.

As a small-medium sized business, staff turnover was beginning to impact on workloads, productivity and morale. We had to do things differently if we were to get the team our customers deserved.

And we did.

There have been a lot of positive changes made to the way we take care of our staff. Most of all, there’s been A LOT of learning. I thought I’d put these learnings to paper in the hope that other businesses might draw some inspiration from our journey.

First-time CEO and CEO of Thankyou Payroll, David Morrison

David Morrison, CEO of Thankyou Payroll

Get to know the needs of your staff

In my opinion, all change starts with a conversation. Ask your employees what they like and what they dislike and make progress from there. It is important to really listen; often what you think are the issues may not be, and you may discover hidden problems to solve.

Following this approach, we quickly discovered that our current work environment just wasn’t cutting it.

There were fundamentals we could improve on like pay, equipment, and our office environment. But beyond this, our staff wanted a job they could look forward to; one where they felt seen, appreciated, and challenged – and one which didn’t compromise their wellbeing. We also recognised a need to bring more curiosity, collaboration, and fun into the work we were doing and that meant digging more into how we wanted to operate as a team.

Sounds like a lot, right? While it would have been easy to feel down about this feedback, we saw it as an opportunity to do great things and create a workplace we could be proud of.

We had to confront the fact that we had gaps, lean into the feedback, and introduce some change. So we got stuck in.

Assemble the essentials

Without providing your staff with the fundamentals of fair pay, professional development, and a comfortable working environment, it’s pretty hard to progress as a business.

This said, often these improvements require the most investment and not all businesses are in a position to do this right away. For these businesses, we say start with what you can do. As you keep reading this blog, you’ll find that there’s a lot you can do to retain your employees which doesn’t require a huge sum of money.

Every business has to start somewhere and whatever you can do to make your employees feel supported and appreciated will bring you one step closer to making some of those bigger investments.

Salary benchmarking

For several years we have been supporters of the Living Wage but as we crossed over from a small business to a medium-sized business, we realised that we needed to go further.

As a company, we wanted to ensure that our employees were receiving fair pay in a fast moving market. We engaged with Strategic Pay to benchmark all of our salaries against industry standards and made the necessary adjustments so that we could confidently say that our staff were paid in line with market expectations.

On the surface, this meant a reasonable increase in our wages bill. But ultimately, this bill replaced the costs associated with lost productivity, recruitment, onboarding, and morale – a pretty good trade-off if you ask me.

Professional development

Helping your employees to grow professionally works both ways – they are motivated by the challenge of learning new skills while the functions and productivity of your business improve.

We know that our staff won’t be with us forever and we feel an obligation to nurture their skills and talent while they are at Thankyou Payroll.  We see it as success if staff leave us to take on a new opportunity using the skills they have developed with us.

While we’ve increased our budget in this space, not all professional development has to be pricey. Taking the time to internally upskill and cross-skill team members is essential to developing your team – and perhaps more important than attending a conference or a training course. We strongly encourage our experienced team members to share their knowledge and expertise with their peers through regular one-on-ones and group meetings.

Tools, spaces, and places

As a tech company, a constant evolution of tools, equipment and spaces is essential. We’ve done a lot of growing and maturing over the past few years and we needed a work environment to match.

We moved our Wellington office in September of this year and it is one of the best decisions we have made. With more space and facilities for our team, we have much more capacity to do great work.

A key consideration when upgrading our computers, desks, and office spaces was how to do so while applying a sustainability lens. E-waste in particular was something we wanted to limit and partnering with our friends at AISCorp has ensured this by giving all of our reusable technology a new home.

Thankyou Payroll and Creative HQ Teams celebrating in the new office

Thankyou Payroll and Creative HQ celebrating new friendships in the Wellington office.

Workplace culture is EVERYTHING

Every workplace has a culture. It is either explicit; clearly defined, agreed and known across the team, or it is implicit; the result of the collective behaviours of the team.

A key focus this year has been to get explicit on what we want in our company culture and agree on the values and behaviours that will reinforce Thankyou Payroll as a great place to work. When the culture is there, so is the teamwork, the productivity, the laughter, and the fun. It also means people want to stick around which is a pretty good bonus if you ask me.

Staying connected

Something big that I’ve learnt is that physical distance doesn’t have to mean social distance. Our team might be spread across three cities, but today we stay more connected than ever before. We never miss a daily standup (maybe partly because we want to get 15/15 in the daily quiz) and these short fun interactions make such a difference for us – and for you. 

With restrictions lowered, we’ve also resumed our annual Staff Hui (work retreat). It’s heartening to be able to come together once a year for a weekend of learning, laughter, food, and celebration.  The relationships we develop in these face to face environments significantly improve our online interactions through improved understanding and empathy for each other.

Hybrid work

Since Covid-19, remote working has become the new normal and many businesses have chosen to embrace this permanently. Many others (including Thankyou Payroll) have sought to find a balance that allows for flexibility but still creates space for in-person engagement.  

In seeking this balance we have had to rethink the function of the office. We know the work can be done anywhere, so what are the benefits for office work? We intend to use our office time together to really focus on building relationships within and across teams; maximising opportunities for collaboration, training and fun. 

Have we got it right? Only time will tell but it’s important that we continue to inspect and adapt our approach.

Aligning values

Values in an organisation often manifest as the collective lived experience and behaviours of all staff. But it takes some focused work to formally shape these unspoken perspectives into explicit values and supporting behaviours which resonate with everyone. 

We were lucky enough to do this at our most recent Staff Hui and It was pretty awesome to see the team come to such a natural consensus on what we need to thrive as individuals and as a team. We used the Emotional Culture Deck to help guide our workshop which proved a great way to unlock conversations and increase understanding across the team.

The Thankyou Payroll Team uniting at the Staff Hui

The Thankyou Payroll Team celebrating 10 years of Tom at our annual Staff Hui.

Healthy employees are happy employees

The local and global stressors of recent years have helped shine a light on the need to manage wellbeing in all its forms; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. As employers, we are in a unique position to support our staff beyond their working life. Investing in staff wellbeing will not only make yourself and your staff feel good, but it will help lift employee engagement and retention too.

Setting boundaries

Being a business that largely operates 9-5, Monday to Friday, we have no need for staff to constantly be checking their emails and Slack during personal time.

As part of our induction process (and via gentle check-ins) we encourage the team not to work additional hours (unless absolutely necessary and agreed). If they do, we ask that they use scheduling features so as not to disrupt their colleagues.

A key component to the success of this approach are the behaviours modelled by the CEO and Leadership Team. How they work often sets the tone for the whole business and this goes a long way to help our staff to disconnect from work and maintain some balance in their lives.

Health insurance

We were over the moon when we introduced our free health insurance policy earlier this year. It’s great to be able to reduce some of the barriers for staff to maintain their wellness and I know that this funding has already had a huge impact on some of the team. This is one of those benefits that does incur cost, but there are a range of well being services that smaller businesses can tap into too.  A great example is Xero’s Assistance Programme.

Inclusive sick leave policies

We wanted to recognise those who may come across more serious health conditions, or who are responsible for looking after others when they are sick. That’s why we decided to offer 20 days discretionary sick leave and personal carers leave so that no one gets left behind. This discretionary leave also proved essential throughout the recent waves of Covid-19 where we applied this to staff impacted by Covid-19.

Wellbeing allowance

The $400 wellbeing allowance has been a long time resident at Thankyou Payroll and it’s here to stay. It’s to be used towards anything that benefits an employee’s well being – from physio, to counselling, to a gym membership – it’s their choice. It is a simple benefit that is easy to implement and helps to encourage personal care.

If you can’t give away money, why not give away time? Encourage your staff to take breaks away from their work to focus on taking care of themselves.

Thankyou Payroll's Auckland Team having a laugh by the harbour

Thankyou Payroll’s Auckland Team taking time out by the harbour.

It’s a journey, not a destination

Over the past year, we’ve systematically tackled improvements that individually are great, but combined create a powerful story for being a part of the Thankyou Payroll whānau.

The result has been significantly increased staff retention this year. More to the point; our staff are really happy and I’m really happy about that too.

We feel extremely lucky to be in a position where we can put funds into these efforts. But funds or not, company policies have been the cornerstone of creating a great place to work. It’s okay if you don’t have the capacity to do extra things like health insurance, but good policies that ensure equity in the workplace go a long way to build a really healthy and respectful work culture.

Perhaps my most important tip is this: don’t stop while you’re ahead.

If you’ve already created a great place to work, why not make it better? There is always more you can do to make your staff feel supported and appreciated.

In the pipeline for us, we have:

  • free public transport cards and e-bike loans – to encourage transport mode shifts, reduce transportation cost, reduce emissions, and further improve workplace culture,
  • a new HR role – so that we can continue to focus adequate resources towards making Thankyou Payroll a great place to work as we scale up, and
  • a revamp of our parental leave – there are some corporates out there with some great offerings and we are eager to see how we might replicate these in our own workplace.

Will you join us?

We’ve curated a number of policies that make Thankyou Payroll a great place to work and we wouldn’t want them to go to waste.  

Next year, we’re hoping to open source a lot of how we operate by making our policies freely available for businesses to replicate or modify in their workplace

Would you be interested in having access to these policies?

Register your interest