Five Practical Steps to Attract & Retain Top Talent

Macquarie Business Banking , 5 May 2023

Finding skilled, capable, and motivated staff has become an increasing challenge for Australian businesses, with the labour market at its tightest since the 1970s. What are the push and pull factors for candidates who have the pick of the market? Macquarie Bank shares how business leaders are winning the hearts and minds of great recruits.


Over the past year in Australia, staffing has been a critical issue for many Australian businesses. In fact, Australia’s unemployment rate hit 3.4% in 2022, an almost 50-year low – and it has continued to hover at record lows.

Two years of COVID-19 lockdowns played a role, with data suggesting border closures reduced new migrant numbers by about 400,000 people during the period.

However, it will take more than relaxing migration rules to ease the pressures currently facing business owners. The National Skills Commission’s Skills Priority List report for 2022 warned that almost one third of the 914 occupations reviewed were in short supply.

Skill shortages are nothing new for Australians. Almost 20 years ago, a Senate inquiry identified skill shortages as a “recurring and persistent feature” of the domestic labour market.

However, in the past year the problem has become acute. Almost one third (31%) of employing businesses struggled to find suitable workers in June 2022, up from 27% in June 2021, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Of those businesses unable to find workers, 79% reported a lack of applicants and 59% said the applicants that did apply lacked the experience and qualifications needed for the role.

What this suggests for business leaders is that even when current labour shortages ease – as is predicted for 2023 – the fight for talent will remain a core issue in Australia.


To attract staff, some employers have increased wages at potentially unsustainable rates, impacting profitability and sustainable growth. While wages do play an important role, Head of People, Culture and Client Experience at Macquarie’s Banking and Financial Services (BFS) division, Rosalind Coffey, cautions that workers are looking for more than just competitive salaries.

“You want your people to be highly engaged, which means they’re providing greater discretionary effort and recommending your company as a great place to work,” she says.

“People want to have belief in the leadership of the organisation, pride in the organisation, and feel that leaders have genuine care for employees – these are important considerations for employees.”

“Building a positive workplace culture requires a shift to thinking about the employment value proposition, or ‘why would people come to work with your company?'”

“Finding that ‘why’ can be done by asking your best people what they value about coming to work each day and using ‘human-centred design’ (HCD) to understand the perspectives of others,” says Coffey.

HCD is a methodology to help you focus on the experience people have working for you as employees or working with you as clients. It involves genuinely engaging with staff and clients, understanding their current experience of achieving their goals, listening to their concerns as well as what’s going well, and finding ways to improve their experience.

That could mean anything from rolling out new technology to simplify a task, to reducing the number of steps a person takes to log onto a system, or rewording instruction manuals. Businesses of any size can use this methodology to create better experiences for their people and clients.

Coffey points to an example within Macquarie’s BFS division where the experience of taking out a home loan was mapped. BFS charted the journeys taken by clients, brokers and employees from application to settlement, recording the actions each party took to apply for a loan and how parties felt at each step of the process.

Mapping the experience of all parties end-to-end created a deep understanding of not only how people applied for a loan, but where opportunities existed to improve the experience for the different parties involved. Those solutions ranged from larger investments in technology and communication, to simply locating teams closer to each other to facilitate seamless handovers.

“It was important that we understood that the client experience was essentially grounded in the experience we give to our employees, so if we made their jobs easier, that in turn simplified and improved both the broker and customer experiences,” explains Coffey.

“Essentially, it means starting by understanding the problem end users are trying to solve and grounding solutions in that, rather than starting with what we each think is the most important action to take.”


Be clear about what flexible working means

Having a flexible working environment means different things to different people, businesses and industries. The underlying principle, however, is that employees expect their workplaces to acknowledge and accommodate their out-of-work needs and lifestyles.

At a base level, business leaders’ attitude to flexibility should be one of acceptance and even excitement. Flexibility, when it’s well managed, can enhance the employee experience – and be a contributing factor to employees being willing to deliver more discretionary effort.

However, when promising to provide flexible working environments it’s important to be clear on exactly what that flexibility looks like. Though flexibility often puts the onus of time management and delivery on employees, it’s down to management to take a leadership position on parameters and expectations in a flexible working environment.

Be open to using education and training after hiring

More than half of employers struggling to fill roles reported a lack of suitably qualified candidates. In some cases, these qualifications are crucial, but Coffey noted employers may have more success by being more open-minded about who they take on. “I’d highly encourage people to look at the skill rather than the job experience that’s required,” she says.

Recruiters should think more broadly about applicants’ skill sets, how they align with the role, and whether they can be quickly taught new skills on the job. This not only opens up a wider talent pool, but could be an attractive offer for someone looking to switch roles or industries.

Similarly, reskilling existing staff for new internal roles can help retain good employees and create a supportive, attractive work environment for staff.

Take feedback seriously

There is value in seeking and seriously considering feedback from employees. It’s beneficial to conduct regular staff surveys managed by a third party to give employees the chance to contribute their thoughts anonymously.

It pays off to respond to every suggestion with genuine interest. Where an employee’s idea is not possible, it’s important to be clear and transparent with staff as to why that’s the case so they know their ideas were genuinely considered.

Insist on good clear communication

Effective businesses take steps to encourage clear, ongoing communication between their employees at all levels. Regular dialogue between team members with different professional backgrounds is important to deliver good client experiences.

This dialogue may be achieved through regular, formal huddles and meetings where staff are given the opportunity to discuss their work, seek feedback or raise concerns.

Support workers’ wellness

The widespread health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdowns has left many workers concerned about their own mental health and physical wellbeing. Many companies have an increased focus on the wellbeing of their staff, with initiatives such as inhouse health and wellness committees, small local work hubs and more chances to socialise with colleagues.

For more detail on these practical ideas including informative case studies and key takeaways, see the latest Your Business, Our Perspective article.

To discuss how you can build a more sustainable business, contact Macquarie Business Banking at 1800 442 370 or request a call today.

This information has been prepared by Macquarie Business Banking, a division of Macquarie Bank Limited ABN 46 008 583 542 AFSL and Australian Credit Licence 237502 (‘Macquarie’) for general information purposes only. This information does not constitute advice. Before acting on this information, you must consider its appropriateness having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs. You should obtain financial, legal and taxation advice before making any decision regarding this information.