EEO TRUST AWARDS : Get Life into Work; Business, Staff and Families All Benefit from Workplace Diversity Initiatives, Says EEO Trust CEO Philippa Reed. Brenda Ward Spoke to Her about New Zealand's Top Workplace Performers

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Byline: Brenda Ward

Staff engagement translates into overall business performance, and this is proven by the success stories of winners from this year's EEO Trust Work & Life Awards, says CEO Philippa Reed.

She says the awards are not just a feel-good celebration, but show that workplace initiatives do add to the bottom line of an organisation.

"As part of the review process, we consider both quantitative and qualitative criteria, and as judges we see commercial data companies would not publish," Reed said on the eve of the trust's annual Work & Life Awards dinner at the Auckland Museum on October 28. That data proves a strong link between engagement, a positive workplace culture and commercial success, she says.

"The winner, The Warehouse distribution division, is an example of how a business has to be judged not just on its entry, but on the sense of engagement of people across different parts of the organisation," says Reed. "This was really exemplified there."

The Warehouse won the Supreme Award for its fathering initiative, which became a booklet available in stores for Father's Day (see box, right).

"When I went there, they were welcoming, friendly, and people were able to engage around complex personal family issues. The entry was well documented and the evidence they gave, plus a sense of how it works, walking around, showed it has helped lift the performance of that business."

EEO diversity practices include hiring based on merit, fairness at work, flexible working options and promotion based on talent. They relate to all aspects of employment including recruitment, pay and other rewards, career development and work conditions.

Since the EEO Trust was formed in 1992, there have been colossal changes in the way our working lives mesh with the rest of our lives, says Reed.

"Our role isn't just about raising awareness of our incredibly diverse workforce, but all the challenges of working in that workforce -- where there are more women working, the challenges of older and younger people, ethnic diversity and more immigrants in our workforce.

"We are still meeting challenges and adapting. There has been a very 20th century approach to working and living, and organisations are still being forced to adapt and change to the challenges that are going on. That's what the awards are about."

She says the awards have been through different phases, starting out as the "Work and Family Awards".

"They have evolved as we've moved away from that emphasis, to looking at how organisations are adapting to meet the new challenges of managing their businesses in a very difficult time. It's about meeting the needs of their workforces, both financial and social, with a crossover into family needs."

As society changes, we need different patterns and different ways of accommodating our lives at work and our lives outside work, she says.

The trust believes an inclusive and tolerant workplace motivates employees to perform to the best of their ability,

promoting understanding between people to create a stronger and more focused team.

It aims to help people balance their lives outside work with their responsibilities at work so they can be focused and creative. The awards celebrate organisations that embody these traits.

Reed says the trust wondered whether the global financial meltdown that hit businesses last year would affect the number and quality of entries, but that worry was unfounded.

"I don't think the financial situation has affected the number of entries, which were slightly down on the previous year -- but last year was a record year. The feedback we had from some companies was more that people didn't have the time and resources to prepare the entry that they wanted to."

The Christchurch earthquake also affected some South Island entries in the late stages of the process. …