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Future-proof your talent base in 2018

Article by Patrick Sutton, Partner, O’KellySutton in The Sunday Business Post, 28th January 2018

The Irish unemployment rate fell to a nine-year low in November 2017 of just 6.1 per cent. This is expected to fall further in 2018 to close to 5 per cent. It’s getting to the stage where employees can pick and choose who they want to work for. The ‘A’ players will now, more than ever, have the power to dictate terms and conditions. Employers who have been sleep-walking with their workforce will need to wake up and take action in 2018 to protect their business.

No longer is a standard remuneration package enough to attract and retain the best candidates. Employers are now expected to offer much more. It is becoming more common for employees to emphasise their expectations regarding competitive salaries, company contributory pensions and other benefits. There is a higher demand for better work-life balance, with employees increasingly seeking flexible working conditions. Employees are also placing increased emphasis on personal development, career progression, company culture, extended annual leave and the organisation’s own ambitions and goals.

What’s your culture?

Corporate culture refers to the beliefs, values and behaviours that determine how a company’s employees and management interact internally and handle outside business transactions. It is driven by an organisation’s strategies, goals, structures, and approaches to its employees, customers, shareholders, and the greater community. The disconnect between staff, management and customers is costing businesses billions in lost productivity every year. What employees expect and what companies offer is often very different and this can be a real problem.

Companies that want to succeed in the 21st century need to make corporate culture a strategic priority. Companies have to increase the overlap between what people desire and what the organisation delivers if they are serious about attracting and retaining the best talent in the job market.

Remember, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ culture. It’s about matching the culture you offer to what the people you hire desire. Workers are more likely to enjoy their time in the workplace when they fit in with the company culture.

There are many words used to describe a company’s culture, such as formal, informal, fun, serious, results driven, innovative, team driven, organised, reliable, friendly, trustworthy, macho, loved and so on. Culture experts say that a strong aligned culture delivers at least 20 per cent greater levels of performance.

Wellbeing at work

At work it shouldn’t be all about work, even if that statement might seem a contradiction. Not every company might be able to provide fancy break-out recreation rooms or staff centres, but there remains plenty that businesses of all sizes can do to improve conditions for their team.

The days of having poor equipment, an inadequate workspace, a bad heating system, or dreary décor are long gone. Employers now need to be investing resources in looking after the health and wellbeing of their workforce. The types of services typically being provided or subsidised include: health screening; medical support; regular social wellbeing events; physical activities such as ten-pin bowling and pitch and putt; charity events (walking/cycling/running); and gym membership. Larger companies are providing dieticians, weight-loss classes, mindfulness classes, nap pods, wellbeing adventures, and more. A whole industry has grown around this.

These types of activities are creating stronger team bonds and increasing general morale, as they are designed to be all-inclusive and to foster a sense of both individual wellbeing and team spirit. The results show sickness days and staff turnover are substantially reduced, with considerable increases in employee engagement and team productivity.

Cost of high staff turnover

Apart from the very considerable direct cost of rehiring, the disruption to your business of losing top employees can have a long-term impact.

High staff turnover is seriously expensive with costs including recruitment fees, administration time of dealing with rehiring, retraining costs, lost productivity, lost sales, damage to brand, and loss of corporate knowledge.

Many successful businesses develop long-term relationships with recruiters. They become key partners where the recruitment firm gets to understand the type and quality of employee that best fits the organisation. With the right management of relationships, they can provide a pool of talent suitable to your organisation.

Practical tips


Regular planning meetings with employees gives them a sense of inclusion and raises their levels of awareness and performance. The meetings should be structured, carefully managed and well thought out in advance with clear time frames.

Employees should know what the vision is for the organisation and the daily, weekly, monthly meetings should ultimately be about working towards the bigger goals. Don’t underestimate the power of understanding of your team.

Reviews and measuring performance

It is important that regular review meetings with employees take place, are documented and filed away. It gives each staff member formal assessment and feedback on performance and helps map out their future. It provides the employer with a chance to get real feedback from the employee and make the necessary changes to ensure everyone is on the same page going forward in an inclusive way.

What gets measured gets done. There’s always a way to determine and measure performance levels. A continuous measuring and feedback process keeps employees sharp, interested and focused. Most high-achieving employees will expect regular and continuous feedback.

Training and coaching

Successful organisations will have in place appropriate training and coaching programmes. Investment in talent is essential to get them to the next level. Now, more than ever, this is seen as a normal part of the employee package and if employers don’t step up to the plate in this regard they won’t retain good staff.


Communication must work both ways. There must be structures and systems in place so that employees can give honest feedback, good and bad, to their bosses, and a system for actively encouraging ideas.

Too often in times past employers were quick to point out employees’ shortcomings and failures. However, it is now widely recognised that feedback must be measured and balanced. Employers should acknowledge above-and-beyond levels of effort – everyone likes a bit of praise.

It is really important to build trust and relationships in teams and this can only be done by giving time, energy and understanding to individuals in order to truly get to know them. Employees have to be motivated to perform – they’re not machines, and a business is only as strong as its team.

In summary, employers need to consider what their organisation can do in order to stand out from the crowd. While monetary elements are important, non-monetary elements are perhaps even more important to encourage employees to stay, such as culture and values, positive work environment, employee assistance programmes, career opportunities, strong and supportive leadership, flexibility in work, and a shared vision from the top down.

Patrick Sutton is founding parter at O’KellySutton, a company providing a range of accounting, financial planning and taxation services to Irish businesses. For more details, email