Secrets to success: how to attract and retain top talent

Your business, our perspective


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? We share how business leaders are winning the hearts and minds of great recruits.

Why labour shortages need long-term attention


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 continues to hover in the same vicinity.1

Two years of COVID-19 lockdowns played a part, with data suggesting border closures cut new migrant numbers by about 400,000 people during the period.2

However, it will take more than relaxing migration rules to ease the pressures currently facing business owners. The National Skills Commission Skills Priority List report for 2022 warned that almost one-third of the 914 occupations reviewed were in short supply.3

Skills shortages are nothing new for Australians. Almost 20 years ago, a Senate inquiry identified skills shortages as a “recurring and persistent feature” of the domestic labour market.4

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).5

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.

Think beyond salary


To attract staff, some employers have increased wages at potentially unsustainable rates, impacting profitability and sustainable growth. In the strata industry, for example, research shows wages have increased from 29% of total revenues in 2005 to 49% in 2022, with profit margin shrinking from 33% in 2005 to 23% in 20226.  

While wages do play an important role, Head of People, Culture and Client Experience at Macquarie’s Banking and Financial Services 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 Bank where the experience of taking out a home loan was mapped. Macquarie Bank mapped 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 undertook a loan, but where opportunities existed to make that experience better for the different parties involved. Those solutions ranged from larger investments in technology and communication, to simple solutions of locating teams closer to each other to allow for seamless handover of processes.

“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."

Case studies: an inside look


Mantel Group: flexible culture, steadfast principles

Technology services and consulting firm Mantel Group, established in 2017, took top honours in Great Place To Work’s annual awards in both 2021 and 2022. It’s an achievement Caroline Henshaw, Mantel’s head of people and culture, attributes to the business’s unique employment model.

Mantel Group has five guiding principles it uses to set expectations and govern behaviour:

  1. Make good choices.
  2. In it together.
  3. Love what you do and be awesome at it.
  4. Make things better.
  5. Communicate directly.

Employees are given relative freedom in the way they manage themselves so long as they adhere to these principles.

For example, employees needing to travel for work are expected to pick the most cost-effective but reliable travel option available rather than going through a traditional budget and expense process. This falls under the ‘make good choices banner’ and shows employees that the company trusts their judgement.

The business is also flexible about where staff work – so much so that Mantel Group has created work ‘hubs’ around Australia and New Zealand, in place of the traditional offices. Between these hubs and the company’s support for working from home, Mantel Group is now able to hire people from anywhere in the country.


The Knight: invest heavily in your people

Melbourne-based owners corporation management firm The Knight has managed to attract and retain its talent pool by investing in its people.

It’s done this in several ways, says managing director Gregor Evans (who also serves as president of the Strata Community Association of Victoria). One of the most striking is its policy of ‘respect’.

“Respect is one of those things that goes both ways – we respect our clients and their needs and we expect they’ll treat our staff the same,” he says.

Internally, The Knight has staff-led committees on issues such as health and wellness, sustainability, and social committees. Employees can share their thoughts in these groups to help shape the culture of the organisation themselves.

They also provide feedback directly to the company’s senior managers, which – along with regular third-party staff surveys – helps the company identify ways they can better support their staff.

“Invest in and engage with your people,” Evans says. “Understand what their desires are and what they're looking for and make sure that ultimately they're happy.”

When you're growing a business, people and technology are two of your biggest assets. The right technology serves several critical purposes - it frees up your talent to focus on high-value work, reduces the pressure on and need for human resources, and reduces both error and complexity in process and results. To learn more about how Macquarie can help you drive efficiencies in your business request a call today.

Five practical ideas for redesigning recruitment


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.

For example, it’s important to consider the purpose of office and non-office days. Having team members turn up to a relatively empty space is not an ideal or motivating experience. Setting ‘team days’ to ensure that the office is used for in-person meetings, socialising and collaboration is one solution to this issue.  

Evans also points to the needs of young families as one area where greater flexibility can make a workplace far more attractive, widening the net for businesses who are struggling to find people.  

“Parents may have to pick up their kids from childcare or school at 3.30pm. If you’re mindful of that and they can make up their hours later on that day, then it’s not usually an issue,” he says.

“The pandemic obviously showed us we have the ability to work from home quite easily and that can help them in their personal lives with their work-life balance.”


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

Evans says his company created a training manager role to meet these needs. The training manager looks at each staff member’s skill sets, identifies areas where they could benefit from further training, and creates an in-house program tailored to their abilities.


Take feedback seriously

Both Henshaw and Evans recognise the value of seeking, and seriously considering feedback from employees. At The Knight, Evans and his team conduct regular staff surveys managed by a third party to give employees the chance to contribute their thoughts anonymously.

This led to the creation of a mental health and wellbeing framework designed to help staff manage the stresses of their fast-paced industry.

Henshaw added that it pays off to respond to every suggestion with genuine interest, pointing to Mantel Group’s Magnetic Island work hub as an example of what can happen.

Initially pitched by an employee without any expectation of it actually being considered, the company investigated the costings and interest from other staff members and realised setting up a workspace on the island was not only feasible but also gave staff the option of taking working holidays. 

Since then Mantel Group has created a second ‘destination’ work hub in Queenstown and will be launching a third, voted for by employees in Hobart.

In some cases, 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 clear communication

Mantel Group and The Knight have both taken steps to encourage clear, ongoing communication between their employees at all levels. Evans noted that given the broad set of skills required in the strata industry, this regular dialogue between team members with different professional backgrounds is crucial to delivering good client experiences.

Part of this dialogue is achieved through regular, formal huddles and meetings where staff are given the opportunity to discuss their work, seek feedback or raise concerns. But the business has also made sure staff at every level can easily contact other team members when they need help or guidance. This effectively ‘decentralises’ the strata management role across a team of capable individuals with specialist areas of expertise.

In a similar vein, Mantel Group has actively sought to flatten its management structure, keeping senior leaders in close contact with more junior staff. The company also includes ‘communicate directly’ as one of its five guiding employment principles.

This principle, Henshaw explained, is to encourage team members to raise problems or concerns with the person those issues relate to in a constructive manner.


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.  Evans noted that health has become a major theme among his staff in the past year, becoming most evident in the formation of an in-house health and wellness committee.

This staff-led committee conducts regular meetings to discuss the health and wellbeing of employees and how it can be improved, and features subcommittees which deliver and report on the group’s specific initiatives.

Meanwhile, Henshaw noted that decentralising the Mantel Group’s offices into smaller hubs means employees around the country have greater access to a shared workplace. After almost two years of lockdowns, Henshaw says this greater access to an office – and the chance to socialise with colleagues – has been an important feature of working with the business.

“Obviously some people absolutely want to be back in offices and I think it is really important for many people's mental health to bring them back together,” she says.

“It gives them the opportunity to go and work from an office. It gives them the opportunity – which a lot of people like – to go away with some colleagues to the Magnetic Island office where they’ll still work, but perhaps take shorter days and have some fun.”

Key takeaways

  • The labour shortage in Australia is pronounced at the moment and should ease in 2023. However, scarcity of skilled and quality recruits should be treated as a structural issue for businesses in Australia – it is a longstanding feature of the business environment for SMEs.
  • Salary is an important lever, but not a decider, in attracting and retaining people. Push and pull factors for a contemporary workforce pertain to issues such as leadership, purpose, engagement, wellness and education.
  • The answers and clues to a satisfied, engaged employee base lie within it. Communicate with, invest in and listen to your people regularly to keep your finger on the pulse of what is making people leave, and what is motivating them to stay.


To discuss any opportunities for your business, please speak with your Macquarie Bank Relationship Manager or request a call.

Additional Information


1 ; Treasury, ‘Budget Statement 2: Economic Outlook’
2 Jeffrey Wilson, ‘Deep dive: Australia’s missing migrants and the labour market’, Australian Industry Group
3 National Skills Commission, 2022 Skills Priority List Key Findings Report, 2022
4 Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education References Committee, ‘Bridging the skills divide’, November 2003

5 Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Business Conditions and Sentiments June 2022’
6Macquarie, 2023, Strata Industry Benchmarking Report


This document 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, without taking into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this general information, you must consider its appropriateness having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs. The information provided is not intended to replace or serve as a substitute for any accounting, tax or other professional advice, consultation or service and nothing in this document shall be construed as a solicitation to buy or sell any financial product, or to engage in or refrain from engaging in any transaction. 

The information is current as at November 2022. Past performance should not be taken as an indication or guarantee of future performance and no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made regarding future performance.

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