Case Study: CommArc

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Happy staff stay, says IT boss

For IT guru Phil Johnson, retention has always been a strategy, when it comes to business.

It’s no mean feat, given the current climate in IT.

“It’s a competitive industry and it’s hard to get good people. It’s also an industry that is always under a lot of pressure because people rely on it far more now,” says Phil Johnson, owner of CommArc.

“25 years ago when I started this business, you could head out for lunch and shut people’s systems down. These days, you have to work in the middle of the dark of the night, in order to ensure the customer has no downtime. So it’s a high pressure industry.”

Like a lot of industries, it is also under threat from automation and commoditisation. 

“Businesses these days are a lot leaner than they used to be, so people tend to work a lot harder. I don’t think you can get away with not being lean, and so therefore you have to work really hard to keep an eye on people’s wellbeing.”

While the pressure and work mount, Johnson is ensuring his staff don’t get snowed under. 

“To make a business last for 25 years, you have to put a lot of effort in and you have to look after your people.”

He encourages staff to look after their wellbeing and to leave work at the door. He acknowledges that isn’t always possible, given clients need IT support at all times of the day.

“What I say to them is put the effort in while you’re here and leave it behind when you go. Work hard, do your best but don’t take it home with you. A lot of the guys do though. If you didn’t have a good culture, you wouldn’t get guys doing that.”

With a big team aged 18 to 62 years-old, Johnson knows the unexpected will always crop up. And when it does, he is prepared. Be it children, mental health issues or illness, he plans accordingly.

“It doesn’t come as a surprise because we are prepared for that.”

His policies also accommodate the unexpected. 

Healthcare is funded, long-service leave is offered and mental illness is covered under sick leave.

“And that creates a lot of loyalty and that creates a pretty good working environment.”

For Johnson, high retention is something he is proud of.

“I have a number of staff, who have been with me for 20 years. I guess we don’t have the same issues that a lot of places do in our space, in terms of churn of customers or staff. It’s a lot easier to retain staff and retain customers, than to go get new ones.”

“Retention has always been our strategy.”

“I think there is a lot of focus on making money in the industry. What we focus on, is actually being good, having fun and living life and the money is a result of those philosophies - not the driver.”

So how would Johnson describe the workplace culture?

Collegial, humourous, and relaxed but focussed. 

“It’s our culture that makes it the place to work - not so much our systems, policies and benefits. We do have some benefits but it’s often the ones you don’t see that give the greatest value to people’s lives.”

“You just do your best.”