With its natural beauty and thriving city centre, it’s easy to see why Wollongong is one of Australia’s best places to live.
It’s also a fantastic place to work – and several award-winning businesses based in the regional city are showing the rest of Australia how to engage staff and achieve goals outside the nation’s capitals.
Not-for-profit health fund Peoplecare has been named an AON Best Employer for three years, an acknowledgement of its high staff engagement, low turnover and leadership.
RegTech company Objective has won three Employer of Choice awards in a row in the Australian Business Awards, while The Disability Trust took out the Australian HR Awards gong for Employer of Choice (public sector) in 2019, an award recognising the best public sector of not-for-profit organisation to work for in Australia judged on leadership, engagement, communication and employee benefits.
So, what makes Wollongong such a special place to do business?
A balanced lifestyle
Imagine starting and finishing your day by the water, perhaps with your family or pets, enjoying fresh air and exercise.
In Wollongong, which is blessed with stunning beaches and a large lake, that’s a reality for many. Short commuting times and the spectacular natural landscape make it easy to achieve true work-life balance here.
Enjoying life outside of the nine-to-five is paramount to the culture at Objective, says its Global VP Regtech Solutions, Ben Hobby.
“Many of our employees enjoy a comfortable and happy life outside of work,” he explains.
“With a gym on site, bicycle lock-up facilities and the beach at our doorstop, we drive an active lifestyle during and outside of work time.”
Maree Morgan-Monk, head of people and culture at Peoplecare, says the company has harnessed the natural beauty of Wollongong to bolster staff wellbeing while they work from home due to the pandemic.
“It’s easy to sit at your desk all day when you’re at home, so we encourage people to go out for a walk on their lunchbreak and get some fresh air,” explains Maree.
“Staff have been taking photos on their walks and sharing them, so we’ve had beautiful photos from our team, particularly along the Blue Mile, around Austinmer and Thirroul, around Lake Illawarra and up around Horsley and West Dapto area.”
In Wollongong, a park, walking path or a little patch of bushland is never far away.
Freedom through flexibility
Whether offering remote working options or flexible hours, Wollongong businesses know that creating a culture of trust and freedom is key to attracting, keeping and engaging a high-quality, skilled workforce.
Maree says that quickly adapting to the recent COVID-19 restrictions with a wide-scale work-from-home policy has unlocked even greater results from Peoplecare’s 220 employees.
“We’ve seen from some really good efficiency and productivity gains,” Maree confirms. “Remote working has enabled us to be more creative and flexible around the way we work, and people have been really enjoying that.”
The key to these results is that the flexibility is flowing both ways, Maree explains. Just as the organisation has helped out its staff by offering more or fewer hours if needed or juggling rosters for busy parents, employees, too, are stepping up to support their team-mates and help Peoplecare achieve its targets.
“It really is a two-way street. We have demonstrated a lot of flexibility for our Peoplecarers, but I tell you, so have they, in terms of what was needed and what we had to do to ensure we delivered the best that we could to our members,” says Maree.
“It has meant we’ve had to be flexible, put in some extra time here, make compromises there, drop projects here in order to help out there. We’ve definitely seen an improved level of teamwork and cohesion and cross-functional support to get things done as an organisation.”
Meet Dr Melinda Williams, CEO at Peoplecare
True community spirit
Embracing the community at large can have a positive impact on workplace wellbeing. Whether it’s sponsoring or attending local events, volunteering or supporting other businesses, actively participating in the community enhances work-life balance and gives employees a sense of connection, belonging and pride.
Basing your business in Wollongong makes it easy to tap into a strong community – something capital city-based companies may struggle to find.
“Wollongong is such a community-driven area, with a lot of people deciding to either start a family here or move here to give their family the best possible life,” explains Ben Hobby. “The community spirit really drives the region.”
Maree agrees, adding that Peoplecare made an effort to support local cafes during the recent lockdown.
“We did have some people stay in the office, including myself, and each week we would sponsor a different local business for lunch. I believe some other businesses did this too, which created a real sense of community even when the CBD was really quiet.”
A supportive business networking culture is another unique feature of this city, with many local entrepreneurs and leaders keen to share advice and help each other grow via regular meet-ups.
- Checkout the Siligong Valley tech meetup