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News Plus 28 Apr 2022 - 2 min read

Shadow boards, sanctioned side hustles and helping staff get more sleep: Affinity, Hatched, TRA, Half Dome top best places to work, Publicis only major listed

By Brendan Coyne - Editor

CX agency Affinity has topped the AFR’s best places to work list, followed by Melbourne-based indies Hatched, TRA and Half Dome. Publicis also made the cut with staff setting their own back to work policies, sanctioned side hustles, and initiatives to help staff get more sleep making the difference between top ranking firms.

What you need to know:

  • Flexibility and wellbeing initiatives highly prized in AFR Boss rankings.
  • Some now using flex to drive recruitment amid talent crunch.

Culture club

CX agency Affinity topped the AFR’s best places to work list, followed by Melbourne-based indies Hatched, TRA and Half Dome. Publicis was the only large marketing services group to make the top ten, though the list requires companies to submit their entries to be considered.

Affinity came out top after rolling out meeting free days, "library hours" mandated for learning and and other development initiatives designed to let staff know "it's okay to stop and think," said Chief Brand Officer Angela Smith. She claimed that giving green-lighting a "slow thinking" approach has "literally been worth hundreds of millions of dollars in incremental profit" for clients. 

Both Hatched and Half Dome have outlined their people strategies to Mi3 in recent weeks.

Hatched was highly placed due to its different approach to staff wellbeing. The firm has a ‘shadow board’ comprised of six “future leaders” that inform its policies and decision-making.

People and Culture Director, Virginia Scully told Mi3 that the shadow board literally wrote its back to work policy, canning the firm’s initial approach that was seen as too rigid.

Hatched doubled its headcount over Covid, growing to circa 60 staff. But rapid growth and intake of clients – while losing very few since inception nine years ago – led to growing pains, said Scully.

So it resigned some “legacy” clients, handed staff an extra five days annual “wellbeing leave” and gave managers access to its HR system data so they “could make decisions about which staff were working over time for an extended period and needed more days in lieu”, said Scully. It also “put the brakes on new business for a three month period”.

Meanwhile, it asked staff to write their own job descriptions with managers “and set their own goals, including a mandatory ‘wellbeing goal’,” she added, such as blocking out lunch hours to go to the gym.

Half Dome which is now close to 40 staff, has adopted a going “flex first” approach, according to co-founder Tom Frazer. Staff can work “wherever and whenever they want”, and the firm is even working up schemes to mentor and help employees with their side hustles.

“If you take it to one extreme, staff could only work 25 hours a week – if they are getting everything done and doing a great job – and use the other day and a half to work on side projects or focus on mental wellbeing, whatever they want,” said Frazer. “At the other end, you have people like me who want to show up in the officer every day – I like the buzz, and obviously I own the business.

“But where we are headed is the concept that we don’t want to tell you what makes you happy. We want you to tell us what will make you happy, and we want you to do that, whatever it is.”

Frazer hopes the flexible approach will help the agency attract staff in an industry facing acute talent shortages as it bids to increase headcount to circa 55 staff by the year end.

Publicis was listed due to its Thrive wellbeing programme, which it states has reduced burnout with the firm’s staff reporting a 65 per cent improvement in sleep and energy, per the AFR.

See the AFR Boss list here.

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