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    Oct 28, 2014

    When boss gets chummy, staff feel loyalty

    NATIONAL Kidney Foundation (NKF) chief executive Edmund Kwok often asks his employees: "What is my number?"

    He wants to make sure they have his mobile phone number, and they do.

    All 700 staff at the voluntary welfare organisation know his number by heart and often send him text messages, sharing their problems at work and at home.

    "Sometimes they text me to ask how I am doing. It is nice. It shows that we have a personal connection," said Mr Kwok.

    The staff attrition rate at NKF is 8.3 per cent, compared with the average attrition rate of 15 per cent in the health-care and social services sectors.

    In a tight labour market, bosses are finding that a personal touch is increasingly important for staff retention.

    Managing employees with a heart seems like a basic concept, but it is often overlooked as pressures on the bottom line pile up, say human resource (HR) experts.

    Joni Ong, who heads the Singapore office of global consulting and training company Great Place To Work, said her firm has done surveys of millions of workers worldwide.

    And these surveys revealed a consistent theme: Bosses who go the extra mile to show that they care are more successful in forging staff loyalty.

    "It is important to focus on the employee as a person rather than as a means to an end, said Mrs Ong.

    To show staff that they matter, some bosses such as Mr Kwok work alongside workers.

    He regularly accompanies nurses and logistic staff when they visit patients' homes to check on them and to deliver medicine.

    Every week, he visits two of NKF's 25 dialysis centres to meet staff.

    Other firms find that simple gestures go a long way in boosting staff morale.

    Supervisors at IT company T-Systems, which has 120 employees, are encouraged to take staff out for meals and are sent for communication workshops to learn to connect with their staff better.

    Brandon Lew, head of HR operations at T-Systems, said: "We find that heads of department who pay for meals and buy presents out of their own pockets have many staff who stay five years or more."

    Tour agency International Paradise Connexions (IPC) budgets $500 for managers to take their teams out for lunch when a female employee returns from maternity leave.

    It also gives staff members toy and book vouchers to buy gifts for their children.

    While building relationships is an important management strategy, Brad Adams, head of HR research at business consultancy CEB, said it can be challenging for bosses to maintain a personal touch at all times.

    "The best companies go beyond just manager-led engagement tactics to leverage the power of peers and broader organisational initiatives," he said.

    IPC boss Raj Kumar agrees. He gets senior staff to be buddies to newcomers. The seniors are trained to counsel their colleagues on work and personal issues.

    IPC sales manager Camy Ho, 29, who has a four-month-old baby boy, said her buddy, who is also a mother, gave her advice about juggling work and life. The colleague also helped cover her responsibilities when she had morning sickness and when she was away on maternity leave.

    "I have been with the company for eight years and I will continue to stay on because my colleagues and bosses are like family," said Ms Ho.