National airline has been judged NZ's 'most attractive' employer.
Even the MC for the evening, TV3 presenter John Campbell, had trouble concealing his amazement that people who sometimes "wear a glove" and "rummage through your smalls" could be New Zealand's third "most attractive" employer.
But the people have spoken.
The Randstad Award, a survey canvassing Kiwis' impressions of the employment brands of the country's 150 largest employers, did indeed bestow that honour to New Zealand Customs.
It stole the thunder somewhat of runner up TVNZ (third last year) and the supreme winner for the second year running, Air New Zealand.
It is only the second year the award has been run in New Zealand, but the sample size surveyed to determine the top employment brands, coupled with the glitzy awards night held in Auckland's Pullman Hotel last week, mean the Randstad Award is being taken seriously.
Rare among New Zealand awards in that companies can't opt to be involved, but entrants are simply decided by virtue of being among the largest 150 organisations, the Randstad Award prides itself on being a giant "barbecue test" - about 7000 people are canvassed for their views.
"It is about how your company is perceived by the public. How many people know of you, and how many people would like to work for you," says Randstad New Zealand director Paul Robinson.
"It used to be all about consumer brand," says Randstad Australia and New Zealand chief executive Fred van der Tang, who flew across the ditch to be present for the awards, "but it is being realised that your employment brand is equally important, and that's relatively new."
For the first time this year public sector organisations were included in the Randstad Award, effectively doubling the total number included in the survey from last year.
As well as winning third place for the supreme award, Customs took out the public sector award, a trophy that was gratefully accepted by group general manager Phil Chitty, himself a testament to the retention track record of the service, having been employed there for about 47 years.
"In 1840 when Hobson stepped ashore in New Zealand, behind him was George Cooper. As New Zealand's first controller of Customs, he wasn't that successful," joked Chitty.
In the education sector, the University of Auckland won the title for the most attractive employer.
Air New Zealand was a clear winner of the supreme award, coming top in the categories of strong management, interesting job content, a pleasant working atmosphere, and salary and benefits.
Of the respondents who knew of Air New Zealand, 80 per cent of them said the company would be a great place to work.
Accepting the award for the airline was general manager sourcing and leadership Muriel Roake, who said because there was little on an aircraft that couldn't be copied, Air New Zealand had to be creative to stand out from competitors.
"We focus on three things; an adaptive internal culture - being able to respond with quick decisions, our New Zealandness, and innovation - which is ingrained in the DNA of Air New Zealand."
Roake explained that the strength of the brand came from the 11,000 staff acting as ambassadors for the company throughout New Zealand.
"It is what people say about the company on the sports field or at the barbecue which is the measure of the strength of your employment brand," Roake said.
Host John Campbell agreed, saying that when he boards an Air New Zealand flight he feels like part of the family. "It's an extraordinary achievement."
Survey respondents were asked to rate what was most important to them when looking for a job, and unsurprisingly in an uncertain economic climate 'long-term job security' came top of the list, followed by a competitive salary and benefits (the top concern last year), pleasant working atmosphere, and the knowledge that the company is good financial health.
Work/life balance took a big hit in importance in comparison with last year's results, coming in at eighth in the priority list, down 14 per cent from the previous year.
Broken down further into preferences for the sexes, international/global career opportunities, financial strength and training was seen as highly important by men and younger employees, where flexible working hours, accessibility, atmosphere and workplace diversity were more important to women.
Quality products/services, interesting job content and workplace diversity held greater importance for older employees.
Financial health of an organisation saw companies such as Coca Cola Amatil, Fonterra and the banks as safe bets for financial health, while long-term job security was topped by the New Zealand Police, followed by the Royal New Zealand Navy and the New Zealand Defence Force.
In terms of salary and benefits, Beca and IBM came in behind Air New Zealand.
As an environmentally aware and socially responsible organisation, the Department of Conservation topped the result, with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (now the Ministry for Primary Industries) and Christchurch City Council next.
Of the most important factors in choosing to work for a specific company, it was telling that long-term security was more important in the construction and industrial/manufacturing industries than any other sector. It was the least important consideration in education/public administration/healthcare, and services (HR/recruitment/business services/cleaning/media).
The survey offered encouraging news for newspapers, with respondents still more likely to turn to them to find a job than other medium.
Paul Robinson stressed that it was not all about recruiting the right people, however. "It's also about engagement and retention. When there's an upswing, that's the stage at which your employees are going to start looking elsewhere. That's where companies which haven't invested in those areas will suffer.
"To know if your employees are engaged you have to have continual, open and honest communication, with constant internal re-iteration of your company's values."