CEO Ross McEwan speaks with ABC about the return to office buildings



Earlier today (Monday 29 March 2021), NAB CEO Ross McEwan joined ABC Melbourne Mornings host Virginia Trioli to discuss NAB’s approach on the return of workers to CBD office buildings, the future of work, JobKeeper and expectations on employee conduct.


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Virginia Trioli (VT): Ross, good to talk to you, Good Morning.

Ross McEwan (RM): Good morning Virginia. Yes, it’s been interesting listening to your conversations (with listeners).

VT: I’m sure it’s reflected across your workforce as well. How many employees do you have in your various locations across the city?

RM: Well across Victoria we’ve got about 15,000. The vast majority of them prior to COVID setting in were located in three major buildings in the centre of the city, through Docklands right up to the other end of Bourke street.

VT: And how many of them, or what percentage of those, are back in the office?

RM: Well to date, we’re building, we’re back up to about 3,500 as of last week, up against the restrictions that were in place as of last week was just over 5000 capability, so we were quietly building back up to that level. Great to see that the requirements of the space have changed last week and we’re about to recalculate. We are starting to get more and more of our colleagues back to work, back in to work in the city, which is what I’ve been encouraging.

VT: Will you require workers to be back in the offices?

RM: Look it depends on the type of work they’re doing. The thing that I’ve said is, it has changed under COVID, we have got great colleagues who are now capable of working from home and have done a fantastic job for the bank and our customers over the last 12 months and I don’t think we’re going to go back to 100 per cent working five days in the building. We’ll make sure there is flexibility, but I would see two or three days a week in one of our workplaces. The reason for that is collaboration, training, development, working together, solving customer problems, learning from each other. These are vital pieces about our workplace and we learn best when there’s someone sitting beside us having a conversation with a customer.

VT: You’ve also got big, expensive buildings there in Docklands and in city and lease arrangements – if you don’t get everyone back at work it won’t be worthwhile having those expensive leases will it?

RM: You’re absolutely right, but we have to get through the requirements at the moment of two square metres per person and the 1.5 metres spacings which require us to have more space than probably long-term we will require, but I would say that is a long term change coming for organisations such as ourselves and we’re also trialling our staff working from quite different locations to what it was 12 months ago when we basically had the capability of only 4000 working away from our major buildings; today it’s more like 28,000.

VT: Should JobKeeper end right now do you think?

RM: I think JobKeeper has done an outstanding job for Australia and for Australians but I think it’s day has come and I think a much more focused approach to helping people out who are struggling in an industry that hasn’t quite got back on to its feet. But I think JobKeeper’s days are done and it’s done an amazing job and we should be very thankful that we had a Federal Government in great shape to be able to put such a program in place, along with many, many other programs that it had and has in place today.

VT: While I’ve got a leading banking executive on the phone this morning, Ross McEwan is with you, the CEO of the National Australia Bank, it would be remiss of me not to ask you this on the issue of workplace culture and the matters in Canberra that have been preoccupying all Australians. If an employee of yours had committed the offence of up-skirting a women and bullied others online, would he be on paid leave while he sorted himself out, or would that have been a sacking offence?

RM: Well first off, every colleague needs to have a safe environment, not just feel safe but to be safe at work. I’ve recently reiterated my position on this; there is zero tolerance for this sort of behaviour we’ve seen. It’s not just in Parliament, it is across workplaces and we shouldn’t just have that focus on Parliament – it’s across every workplace in Australia.

VT: And to my question about what would be tolerated or not at NAB?

RM: We look at every situation and I tell you what, there is zero tolerance for this sort of behaviour we’ve heard about, but also what’s been going on in workplaces.

VT: We haven’t heard that phrase out of the mouth of the Prime Minister, ‘zero tolerance’, would that be a good thing to hear him say?

RM: I’ll leave it to the Prime Minister to deal with his own situation, but we all need to be listening to our colleagues right now. I’ve spent some time out last week and we’ve had many conversations listening and saying to every colleague ‘we all need to do better’, so let’s reflect on our workplace and let’s make sure that we’re having those conversations and listening to our colleagues; we all need to do better. At the moment it’s just reflecting into Parliament.

VT: Sure, but you mention there it’s an issue for all Australians but when the Prime Minister and Treasurer say that the kind of attitudes and behaviours revealed in Parliament is a problem Australia-wide, does this stuff routinely go-on at NAB?

RM: I wouldn’t say routinely at all. But look, I run a village of 31,000 colleagues and we just need to make sure that every one of those 31,000 know that I have zero tolerance for this sort of behaviour and if it were seen in the workplace and people sort of cast a blind eye to it in the past, that’s certainly not the case going forward and I think one thing that has come out of these conversations over the last two to four weeks, is the conversations that are now being had about what is totally unacceptable.

VT: Really good to talk to you this morning, Ross McEwan, thank you for your time.

RM: Thank you, thanks Virginia.



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