Learning & Development Asia 2024
Employee engagement best practices in Singapore: Secrets to a happy and engaged workforce
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Employee engagement best practices in Singapore: Secrets to a happy and engaged workforce

Four real-life case studies of employers who spark change, inspire their people, and accelerate success.

This article is brought to you by Kincentric Singapore.

In today's competitive global job market, being a well-known organisation or having a famous consumer brand name is not enough to attract and retain top talent. Organisations need to spark change and build a culture of agility, create inspiring employee experiences, nurture feedback and dialogue, actively focus on innovation, and sustain their businesses for the future.

Backed by over 20 years’ worth of data on employee experience, the Kincentric ‘Best Employers’ programme recognises leading employers worldwide, using the most objective measure possible – employee opinion. This measure helps to differentiate the best employers on people factors which are the key to accelerating success: high employee engagement, profound agility, engaging leadership and talent focus.

The 2023 edition of Kincentric Best Employers research sees the spotlight landing on four lauded employers, namely, DBS, OCBC Bank, Great Eastern, and Woh Hup. In this deep-dive feature, we identify the milestones and strategies that these four recipients have undertaken to attain excellence in their employee listening and employee experience strategies.

Enhancing employee experience through iconic journeys at DBS

DBS’ approach to help employees feel purposeful, feel connected, feel invested in, feel valued and feel cared for is to encompass holistic aspects of employee life to achieve more impactful employee outcomes that lead to greater employee advocacy, retention and motivation (“Say-Stay-Strive").

This includes a commitment to continuously improve employee experience based on employee feedback. What began as a journey to solve employee pain points has evolved to a focus on the delivery of impactful end-to-end employee journeys.

In 2023, the ‘Employee Experience Council’ was established to drive four iconic employee journeys: employee wellbeing, workload, assimilation of new hires, and rewards & recognition. Over 1,200 employees were appointed as ‘Culture Builders’ to communicate, gather feedback and organise programmes, as well as several initiatives were established in support of the four employee experience journeys.

The ‘iGrow’ programme was launched under DBS’ employee wellbeing framework, which served as a personalised career coach leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence to assist employees in identifying future career aspirations and the skills required to reach these goals. Under the ‘workload’ pillar, toggling multiple systems, inconsistent information, and manual handling of tasks were done away with – in favour of automated or digitised workflows to ensure employees were not toiling away on administrative tasks. While taking care of existing employees, new hires were equally paid attention to, with the launch of 90-day on-the-job training programme, as well as the revamped ‘Day One’ orientation programme with opportunities to engage with senior leaders.

Finally, the ‘rewards’ journey saw employees benefitting from the enhancement of their employee benefits including more iFlex dollars (flexible spending wallet), upgraded health insurance, and a shortened vesting period for the grant of ‘Special Award’ (shares).

These are just some of the intentional efforts DBS has undertaken over the years to finetune the employee experience. The team has improved in the ‘Survey Follow-Up’ dimension of its employee survey, demonstrating that they actively listened to employee feedback, implemented measures, and monitored outcomes. As a result, the overall employee engagement score reached a record 90% in the 2023 ‘DBS My Voice’ survey, with all core markets outperforming their respective market benchmarks for best employers.

“At DBS, our employee value proposition is to enable our employees to ‘Live Fulfilled: Be the Best, Be the Change and Be the Difference’”, says Tan Mui Lee, Managing Director, Group Head of Organisation Development, Culture & Wellbeing, DBS.

“Being recognised as a ‘Best Employer’ in Asia Pacific, Singapore and 11 other markets affirms our commitment to nurture an engaged and future-ready workforce, empowering our people to be the best versions of themselves everyday as they build long term and fulfilling careers with DBS.”

OCBC’s ‘One Group’ strategy to reignite the workforce’s passion

Formed in 1932 from the merger of three local banks, the oldest of which was founded in 1912, OCBC Bank takes pride in being Singapore’s longest-established banks. A deep legacy, however, doesn’t prevent it from looking forward, and the team is constantly looking for ways to innovate and renew its value proposition. From this philosophy emerged a three-year long refreshed business strategy, with forging a ‘One Group’ identity across its entities being a key pillar.

The ‘One Group’ strategy has been consciously developed and executed powerfully by committed leaders at all levels in OCBC in a way that has reignited the workforce through purposeful and united goals. It has led to collaboration becoming more effectively embedded in the work culture and employee confidence in the Bank’s commitment to change and transformation. In a nutshell, it has strengthened the attributes that people already loved about being in OCBC for.

The leadership team has also accelerated the adoption of digital transformation, bringing together new technology such as Gen AI, to new use cases and to improve employee productivity. In parallel, investments in people and culture have continued, with the objective of providing growth and job mobility opportunities for our employees in line with OCBC’s skills-first talent approach. This focus on skills-first growth, has in fact, garnered the most enthusiastic response from employees.

The learning and transformation programmes, including new or refreshed programmes in areas such as career mobility, sustainability, data and technical banking skills, added to its slate of more than 19,000, helping staff progress in their careers and prepare them, as well as the organisation, for future disruptions.

Alongside these interventions has been the launch of 'MOBI’, OCBC’s opportunity marketplace to deliver personalised recommendations on roles within the bank. It also provides a basis for managers to look at possible adjustments to employees’ job scopes and, in the future, for workers to apply for short-term ‘gigs’ outside their regular roles, to build their skills. Meanwhile, ‘MentorMe’, the bank’s signature mentoring programme has seen an average mentor return rate of close to 40% as of 2023.

All these truly bring alive the motto of the ‘One Group’ integrated approach, which is to foster collaboration across businesses and geographies, and truly bring people together.

With the strong participation of the workforce cemented, the strong impact towards OCBC’s boost in engagement would also not have been possible without strong commitment from the leadership. The 'One Group' pillar has been credited for bringing about clear and frequent communication on corporate strategy, fostering greater clarity and confidence in the Bank’s direction.

Employees have reported that senior leaders/managers consistently touch base across all levels of the organisation, through townhalls and communication sessions, to present a picture on the company’s direction. These initiatives not only secure buy-in, but also encourage staff to rally behind the management team to work towards the goals.

As a result, OCBC Bank is proud to be a workplace where employees can thrive, and realise their aspirations, in an environment of dialogue, clarity, and communication. Lee Hwee Boon, Head, Group Human Resources, OCBC, shares: “We understand that our employees are our most valuable asset, and by cultivating an engaged workforce, we are building agility and resilience as an organisation, while at the same time, adapting to changing market dynamics, seizing new opportunities to stay ahead in a highly competitive landscape.”

Supporting employees through holistic wellbeing at Great Eastern

A trusted name in insurance, Great Eastern is not only dedicated to protecting its policy holders, but equally committed to nurturing an environment where its employees can meaningfully and sustainably integrate their work and personal lives.

Its flagship health & wellbeing initiative, the ‘LIFE’ programme, has been key in supporting its people to lead a more balanced life. It raises awareness of holistic wellbeing through initiatives focused on physical, mental, financial, and social wellbeing. In the past two years, efforts have been expanded to include mental and social wellbeing, given the need for support structures and resources to ensure people can thrive in a supportive workplace.

Initially developed as an integrated employee health incentive benefits programme, the LIFE programme is now synonymous with health and wellbeing. With organisation-wide activities and monthly team and individual challenges focused on physical, mental, financial and social wellbeing, there is a diverse range of activities for Great Eastern’s employees of all age groups and life stages.

The success of the LIFE programme stems from its two-pronged approach: firstly, it functions as a health incentive benefits programme and secondly, as an engagement programme.

The health incentive feature of the programme was designed to reward people with points for participating in activities. These points can be redeemed for a variety of wellbeing items such as gym memberships, work from home equipment, holiday expenses, and donations to charity.

As an engagement programme, the LIFE programme sparked enthusiasm among people by providing opportunities to engage in activities with colleagues beyond work and their workspaces. It also enables colleagues from different office locations to participate in activities together, fostering precious bonding time and nurturing a sense of belonging effectively across the organisation.

From the recent Culture and Employee Engagement Survey, the feedback on LIFE programme remains positive with its score maintaining above 80%, an improvement from the previous year.

Evidently, Great Eastern is taking intentional efforts to ensure greater employee experiences, and the leadership team is committed to exploring and implementing meaningful initiatives that empower employees to build resilience and thrive in their professional career and personal life.

James Lee, Managing Director, Group Human Capital, Great Eastern, elaborates on the path ahead: “We recognise the importance of an aligned culture and we have been committed to create a conducive work environment where our people feel both physically and psychologically safe.

“We are honoured to be recognised as a ‘Best Employer’ with an engaged workplace. This recognition inspires us to better understand our people as we remain committed to our on-the-ground engagement efforts. We will continue to explore and implement meaningful initiatives that empower our people to build resilience and thrive in their professional career and personal life.”

Woh Hup’s mission to build with integrity expands to the workforce

A leading construction and civil engineering specialist behind some of Singapore's most iconic developments, Woh Hup is determined to achieve success not only in such endeavours, but also ensuring that its actions leave a positive impact on society across generations.

To support its vision to build a self-perpetuating business and agile workforce where all employees grow and thrive together, both professionally and personally, Woh Hup has been mindfully working on the results that emerged from the annual employee engagement survey administered by Kincentric in 2021, where concerns were raised on work-life balance and wellbeing; and the leadership recognising the immediate & long-term impact these have on talent attraction and retention.

Hence, a series of policies have been implemented between 2022 and 2024, such as alternate Saturdays off for selected positions, work-from-home arrangements for corporate departments, enhanced medical benefits coverage and flexible medical benefits, four weeks of paternity leave, and the introduction of birthday leave.

Given the stiff competition for talent within the construction sector, the organisation also adopts an agile approach towards the review of salary and job grade structure. Besides the regular benchmarking against market data conducted every two to three years, Woh Hup proactively looks out for challenges in recruitment and retention (through exit interviews) for specific roles/job families to carry out ad-hoc on-demand reviews. This helps to ensure the company pays competitively to attract new hires as well as adjusts salaries of existing staff to keep pace with the market.

Besides the existing initiatives of employee assistance programme (EAP) and wellness activities such as mass walk and exercises, Woh Hup continues to invest in health, wellness & wellbeing initiatives to ensure employees are provided with opportunities and support to take care of both their physical and mental wellbeing. To encourage staff to “Do good”, a wide range of CSR activities is planned every month where staff can seek time-off for volunteering.

Employees have expressed delight with the above initiatives, citing that the implementation of the alternate Saturdays off (for site-based employees) and work-from-home arrangements have helped them feel better rested. In addition, the external recognition by Kincentric has helped Woh Hup gain awareness of how it stacks up to other companies and gauge which initiatives have been in the right direction for holistic organisational wellness.

In looking forward, Woh Hup’s leadership team has emphasised on the company’s core purpose of ‘Do well, Do good’. Lau Choon Yen, Director of HR at Woh Hup, explains: “As an organisation, our core values of ownership, excellence, integrity, agility, and benevolence guide our decisions and reflect our dedication in fostering a culture of collaboration that manifests in our daily work.

“This accolade provides us with the awareness on where we stand and ascertains that we are consistently striving towards our aspired direction.”

What makes for an extraordinary employer?

Kincentric’s research shows that the best employers are creating an outstanding employee experience by excelling on four measurable people factors, namely:

  • Employee engagement – Employees speak positively about their employer, their experiences in their everyday work and interactions, their intent to stay, and their motivation to exert extra-mile effort in the face of unpredictable, vague, and ongoing challenges. The objective is to assess their intense sense of belonging which constitutes the intent to be an active member / develop self-identity as part of being a member of the organisation.
  • Agility – Employees see that the organisation is highly adaptive, innovative, inclusive, and responsive to the changing needs of its customers.
  • Engaging leadership – Leaders are deeply connected with employees to drive engagement, communicate a clear vision, and role-model behaviours that are in line with what the organisation needs, while instilling these values into their team as well.
  • Talent focus – The organisation is focusing on attracting and retaining great talent and creating an inspirational environment where people can thrive both personally and professionally.

Special recognition: Most engaged workplaces in Singapore

Kincentric also celebrates organisations whose employee engagement score is higher than the 75th percentile per its 2023 database findings, namely the ‘Most Engaged Workplace’.

Apart from the four aforementioned organisations who are recognised for their top quartile engagement level, this special recognition has been presented to two other exemplary organisations – Singtel as well as Mott MacDonald, which also achieved the top quartile on engagement score in Singapore. Both employers have performed extraordinarily well in comparison to the average organisation studied in Singapore, where the engagement score lies at 66% in 2023.

Singtel, as many would know, is on a journey of transformation, from being Singapore’s leading telecommunications group to expand its focus on connectivity, digital infrastructure and digital services. Championing people and sustainability will continue to underpin the company’s efforts while this mission is being executed.

Mott MacDonald’s heritage in Singapore dates back more than 100 years, as it designed St James, Singapore’s first power station, in 1923. Since then, the company has been committed to supporting public and private sector clients in driving growth in the region, particularly in the rail, road, tunnels, buildings, infrastructure, energy and water sectors.

Lead image / 123RF
All inline photos / Provided

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