Employee engagement, flexibility, working arrangements, great resignation, employee wellbeing, Publicis Groupe, Jolene Huang, AIA Singapore’s Aileen Tan

We now live in a (working) world driven largely by two things: the desire for a hybrid work environment; and, on a more sombre note, the shortage of talent supply. While the former calls for employers to explore a work arrangement that blends varied employee needs, the latter has shed light on a phenomenon we are all too familiar with – the Great Resignation.

And through it all, leaders are faced with new opportunities and challenges to recreate, revamp, and re-engineer the employee experience for a new-age workforce. How exactly are these playing out?

This special feature explores the question in two parts: first, we take a look at how leaders at Publicis Groupe and AIA Singapore are driving employee engagement in a hybrid work setting; and next, we hear how a leader at Mastercard is carefully tackling the talent shortage.

The biggest learning we walked away with from these interviews? That flexibility plays an even more important role in today’s workforce than it ever has before – and that cannot be stressed enough. Enjoy the read!


Arina Sofiah speaks to Publicis Groupe’s Jolene Huang, and AIA Singapore’s Aileen Tan, to learn how they are keeping their organisation’s culture intact, and employees engaged, as workforce models continue to evolve.

It’s official: we are in the new era of flexible and hybrid work, and there’s no going back. As such, how can employers and HR leaders keep culture intact amid all the moving parts that impact employees – such as shifting wellbeing needs, increased avenues for collaboration and communication, and more? Let’s find out in this series of interviews.

Case study: Publicis Groupe

According to Jolene Huang, Chief Talent Officer – Singapore and Southeast Asia, Publicis Groupe, although Publicis has had to rethink many of its processes, policies, the way it communicates, and ways of working, there are some things it does not compromise on. For example, the team recognises the value of face-to-face interactions, and thus, tries to have new hires start their first day by being physically present in the office to meet the team. It also encourages more in-person collaborations, while still offering the choice to work flexibly.

We see this as a partnership that is based on trust, and we want our people to be able to manage and integrate their professional and personal priorities without compromise.

The upside of this? Huang and her team feel encouraged to be more innovative, creative, and flexible in designing the employee experience, and have also started tailoring the employment packages to suit the different seasons in people’s lives. This not only helps to win and retain talent, but also helps to attract talent who do not have the capacity to work full-time, such as mothers, she shares.

However, the leader also recognises that with a hybrid work model comes the need to “work that much harder to preserve the tight-knit culture and identity, which has been painstakingly cultivated and nurtured over the years”.

“So, being intentional in the opportunities we provide for creative and purposeful engagement and initiatives – both virtual and in-person – are not only key to maintaining that sense of belonging to the agency, but it also supports personal growth and mental wellness,” she affirms.

Being targeted, but not overly ambitious

Keeping the above in mind, Huang has adopted a “do less, but get more yield” approach to her people strategies. As she explains: “It’s not about quantity, but the quality of what we are putting into place.” In line with this, Publicis’ approach to talent development is to be targeted and get the most value out of the group’s investments. For instance, the most common complaint Huang and her team have received from employees is they have no time to learn new things because of their busy schedules. So instead of piling on heaps of programmes, the team dedicates an entire day per quarter to learning as an agency.

Another big focus is Publicis’ investment in the mental wellbeing of its people. “We want to make learning fun – it’s not just about the functional or job-related skills, but also equipping our people with life and mental wellness skills that can help them cope and/or adapt better in challenging or stressful situations.”

Clearly, Huang is playing her part in taking the organisation into the future by “taking an active interest in every single employee touch-point” – from being part of the team that contributes to designing the look and feel of the office, to creating dedicated talent mobility programmes and opportunities for employees. She adds: “In keeping with my ‘do less, but get more yield’ approach, I’m using and integrating a lot more digital technolog y to not just run the HR function, but also in my daily life!”

As such, Huang and her team have invested in tools, programmes, and leadership coaching to enable not just team leaders, but also future leaders. Marcel, the group’s internal platform that connects staff to everyone across the company, enables its people to learn, keep updated with trends, or even just ask for help directly from a global network of leaders.

Moving forward, Huang believes the power of choice is very important to people regardless of their age, gender, or seniority level. And that power of choice – to decide where they work, what they do, and how fast they evolve and progress within the organisation – should be factored into all talent strategies.

Case study: AIA Singapore

In the era of hybrid work, it is essential for organisations to rethink their deeply entrenched approaches and beliefs, and adapt to become more flexible, says Aileen Tan, Chief Human Resources Officer, AIA Singapore. It is with this mindset that Tan and her team have implemented a hybrid work model that prioritises employees’ wellbeing.

In the process of finding a suitable workplace model, the firm zoomed in on the “why” of its workplace value proposition, and the real purpose of calling employees back to the office. “This is because, with hybrid working, there is no one-size-fits-all solution – some employees may prefer working at home, and others in the office,” Tan says.

“Instead, what’s important is giving employees a choice in where they could work, and by doing so, improve employee morale and productivity. We want our employees to want to come to the office, not because they ‘have to’.”

One advantage this approach has brought about is flexibility. With employees having the opportunity to split their time between working in the office and working from home, they are able to get work done when and where they are most productive – and this, in turn, makes face-to-face meetings more efficient.

Employees also find that having a flexible work arrangement can lead to better work-life integration – an approach that creates synergy between all areas across work, family, community, and their personal wellbeing.

This approach, she believes, moves away from hard boundaries and allows employees to shape their work and personal life to “have it all”.

For instance, those who are parents prefer the flexibility in their schedules to take care of their children. Further, whether single or married, employees prefer having the flexibility to accommodate personal errands where needed (for example, taking care of their aged parents or picking the kids up from school) while working.

Tan continues: “On the other hand, organisations should keep in mind the hybrid working model may affect employees who lack sufficient digital skills and end up spending considerable time and energy manually compensating for their skill gaps – which impacts both productivity and level of job satisfaction.”

This, she advises, can even affect their perceived value to the company and make them question their job prospects, as the pace of digital transformation continues to accelerate.

“Which is why, at AIA Singapore, we provide trainings to help these employees adapt to the new working arrangement and ensure they are digitally sav v y so that they can perform effectively.”

Taking a blended approach to engagement

When hiring talent, it “may not necessarily be a bad thing” if they don’t have domain knowledge, we learn from Tan. The group takes pride in hiring employees with different backgrounds, and encourages them, each with their own distinctive edge and skill sets, to bring their perspectives to the table.

The HR team works closely with teams across various departments to implement a sharing culture where individuals with different skill sets come together to share their knowledge and expertise to inspire and encourage one another.

Additionally, the evolving talent landscape has driven the demand for tech-sav v y talent who can also adapt their skills to an ever-changing world. In that vein, one of Tan’s top priorities centres around responsive upskilling and reskilling of employees, catered to their specific needs to improve overall digital fluency and productivity in the workplace.

While continuing to evolve as a business, it is important to pause and re-evaluate the strategies in place to support employees in their learning journey with the organisation, the CHRO affirms.

She talks about the hurdles faced in the process: “At the start of the pandemic, and as we evolved to digital learning, one of the things that has been challenging was to pivot completely towards e-learning.

“Human beings are, at the end of the day, social creatures and while they have a plethora of e-learning modules at hand, what we have found are two things – first, is that people learn best when they want to learn something.”

To illustrate, a person may be more inclined to learn about behavioural interviewing skills when they are looking to hire someone. Timing and curation of the courses is critical as it caters specifically to an individual’s needs in that moment; and learning needs to be in the flow of work, she explains.

Second, Tan and her team also found that a blended approach “seems to work best” as employees are drawn in when there are social interactions in a group or within a classroom. Therefore, she points out, strategic workforce planning is crucial to ensure the organisation has sufficient access to the skills and knowledge to thrive.

“With proper planning, we can pinpoint talent needs or relevant skills that are necessary, and determine which reskilling and upskilling programmes are vital to build a resilient future-ready organisation.”

Co-creating the future of work

In her role as CHRO, Tan makes it a point to work with employees of all levels – through seeking feedback and speaking with the relevant team leads – to improve their employee experiences, and “create an even more collaborative and knowledge-sharing culture where employees feel safe and valued”.

In her experience, a lot has changed in the past three years. Tan says: “Amid the emotional strain and the physical exhaustion that has invaded the workplace as a result of the pandemic, we have introduced more employee-centric initiatives to build resilience within employees and prioritise their wellbeing above all. This includes introducing flexible working arrangements, enhanced telemedicine benefits, and programmes to keep employees motivated.”

At the start of the pandemic, AIA provided each staff member with S$1,000 as work-from-home support, and activated a “reset day” option each week for self-learning or wellness activities. Other initiatives included:

  • The ‘Resilience Mindset’ training programme for all its employees, which takes a deep dive into workplace mental health issues and provides strategies to better manage stress.
  • As part of its ‘Feel Well’ initiative, staff have the option of clocking off at 3pm every second Friday of the month to have me-time or family time to engage in wellbeing activities.

Tan notes: “As a people-first organisation, we continue to revamp our work structures and re-evaluate our strategies to constantly improve employee engagement and prioritise employees’ wellbeing and growth.”

All this can only be made possible when line managers are well-equipped for cross-collaboration and communication, so as to retain the firm’s culture and continue to engage employees. In ensuring this, AIA has in place employee town halls, coffee sessions with the CEO, and a series of catch-up sessions with the firm’s 80 senior leaders. “Through these communication touch-points between the management, senior leadership, and employees, we are better able to understand and engage employees.”

All in all, how do Tan and her team ensure they are on the right track in their talent strategy? For one, the team measures employee satisfaction through surveys and interactions, and based on these, is able to strategically implement feedback across the organisation.

Employees also have the opportunity to be mentored by the executive committee (including Wong Sze Keed, AIA’s Chief Executive Officer) through its EXCO Mentorship Programme, where they can get advice on everything from career guidance to personal growth.

Looking ahead, she notes, the future of work, including pandemic-driven changes in work models, have presented many challenges and opportunities. Employees today are increasingly looking for jobs that offer them “intangibles” – a job that aligns with their values, and prioritises wellbeing and purpose. “HR professionals must continue to remain flexible in order to adapt to the fluidness of the industry and workplace, and build a successful organisation that incorporates diversity, equity, and inclusivity in its culture, Tan concludes.”

 

In part two of this feature, Tracy Chan speaks to with Amanda Gervay, Senior Vice President, People & Capability, Asia Pacific, Mastercard, to find out the challenges and best practices in the leader's playbook amid a global exodus of talent. Read the case study here


This article first appeared in the Q3 edition of Human Resources Online's Southeast Asia e-magazine. View a copy of the e-magazine here, where you'll find power-packed features and interviews with leaders from Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and more!

hrsg q3 2022 ofc


Images / Provided (Lead image L - R : Jolene Huang, Aileen Tan)

Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!