employee experience

An in-depth look at the talent challenges that the pharmaceutical sector is facing in Southeast Asia, and how Kundan Kumar, HR Country Head for Malaysia and Brunei, GSK, is gearing up for them. Interview by Lester Tan. Look forward to insights on:

  • Why employee experience hasn't been a priority in this sector so far;
  • How pharma companies are reshaping their commercial models, and
  • GSK's journey of HR transformation with a human touch.

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Industry Insider: Kundan Kumar, HR Country Head for Malaysia and Brunei, GSK
Sector spotlight: Pharmaceutical/Healthcare
Based in: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The number one talent challenge this sector is facing

The talent challenge that we are facing in the pharmaceutical sector is the absence of compelling employee experience.

Due to the nature of the roles in pharmaceuticals, recruitment is very often restricted to experienced professionals. Hence, most of the companies have not taken any effort to develop their employee experience. That said, in recent years, we have seen a lot of Gen Zs talent getting attracted to this industry—and this calls for an updated employee experience.

Further, research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) shows that enterprises with a top-quartile employee experience not only achieve twice the innovation and double the customer satisfaction, but they also have 25% higher profits than organisations with a bottom-quartile employee experience.

With changing demographics, where 75% of the workforce will be represented by Millennials by 2030, and their changing expectations, we have more than enough reasons to curate a well-designed employee experience.

Could you share some key developments (internal/external) that are intensifying this challenge?

There are many factors that add up to this challenge. One of the most striking developments, in my opinion, is how rapidly the expectations of businesses are changing. We are way past the age where business was just about delivering a service and making a profit. Now, both customers and employees care more deeply about a business—its values and what it stands for.

Looking at pharmaceutical companies, most are reshaping their commercial models to prepare for the uncertainties ahead.

Digital enablement is one of the crucial factors in the new environment.

As virtual calls replace in-person visits, medical reps can foster a sense of proximity with healthcare professionals (HCPs) by learning to make the most of cameras, screen sharing, and other interaction tools. Similarly, marketing staff will also have to optimise their marketing campaigns based on HCP engagement and customer relationship management (CRM) data.

How are you tackling this challenge? Do share some strategies that have worked, and how they have helped!

As a large organisation, we are executing multiple approaches to tackle this challenge.

  • Cultural fit versus cultural contributors: At GSK, our talent acquisition strategies thrive on talents who can be contributors in building our strong culture rather than just being a fit.
  • Digital HR transformation with human touch: GSK has huge focus on HR transformation without trumping the importance of embedded HR support to businesses with a business-first mentality.
  • Another important strategy is that we ensure our company culture genuinely reflects its purpose. The purpose needs to be something that people see, feel, and are part of delivering. At GSK, our purpose is to "unite science, talent, and technology to get ahead of disease together."

If you notice, we have been very careful in identifying these initiatives.

The start point of the initiative is during recruitment, where we look for culture contributors; followed by proper onboarding of the candidate with a relatable purpose, and then to focus on their journey onwards with the aid of HR transformation with a human touch to complete their life cycle in GSK.

Going forward, what should be the next big priority for HR professionals in this sector?

Personally, the next big priority for HR professionals will be how we are adopting Gen Zs into our workforce, and making the most of out of Baby Boomers.

For instance, why Gen Zs: they expect more innovation because they’ve grown up in an age of rapid innovation. Hence, it will be important to focus on their right onboarding and career path in the organisation.

To start with, we can adjust our approach towards recruitment and employee experience. HR professionals need to be more flexible and open to new ideas. They need to be listening more than talking. The culture and values of the companies need to be relatable to Gen Zers.

The investment on Gen Zers has its short-term and long-term benefits. For the short-term, they bring a different dynamic to the workplace and challenge the basics. They are highly pragmatic and expect more innovation from their place of work. In the long term, on the other hand, these people will be the future leaders of the organisation, and this will help the organisation to balance performance and innovation.

Finally, how are these challenges affecting your role - how are you proactively preparing for the future workplace?

As an optimist, I see opportunity in every challenge.

We are transforming our HR function, and are being future-ready to meet the demands of the future workforce and businesses.

For example, we have been implementing various tech advancements at our workplace by introducing Workplace, Workday, and recently, ServiceNow, to name a few. We have embraced the best technology to support our employee and enhance their employee experience here.

In terms of other areas, GSK as an organisation believes in 'performance with choice'. We have provided flexibility to our employees during this pandemic to take care of their health, and manage their workload. Care packs are frequently sent to the employees; special care and support are also available to our field colleagues, which have been really appreciated during this pandemic.


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