Total Rewards Asia Summit 2024 Singapore
Maintaining staff welfare during a pandemic: Wipro Unza's story

Maintaining staff welfare during a pandemic: Wipro Unza's story

Wipro Unza’s Regional Group HR Director, Maansi Gagroo Jain, talks about how employee welfare was maintained throughout the Movement Control Order (MCO) back when it was first announced in Malaysia.

From moving fast to enhance medical coverage and constantly reminding employees of safe distancing, masking up, and sanitising through a slogan, to adopting a hybrid model for communication and introducing additional perks to employees who had significantly contributed to the company during MCO; here's what Wipro Unza did to ensure employee health and wellbeing were not compromised. Read on to find out more.

Could you tell me more about what Wipro Unza has done to ensure employee welfare was maintained throughout the MCO?

Even before the MCO was announced by the government, we had started to incorporate new protocols in our business operations when news of COVID-19 was picking traction in the media. Simple acts of monitoring and recording employee temperature, travel declaration form, access to oximeter went a long way in preparedness. We provided sets of masks and sanitisers at work and ensured office workplaces were sanitised daily for enhanced hygiene.

During MCO, because Wipro Unza was considered to be under essential services, we were approved to work with skeletal staff to ensure business continuity. Health and Safety of the skeletal staff in the early stages of MCO and the larger workforce, during the post-MCO reopening, was at the heart of all our interventions. Apart from complying with the government guidelines, our priority was to ensure wellbeing and safety both within and outside of the workplace.

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, our employees have always been protected through our company medical benefits.

For our employees within Malaysia, they are entitled to both inpatient and outpatient coverage – for a wide range of conditions, but as a priority and first step, we ensured that the medical benefits are enhanced to cover for COVID-19-related admissions for both the employees and their families.

We also liaised closely with our provincial hospitals to support in supplying and stocking masks and sanitisers for our frontline medical staff.

To ensure a safe return to the workplace, we had swab tests conducted for the entire workforce across functions and levels before resuming operations, in addition to handing out mini PPE kits at regular intervals during MCO for both employees and their families.

Extra caution was taken at our factories with safe distancing and discontinuation of buffet canteen facilities. We wasted no time and quickly moved to provide packed lunches at a subsidised rate for our workers. From the start of MCO to date, we have strictly followed all protocols very closely, providing safety equipment, contact tracing and monitoring the health of employees who reported having any symptoms – constantly guiding them on isolating, temperature checks as well as contact tracing. 

Distance, mask, sanitise (DMS) was sloganised and made a way of life with constant reminders and awareness sessions both in person and virtually.

An action task force was put in place for continuous liaison with government authorities and spot checks in the office.

For those working from home, continuous engagement and information sessions were held to foster the feeling of oneness, ensuring no employee felt isolated. We had additional interventions and care extended for our Special Employee Category – which included foreign workers, new mothers, immunocompromised employees. These were employees who needed more support for both their physical and emotional wellbeing during the MCO.

I heard that there were some additional perks given to employees who had significantly contributed to the company during MCO? Could you elaborate on this?

The pandemic brought out the biggest challenge this generation has seen and during these challenging times, it was important to support employees, especially the front liners who ensured the business kept running.

We introduced merchandising allowance for our promoter workforce whose commissions were adversely impacted with reduced traffic in malls and consumption patterns moving online.

Additionally, we awarded bonuses to the manufacturing and warehouse workforce who were the part of our skeletal staff and who were instrumental in ensuring business continuity. Special target-based incentives were also given to our sales staff to keep them motivated and driven during the MCO.

During MCO, it’s important to ensure that all employees were kept in-the-know of the company’s decisions and updates. How did Wipro Unza manage to do this?

Clarity and speed of communication played an integral role in creating a feeling of being in this pandemic together.

Given that our workforce was split – some working onsite and others remotely – remotely we had to adopt a hybrid model for communication.

The onsite employees were updated daily in-person and via our intranet on COVID-19-related safety practices, government guidelines and company updates, while for the teams working remotely, instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp were used for quick updates and information if any.

Daily updates were sent over multiple platforms like MS teams and WhatsApp. Our action task force would convene at the end of the day to ensure information had been cascaded to all concerned. As a result, this created a very strong bond within and amongst the different teams in Wipro Unza. 

Could you explain more on your company’s Responsible Citizen Project (RCP)?

The Responsible Citizen Project (RCP) was Wipro Unza’s way of giving back to the Government of Malaysia and our society at large through these unprecedented times.

In Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the RCP, a total of 50,000 bottles of our SAFI Antibacterial Shower were donated to Malaysia’s frontline workers – those in hospitals, members of the police force and the fire department, as well as local municipal councils in areas including Subang, Kajang, Puchong and Shah Alam.

In Phase 3 of the RCP, we contributed RM1.5 million worth of sanitising products, to the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA), for the COVID-19 fund, taking out total value contribution to RM 2.5 Million (equivalent products) during the pandemic.

Whenever possible, it has always been Wipro Unza’s goal to serve a larger social purpose, ensuring that the benefits we reap, go back to the people of our country.

What are some of your thoughts on managing your employees in this current COVID world? How have things changed?

The year of 2020 has been tumultuous in changing drastically the way of doing business drastically. It has brought forth the need to lead with care and empathy like no year has. To answer your question, my thoughts resonate with Anthea Ong’s article on COVID-19 leadership management, via 4 Cs model – Courage, Care, Clarity and Congruence. All examples of organisations which have managed to come out of this pandemic least scathed are the ones demonstrating a combination of these 4 Cs.

In the middle of 2020, we had Piyush Gupta (Group CEO of DBS Bank), opening up in an interview about his mental health and struggles which helped break the stigma around mental health and validated that it can affect anyone. It was indeed courageous of the CEO to open up about his vulnerabilities to foster greater mental wellbeing of his employees.

In another example, as per the recent study by Quadrics, 40% of the global employees said no one asked if they were coping well or doing okay during the pandemic, and they did not feel cared enough for.

Now, more than ever before, employees need to feel that their employers care about them and that cannot be felt, unless the leaders lead by example and exhibit the behaviour of compassion, bringing congruence in the running of business and welfare of employees.

What were some of the challenges that you faced as a leader in recent months, and how did you overcome these challenges?

Being an FMCG / Manufacturing company, one of the biggest challenges we faced was that remote working was not an embedded part of our culture. In a manufacturing set up, the established mentality is that you are required to show up at work and the work needs to be seen.

This necessity of social distancing and lockdowns compelled us to work remotely and has broken the established mindset around “in the seat” working to a large extent. I see a shift in mindset with a larger emphasis being focused on “value creation” than “presence” focused. It still may not be the ideal way of working for our industry, since we have roles which cannot be done remotely and as senior leaders, a major part of our responsibility is building culture.

To keep the culture and value system intact with an absolutely dispersed workforce is a challenge in remote working. However, the pandemic proved to us that we are capable of effectively working remotely, and that was a big mindset challenge we overcame.

Our operational challenge stemmed from the fact that we have a large presence in the region – we are in 15 markets in SE Asia, each country with different government restrictions and regulations. The stages of lockdown also varied across countries. It was a challenge to simplify and manage the same with the environment changing so drastically every week.

Our first priority was the welfare of people across, with their safety and wellbeing at the centre of all our decisions.

In every country, action task forces were formed – they closely monitored the progress of the pandemic in their respective countries and liaised with the government authorities. They would then dedicate an hour or two every morning to converge and cascade information on the change in government regulations, how it impacted the workforce or our operations and plan the next steps and communicate to the larger workforce for better alignment.

Some countries brought in overnight travel restrictions and we had a situation wherein employees were stuck in one country while their families were in the other with borders closed. Decisions had to be swift and effective.

The speed of communication and information flow via the cross-collaboration of task forces between countries, regional offices and corporate head office was a source of strength and enforced a feeling of oneness. This chain of information flow was for all functions – from people practices to supply chain to new product development.

After employee welfare, our next focus was the supply chain to ensure minimal disruption in production and distribution of our products. Everyone was in problem- solving mode with employee welfare at the heart of it.

What are some of Wipro Unza’s plans in the pipeline to ensure top-notch employee welfare moving forward?

Thankfully, our people practices and employee welfare schemes are already comprehensive and well benchmarked. We have, in fact, been awarded twice by the HRD minister of Malaysia the Certificate of Excellence in HRD.

Wipro has always had the “employee first” approach and will continue to do so. While we are hopefully past the worst with regard to the pandemic, the storm is not over yet and so, we will approach the coming year with bounded optimism.

We have had comprehensive medical coverage for employees and their families, but we will ensure that it encompasses all exigencies across all levels of employees. Apart from that, remote working poses unique security challenges and our internet security (IS) teams will continue to work tirelessly to ensure security of data and employee privacy, while setting up tools for remote working.

We have an established practice of annual employee perception survey but with the current volatile conditions, we intend to embark on starting short pulse surveys as quick check-ins on employee welfare.

What would be your one key learning point as a leader, since the outbreak of COVID-19?

My learning is that a key success factor in any crisis management is agility and authentic leadership.

It is acceptable to not know what you do not know and learn with the team but intellectual honesty and authenticity should be non-negotiable.

None of us has been on this journey before – there was no playbook to follow and every day, new insights were being published. 

For example, we moved from our annual presidential address to a quarterly one, where he was courageous and open enough to say that, this is how we plan – to act based on what we know today. Things could change tomorrow, and if they do, we will act with what we know then. Essentially, information was limited and it is okay to admit so.

It is also equally important to quickly accept if your line of decision has failed and swiftly change gears with new information coming in, as well as to remember that productivity is a result of positive culture. Our responsibility as leaders is not to be certain, but to be clear. 

To be able to shift gears fast and be agile across people, products and practices while being completely honest with the teams and surging ahead with bounded optimism was my biggest learning in this crisis.

Photo / provided

Human Resources Online is on Telegram! Follow us @humanresourcesonline or click here for all the latest weekly HR and manpower news from around the region.

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

Free newsletter

Get the daily lowdown on Asia's top Human Resources stories.

We break down the big and messy topics of the day so you're updated on the most important developments in Asia's Human Resources development – for free.

subscribe now open in new window