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Photos and roundup: Employee Benefits Asia 2017 Philippines

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Employee Benefits Asia 2017, the largest C&B conference in Asia, held its second Philippine conference last May 4 at the SMX Convention Center, SM Aura Premier, Bonifacio Global City. More than 150 practitioners attended the event tailored for HR leaders who need to stay abreast of compensation and benefits trends and best practices.

The conference focused the spotlight on current industry concerns such as creating structures for employee motivation, developing health and wellness programmes, and devising platforms that can help talent respond proactively to a rapidly changing workplace.


Keynote speaker Biprajit Roy Choudhury, Head of Rewards – APAC, of Sutherland Global Services, set the foundation with his topic on how to align business outcomes with a total rewards strategy. He repeatedly emphasised that every programme and project must always be conceptualised with one indispensable guideline: “You look at the value that it will create for your organisation.”

Susan La Chica, Head of Health & Benefits at Willis Towers Watson Philippines, was next in line with her talk on the necessity of forming a solid health care program for employees who increasingly regard them as an integral part of their compensation package. La Chica touched on the core aspects of devising such a structure, including possible cost-sharing with the staff and the support provided by the HMO and other partners. She also advised against creating a one-health-plan-fits-all template, and instead recommended tailoring specific programmes that will look into the specific health needs of specific groups.


La Chica said, “Many companies are focused on health insurance but not on what they can do about the wellness of their workforce. To help your programme succeed, you must understand what makes your employees sick.” One research study that she used identified the top three sources of illness that compromise the health and safety of the Filipino work force: prolonged and unremitting stress; a sedentary lifestyle that has very little exercise; and obesity and/or an unhealthy body mass index that leads to complications like high-blood pressure and cardiovascular illnesses.

The first panel discussion

What followed was a panel discussion that discussed various health programmes that HR practitioners can consider and implement to help improve the well-being of their talents. The two guest panelists presented their own individual strategies prior to the panel discussion. HR executive Miami Cabansay moderated all panel discussions.


The first panelist, Jackie Barrios, Vice-President of People Function of Genpact Philippines, outlined a road map on how to build a wellness programme from ground zero. Its culmination would be an effective benefits platform that will increase the health awareness of the employees while protecting the company’s bottom line. Barrios said that data would be the driver in formulating this platform, and the HR professional can start right at her own digital backyard: records of each employee’s insurance plan and any claims report; their health assessment result; and solid documentation of their absences and leaves.

One measurement that can show that the program is successful is that it effects a change in lifestyle for employees who normally do not prioritise their health. Barrios said, “The programme must change the perception of employees about wellness.”

The second panelist, Louie Perez, Regional Site Administrator of Johnson and Johnson Global Services, encouraged the audience to think of the corporate healthy lifestyle as an inextricable part of the employee’s own behavior. He said that building a culture of wellness is not “just about doing the sports fests and the fun runs, but it’s about your commitment to touch the life of the employees.”

He voiced out that a buddy system where a friend and colleague encourages that another remain committed to his health goals can be powerful. Johnson and Johnson puts this principle into action in their ‘quit-smoking’ program which is offered to employees on a voluntary basis.

During the panel discussion, the audience asked Barrios and Perez about case studies of health programs that did change the lives of the employees for the better, while helping them turn in solid performances. Barrios echoed her earlier statements that a clear-cut strategy might have to be built for each segment or group in the workforce. Perez reiterated that a solid baseline of data is critical.

A lunch break followed the first panel discussion. An hour later, the conference resumed with an interactive group discussion designed to make the audience think about the issues that had been discussed.


Patrick Marquina, Director of Talent and Rewards at Willis Towers Watson Philippines, next gave an eye-opening presentation on how the emergence of disruptive technologies is reshaping the workplace. The fourth industrial revolution, heralded by artificial intelligence taking over the human employee’s more mundane tasks, is accelerating – and HR professionals must prepare to transition their organisations and their talents into this brave new world.

He gave this preview to the audience: “Manual, non-cognitive work will be in decline, but the cognitive, non-routine kind of work will not be affected. The talents who will be affected will be the ones who are stagnant and do not train themselves to adapt. Meanwhile, HR, for its part, must learn how to deconstruct the various roles in the organisation now, and anticipate which will be outsourced to third-party providers, which will be taken over by AI, and which roles will still be performed by humans and will be retained.”

The second panel discussion

The second panel discussion that came after Marquina’s presentation focused on how a more family-friendly workplace can improve work-life balance. Joining the panel were Noel Fontilla, HR Director of ADP Philippines, and Judah Hirsch, Founder and CEO of Salarium Inc.


Hirsch triggered the conversation by citing one fact: eight million working Filipinos are currently overworked and suffering some kind of stress. He elaborated, “With the traffic situation, it takes a Filipino worker just four hours to make it to the workplace. That four-hour travel time becomes part of his work and adds to his stress. Right now, an average employee works nine to 13 hours a day.”

Fontilla advised looking at the trends happening in the workplace and see how one can combine these into a functioning, optimal system that will benefit all shareholders. He said, “Many employees now prefer flextime or telecommuting. Some ask for more output-based agreements rather than schedule compliance. They want to spend more time with their spouses and nurture their relationships with their families. HR professionals have to assess all these and ask themselves: ‘How can you make them work both for the employees and the organisation?”


The next speaker, Greg Navarro, CEO of Deloittte Philippines, discussed the evolving work values and behaviour of the Filipino Millennial, aka Philennials. Deloitte’s research on this young working demographic showed that the latter was more optimistic about his future compared to his peers in other countries. Navarro showed the historical context behind this bright-colored perspective: “We have had unprecedented growth since 2009, while the Western countries only had small growth rates. The West has a lot of unemployment; 60% of the young people in Spain and Portugal don’t’ have jobs The West also has older people. By 2040, their population will decrease by 300 million. But the average age of the Filipino today is 21. “

One other interesting shift is that there are now 64 percent of Philennials who are looking for stable and secure employment, in contrast to the current perception that almost all of them prefer freelance, contract work. Practical reasons caused this change, such as marriage and starting their own family.

Still, Philennials, like Millennials all over the world, yearn to make a difference in their workplace and prefer a more flexible schedule over rigid, time-based jobs. To keep Philennials loyal and engaged, Navarro gave the HR audience this challenge: “Make it hard for them to leave you. Make the workplace exciting for them.”

The third panel discussion

The so-called gig, freelance, or contingent economy was the subject of the third panel discussion. This trend has caused something of a stir among HR stalwarts who want to know how new employee preferences can impact the workplace. Both panelists also presented their views on the topic and how to best respond to it.


Adrian Tiozon, Country HR Head of AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, Inc., said that the gig economy is in for the long-haul, and HR managers should maximise this emerging talent which he calls the ‘contingent employees.’ Clear project agreements can retain them for the long haul. Some Millennials want stability without being employees. Companies can also offer incentives and benefits to keep them engaged. He said, “Preferred packages can include a fixed cash compensation, a completion bonus, performance bonus, insurance, and training and education.”

Jojy Azurin, CEO of, affirmed that contingent workers will become a part of the gig economy which is growing. About 83 percent of U.S. companies said they will be hiring more of them in the next few years. To address the contingent workers’ need for stability and longevity of project, Azurin recommended that they be referred to freelance management systems that can help them manage their career, finances, and professional future. He gave one key to engaging what he called ‘Millennial gigsters’: “They want stability – but without having to become employees.”

The panel discussion elaborated on the difference between contingent workers and the process of contractualising temps. It also focused on steps how to integrate important contingent workers into the organisation. HR, too, would have to constantly shift gears, assessing whether roles should be filled by gigsters or fulltime employees. As Tiozon put it, “HR will have to be able to identify in five years’ time the work that will be done by fulltime employees and those that would have to be performed by the contingent ones.”

As the conference ended, the HR participants had a broader yet firmer view of the compensation packages, rewards, and other incentives that can draw in and retain top talent. This preferred kind of worker can contribute to the company’s success and its bottom line. The ‘correct’ set of employee benefits will always increase talent engagement.

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