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Trust in flexibility: How P&G's approach to FWAs takes employee experience to greater heights

Trust in flexibility: How P&G's approach to FWAs takes employee experience to greater heights

As Robin Thadathil, Head of HR for P&G Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam, experiences firsthand, when you trust your employees, they are likely to return that trust in many folds. Arina Sofiah quizzes him on what this means in this special interview.

In today's evolving work landscape, achieving a harmonious balance between professional responsibilities and personal life has, no doubt, become a cornerstone of employee satisfaction and organisational success.

A strong proponent of this belief is global consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble (P&G), where employees are given the chance to clock in and clock out at a timing that suits their needs, take two dedicated weeks off in a year to ‘pause and recharge’, and more.

Forming the basis of this is a culture of trust, as Robin Thadathil, Head of HR for P&G in Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam (pictured above) affirms to Arina Sofiah. Robin has been with the company for more than a decade, having started his first job there and risen through the ranks. Based out of P&G’s APAC headquarters in Singapore, his passion lies in people development, and particularly in championing diversity in leadership styles.

In this exclusive interview, Robin delves into P&G’s approach to flexible work policies, the challenges encountered during implementation, and the impact such an approach has had on the workforce. From addressing the diverse needs of employees in manufacturing environments, to enabling leaders like himself to navigate personal milestones with ease, the leader tells all.

Q How does work-life flexibility fit into the larger overall picture of employee experience at P&G?

Work-life flexibility is a pivotal component of our employee experience strategy at P&G, and it reflects our commitment to fostering a supportive and inclusive work culture where employees feel valued and empowered. Most importantly, we acknowledge that flexibility is a very personal thing for all employees — what it means to me is very different from what it means to you.

From a work-life flexibility standpoint, we offer our employees various options. One such option is ‘Flex@Work’, within which we have work-from-home (WFH). In fact, P&G was one of the proponents of WFH for a long time before we all entered the pandemic. I have been with P&G for 14 years and even as a new hire, I had the option of working from home.

We at P&G are guided by our Purpose, Values, and Principles, part of which we have unconditional trust in our employees. This trust guides our approach to flexibility, and we do not monitor how many hours our employees work, where they work from, what time they come in to or leave work. What we are focused on is their performance, while offering them the flexibility they may need to deliver best results.

Q Tell us more about this approach to work-life flexibility.

Apart from the work-from-home option for our employees, we also allow flexi-time schedule. For example, if I have a medical appointment in the morning for which I do not need to take a full-day leave, I can choose to attend my appointment and come in to work slightly later that day. Or if you are a working parent, you can choose to leave the office and return during work hours or slightly earlier to pick up your kid from school. All of these are extremely acceptable norms at P&G.

We also have something called ‘less than full time’, which allows employees to work less than the 5 days/40 hours a week norm. For instance, one can choose to fit in their weekly hours in four days.

Q How did such an idea come about?

Trust at P&G is a mutual value we share with our employees.

When you trust your employees, the chances are they will return that in many folds. Trust is the foundation for productivity.

Q Were there some challenges you faced in implementing flexible work options?

Certain job scopes unfortunately do not allow employees to opt for the WFH option, such as in our manufacturing plants or research labs.

Our manufacturing plant is probably where one of the challenges lies, as the flexibility needed in such an environment is very different. For example, our manufacturing plant in Jakarta, Indonesia is situated in a location where there is minimal infrastructure around the area. Many of our employees who are young working mothers could not find any daycare centers around the area for their children. And the whole point of flexibility is that you allow flexibility in what matters to employees most. In line with this approach, P&G took the initiative to start a daycare center within our manufacturing plant, and we were possibly the first in the region to have one. You would not typically imagine a daycare center within a manufacturing facility, but what it did for our employees was to provide reliable care for their young children while they worked at the plant.

While it sounds simple enough, the impact it had on our employees was heartwarming. One of our employees who had a one-year-old toddler, previously had to pump her breastmilk and send it 60km away to her mother to be able to feed her child. When we initiated the daycare, she was in tears as it was the first time she could be with her child throughout the day.

Q You mentioned trust is a huge basis for flexibility. How does P&G ensure effective communication, collaboration, and even the trust among team members in this flexibility?

Our APAC HQ is based out of Singapore, and from here, we serve 104 countries across Asia, Middle East, and Africa (AMA), and more than half of the world's population. Thus, we recognise that our people are in different time zones and different geographical locations all the time. We have technology-driven sessions such as video conferencing and virtual calls, coupled with face-to-face event opportunities where we gather people from the same business unit or functions, regular drumbeat meetings, and one-to-one meetings, all of which are great enablers for us to connect, communicate, and collaborate effectively.

Q I understand that P&G also has in place a concept called ‘Pause-and-recharge week’. Can you share more about this initiative?

The insight that birthed our ‘Pause-and-recharge week’ initiative was that while working from home, employees were unable to disconnect from their devices for long hours. As part of our wellbeing efforts, we set aside time for them to pause and recharge.

Twice a year, we block the calendars of all 17,000 employees across the AMA region for a whole week. During this week, the idea is to pause all drumbeat meetings and business activities. While this isn’t a vacation period, it is a deliberate way of encouraging our employees to move away from day-to-day work and instead, use this time to upskill, strategise their work plans, or disengage from work entirely in any way they like, so that they come back motivated and recharged.

Q What is the feedback you've received from employees on the above initiatives?

We continue to receive overwhelmingly positive feedback on our initiatives. We are focused on continuously evolving what flexibility means for us, while exploring new ways and ideas of incorporating flexible work arrangements into different business units, market operations and functions. It is a constant learning process, as our employees are across various ages, in different life stages, and have differing priorities.

Q On a more personal front, how have you as a leader personally benefitted from P&G’s approach to work-life flexibility?

P&G was one of the first companies in the AMA region to introduce paternity leaves. We now have eight weeks of paternity leave. Five years ago, when my daughter was born, this option allowed me the flexibility to spend more time with my newborn and support my wife as well.

We also have another flexibility option called ‘Work from abroad’. My mother lives in India, so I have personally utilised this option to work overseas while spending time with her for a period.

Q You mentioned that P&G has a very wide workforce. How do you ensure uniformity in implementing initiatives while also catering to individual needs?

While there are certain policies, such as WFH, which are adopted across our various organisational units and business categories, P&G allows employees (and their managers) to adapt the flexible work options to suit individual needs.

Q How has the adoption of work-life flexibility positively impacted the company culture and employee retention at P&G?

Not only has the adoption of work-life flexibility options positively impacted our productivity levels, but I also believe it to be one of our primary employee satisfaction and retention levers.

One of P&G’s unique initiatives is called ‘Grow from Within’, wherein we aim to cultivate our employees through their journey at P&G. Most of our employees, all the way up to our CEO, have joined us as fresh graduates. I too started my first job at P&G and have grown up the ranks since. For us, employee retention is of paramount importance, and flexibility is a great way to help us achieve that.

Q Looking ahead, how do you foresee the landscape of the industry evolving in the coming years? And how are you and your team actively adapting your talent management practices to the changing business environment?

There is always room to explore new initiatives. One example of this is the four-day workweek, which is gaining popularity in some parts of the world. This may also become a norm in the AMA region soon.

At the end of the day, what is critical to understand is that flexibility as a concept is very personal.

It cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach, and must be personalised to suit individual needs for it to be truly meaningful for employees. At P&G, we trust our employees to choose what flexibility means for them, and this is what makes us unique.

Lead image / Provided 

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