At the Employee Experience Awards 2021, Singapore, American Express International Inc received two prestigious awards - the silver for Best Employee Wellness Strategy, and the bronze for Most Innovative and Sustainable Office Design.  

In this interview, Gary Cox, Director - Colleague Experience Group (HR), Singapore, Thailand & Indonesia, American Express International Inc, talks about the importance of supporting our colleagues, learning about best practices from other organisations, and ultimately, taking pride in the work that we do.

He responds to our questions through the lens of both awards won by the company, i.e. for office design and for employee wellness. 

Q Congratulations on bagging this award! What is your award-winning employee experience strategy that led to this win?

Our vision is why we exist. It’s our north star – what we aim for in everything we do.  Our vision is to provide a great colleague experience every day. 

We operate under three strategic pillars:

  • Deliver a great colleague experience,
  • Grow the best talent, and
  • Develop new ways of working to unlock enterprise value. 

As part of our wellness strategy, we aim to create a day-to-day environment where wellbeing is a focus for all our colleagues. 

To improve the physical environment, we took a strategic decision to move our existing operations to a sustainable and innovative office design and location.  A key element of our success is collaboration between our country executive leaders, Colleague Experience Group, including total rewards & wellbeing and our real estate teams.

We are proud to have been recognised in these award categories. 

Q How did you and your team conceptualise and adapt this strategy to suit evolving workforce needs in the past year?

Office Design: The design for our new offices has always put a strong emphasis on sustainability, flexibility, productivity, and occupant wellbeing and this was no different. The design of this office was developed in close collaboration and engagement with various stakeholders and users in the market. This enabled all specific requirements both from a corporate and colleague perspective to be well captured.

The design for the office was conceptualised before the pandemic and after a review, it was found that the designs were still relevant and could support the company’s operations and colleagues wellbeing in a post pandemic world.

Employee Wellness: Given the majority of our colleagues were working remotely, Amex made significant investments to expand our digital offerings to ensure colleagues had access the right level of support in a timely manner. This included the launch of telehealth services, that offers free GP consultation to employees and their family members, giving colleagues 24/7 access to medical advice and medication delivered to their home. 

In addition, we recognised the potential increased risk to mental wellness due to reduced segregation of work and personal life, and more isolation due to the pandemic.

We actively tailored our Global Mental Wellbeing strategy and initiatives included campaigns for self-care, weekly live meditation sessions and drop-in sessions with counsellors. During the renewal and review for 2021 insurance coverage, we included mental care coverage under outpatient specialist and hospitalisation, allowing colleagues to claim for psychiatrist treatment and medication.

Q What challenges did you face along the way, and how did you overcome them?

Office Design: Planning and executing our office move during the COVID pandemic was a huge challenge for us. From a move completion perspective, it was imperative that the project be delivered on time as Amex had hard lease end dates and the old office space had to be returned to the respective landlords.  With concerted effort of the stakeholders, we were able to successfully pull this off.

The new office space offers panoramic views of the Marina Bay and ticks all the boxes in terms of cost efficiency, holistic focus on employee's wellbeing and productivity.

In addition, the remote working arrangement made it challenging for colleagues to be engaged in the change management process of the office move. The Colleague Experience Group worked together with the Real Estate and the leadership team to create a dedicated change champion team focused on engagement and communications to the colleagues about the office move.

Employee Wellness: Due to the COVID pandemic, most of our colleagues started working from home on a full-time basis. This brought new challenges to their wellness as onsite activities that employees used to enjoy such as fruits day and family day had to be cancelled.

Since it was not possible to hold on-site activities, we conducted weekly virtual wellness sessions across a variety of topics – e.g. nutrition, yoga, HIIT, circuit training and Pilates. We also increased the number of micro learning options including webinars on mental wellness topics relating to isolation, working remotely with children, meditation sessions and more.

Our consistent engagement with colleague networks and leadership enables us to receive feedback and co-create. We constantly communicate our benefits programme and used a wide variety of platforms to build awareness and enhance the employee experience. 

Q How did the strategy add to the overall employee experience in your organisation, in terms of ROI? 

Office Design: We haven’t been able to achieve our full milestones since COVID has prevented all colleagues from going into the office. That said, we have received very positive feedback from those who have had the opportunity to experience the new office that offers the new desktop set up (complete with new 34” monitors, one cable presentation, sit to stand desktop), an internal staircase connecting all floors and of course, the beautiful panoramic view of Marina Bay.

Our office footprint has also been reduced to enhance efficiency, reducing electrical consumption and carbon emissions. Supporting wellbeing is a key pillar of our employee experience, so it was great we were able to incorporate a first aid room, multi-faith room, and a rest & relaxation room that was not available in the previous offices.

Employee Wellness: It’s important for us to get feedback directly from our colleagues so one of the ways we measure success is through our annual Employee Experience Survey. Seeing positive results let us know we’re doing the right thing, and compared to the benchmark, we scored higher than the 90th percentile of global organisations in 2020!

Amex has also excelled in terms of ensuring inclusiveness of benefits and wellbeing support.

In Singapore, employees are provided a work-life benefit of S$3000 which can be used to reimburse maternity-related expenses, adoption expenses & fertility treatment, and gender change / reassignment expenses.

Our insurance policy also provides coverage for same-sex partners and their children.

A great new initiative is American Express’s decision to include mental health coverage as part of our core benefits plan. This topic is more important than ever given the covid environment and is in line with our company’s philosophy around inclusion and the importance of mental wellbeing. 

Q What is the most exciting and valuable thing about being part of (and winning at!) the debut Employee Experience Awards?

We’re proud of the work we do and it’s exciting to be recognised by a distinguished panel of judges within our industry. Being part of the Employee Experience Awards brings us closer within the HR community, helps us make connections, and learn about best practices from other great organisations.

It’s been a rollercoaster of events since COVID started; this award really highlights how important it is to support our colleagues and aligns with our vision to provide a great colleague experience everyday day. 

Q Looking ahead, what else do you have planned as you continue to enhance the overall employee experience?

We are halfway through our market colleague plan to support our enterprise-winning strategy.  We aim to deliver a colleague plan that enables us to achieve our mission, which is to obsess over understanding the colleague experience at a deeper level to co-create simple and great ways of working that enable everyone to be and deliver at their best.

We are looking forward to maximising our new real estate features as we gradually return to the office when restrictions allow. 

We aim to create an inclusive environment where colleagues feel like they belong at American Express.  We will continue to support colleague wellbeing and provide benefits to support their work and personal lives

Q Do share tips to inspire your peers who are working on their EX strategies and would love to participate in the awards next year.

This is a good opportunity and platform to showcase your company’s strategies and best practices! We would encourage you to partner with the different stakeholders in the company, including the leadership team, colleagues from other business units to put together the report for a more holistic and well-rounded view of the topic you are writing on. 

Q Lastly, to end on a fun note – if you could describe the employee experience at your organisation in one sentence, what would that be?

Backing our colleagues to enable everyone to be and deliver their best – it’s all about the colleagues!


Image / Provided

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