Emergency exercises, simulations on disaster recovery, and preparations for alternative sites have been put to practice time and again, seamlessly and to perfection, affirms Ivy Oh, Head HR, MSD.

With a gold win for Excellence in Crisis Management and Recovery at HR Excellence Awards 2020, Singapore, MSD International GmbH Singapore Branch’s team rejoices in its robust decision making on managing the unprecedented crisis.

In this interview, Ivy Oh, Head HR, MSD unpacks the adoption and application of data analytics for improved HR processes, three key priorities of MSD in the pandemic, leadership resilience and employee’s feedback.

Q What is your organisation’s winning HR strategy, and what are some milestones you’ve accomplished along this journey?

MSD in Singapore comprises five business divisions – and a varied workforce that includes office-based, laboratory-based, and manufacturing plant-based employees. The HR team plays the critical role of strategic partner in collaborating with multiple leaders and stakeholders across all business divisions in Singapore to deliver excellence in managing the impact of this pandemic across our company.

When making decisions on managing this pandemic, the core priorities of MSD are to:

• Protect the health and safety of our employees and their families.
• Maintain the availability of our essential medicines to patients and customers who need them .
• Adhere to ongoing (and evolving) government and health authority guidance and requirements.

At MSD, business continuity and scenario planning, crisis tabletop drills, emergency exercises, simulations on disaster recovery, and preparations for alternative sites have been put to practice time and again, seamlessly and to perfection.

How has this strategy helped you achieve your HR priorities, and what role has the leadership played in helping make this a reality?

Based on the operating principle to address the pandemic of being at least “two weeks ahead going in and one month behind on the way out”, the Crisis Management Team implemented proactive measures for MSD.

When border control measures were put in place, it greatly disrupted the business in unprecedented ways – there was a spike in supply chain costs, reduced supply or raw materials, as well as restricted people movement. With a number of our manufacturing employees being daily commuters from Malaysia, this proved to be a significant workforce challenge once Malaysia’s Movement Control Order, then Singapore’s Circuit Breaker, kicked in.

The leadership team showed empathy and compassion by providing accommodation and living allowance to all Malaysian employees who chose to remain in Singapore, and even worked with our third-party vendors to assist them with accommodation for MSD contractors.

The measures developed catered to our diverse business needs – ranging from manufacturing, laboratory-based and office-based employees.

As a company, we continued to honour the onboarding dates of new employees where possible, even if they could not come to the site or office and had to work from home from their start date.

The effective management of employee morale while keeping everyone safe contributed to production outcomes which met the needs of our patients and customers without disruption.

Unexpected roadblocks are part and parcel of executing any initiative. What were some of the barriers that you and your team experienced while rolling this out, and how did you successfully get past them?

Given the aggressive urgency of the pandemic, the leadership team was completely aligned with placing employees at the centre of our decision-making. There was no reluctance or resistance observed; and instead, there was an overwhelming flow of constructive ideas with close alignment to our core objectives.

Leadership communications were aligned to their actions and built the trust our people had in the company and strengthened their resiliency through the pandemic situation. Regular and timely email communications ensured that employees were always up to date on the pandemic situation and what steps the company was taking to protect their safety, and therefore, that of their families.

Where required, virtual townhalls and team huddles were conducted to facilitate cascade of information and strengthen understanding of intent.

All employees in Singapore also received regular communications that shared resources to support their mental health and well-being – including contact information to the Employee Assistance Programme, which provides MSD employees and their family members with complimentary consultation with a professional counsellor to help them cope with the psychological burdens imposed by this drastic change to the way we work and live.

As evidenced by the win, this initiative clearly delivered some amazing results. What was your game plan for measuring ROI? What are some proud achievements you can share with us on this front?

To date, no one at MSD in Singapore has contracted COVID-19. MSD has emerged stronger from this unprecedented crisis, not due to sheer luck but through proper planning and diligence in our execution.

This must continue without being complacent, so as to protect the interests of our company, our employees, and our community.

98% of our employees expressed gratitude in the following areas:

  • Leadership & managerial support and understanding
  • Regular and prompt updates ahead of the curve
  • Flexible work schedules
  • Provision of IT kits for employees working from home
  • S$100 Giftano voucher, which can be redeemed at a variety of merchants including groceries, food delivery, furniture, wellness, and others.

In conclusion, our excellence in crisis management and recovery efforts have helped MSD in Singapore to protect our employees’ safety and reputation as reliable partners for our customers and patients.

With WFH being the norm for the bigger part of this year, has your organisation recently adopted any new forms of technology to improve the HR processes/overall work processes?

It has been an ongoing process to adopt and apply data analytics in HR areas, such as a retention study and analysing engagement drivers, which will help us formulate better decisions and intervention plans. Despite a drastic change to our working situation this year, these efforts have continued and will continue into 2021.

Photo / 123RF

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