American Express took home the silver award for Best Remote Management Strategy at the Employee Experience Awards 2021, Malaysia, in addition to being nominated as a finalist for the categories Best Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and Best Crisis Management and Leadership.
In this interview, Anjum Ghaffar, Director of HR, American Express (pictured above, second row, third from right), shares the three strategic pillars that guide them: deliver a great colleague experience every day, grow the best talent, and develop new ways of working to unlock value for the organisation.
Q Congratulations on bagging this award! What is your award-winning employee experience strategy that led to this win?
At American Express, we know with the right backing, our people have the power to progress in incredible ways. We are guided by three strategic pillars; deliver a great colleague experience every day, grow the best talent, and develop new ways of working to unlock value for the organisation.
The wellbeing and safety of our colleagues have always been our priority. With the pandemic, this became even more important, in addition to keeping everyone connected to the company while we worked from home.
The keys to our success have been leaders walking the walk, talking the talk, and collaboration.
Within 48 hours of the announcement that the country was going into a lockdown, 87% of our colleagues were effectively equipped to work from home.
As colleagues worked from home, we doubled down on communications to ensure colleagues were kept in the know. All these were done through our town halls, increased team huddles, enhanced one-on-one check-ins, and surveys to gauge sentiments and obtain feedback while making sure they are keeping well during the pandemic.
Q How did you and your team conceptualise and adapt this strategy to suit evolving workforce needs in the past year?
As an organisation, we remained focused on what truly mattered to our colleagues in this virtual working reality by enhancing our digital engagement solutions and our wellbeing strategy.
As most of our colleagues are working remotely, Amex made significant investments to enhance medical and wellbeing benefits to ensure colleagues had access to the right level of support in a timely manner. These included the launch of telehealth services that offer free GP consultation to colleagues and their family members, giving colleagues 24/7 access to medical advice and medication delivered to their home.
We actively tailored our global mental wellbeing strategy and initiatives including campaigns for self-care, weekly live meditation sessions, and drop-in sessions with counsellors. We also enhanced our insurance coverage by including mental care coverage, allowing colleagues to claim for psychiatrist treatment and medication.
For colleagues who were unable to work from home effectively, we provided pocket Wi-Fi and peripherals as part of technology integration. Our technology team also supported our colleagues through various channels during this time including call-in, chats, emails, or through our Technology web portal for support.
The transition was made even more seamless as remote working was made part of our business continuity plan in March 2020 as we started to see the impact of the pandemic in other parts of the world.
Q What challenges did you face along the way, and how did you overcome them?
With the short notice from the government – 24 hours to be exact – we had to move quickly to equip our colleagues to work from home. This was not as easy as it sounds.
Transitioning to work from home in such a short period of time came with its own set of challenges. The biggest one was to ensure we continue to provide the level of services our customers have come to expect from us despite the absence of adequate technology tools and resources.
Within 48 hours, most of our colleagues were fully equipped with the right hardware and software thanks to the speed and execution of our business continuity plan, resulting in smooth business operations with minimal disruption.
As our colleague base is 91% Millennials, we also had to ensure our colleague engagement strategy included coaching people leaders to manage their teams while working remotely.
We provided training and support to encourage and give feedback while being sensitive to the situation. It was important for us to ensure our colleagues continued to have avenues to learn and grow, while prioritising their mental health.
Another challenge was pivoting our HR policies to the new environment. Pre pandemic, our HR policies were designed to cater to our colleagues in a physical office environment. The HR team had to pivot quickly to develop and deliver solutions to enable our leaders and colleagues to navigate in a virtual environment. HR developed a playbook for people leaders which clarified processes and policies in a lockdown and semi-lockdown environment.
Q How did the strategy add to the overall employee experience in your organization, in terms of ROI?
We are very encouraged that our efforts are paying off. Our colleagues have continued to feel connected with the organisation despite working virtually from home. In our annual 2020 Colleague Experience Survey, results across all categories including engagement and wellbeing continued to be positive. In addition, the response rate was the highest in five years and our engagement score was at an all-time high of 85%.
Here are some colleagues’ comments:
“Thank you American Express, I am grateful to be working for such a compassionate employer who truly supports my wellbeing and most importantly, my work-life integration ,especially during such uncertain times.” – Renuga Govindan, Manager, Colleague & Labour Relations.
“Thank you, Amex, for everything. I feel blessed & grateful to be assured with a job and to be able to continue working from home.” – Ganapathy R M. Analyst Operations
Q What is the most exciting and valuable thing about being part of (and winning at!) the debut Employee Experience Awards?
Being recognised as part of the Employee Experience Awards reaffirms that we are providing the best colleague experience to our colleagues. As an employer, we want to help our colleagues thrive in work and life, as they seek opportunities that empower them to learn and grow their careers with American Express.
Winning the Silver award in the category 'Best Remote Management Strategy', or any award at all during this pandemic has made this recognition extra special for us.
Q Looking ahead, what else do you have planned as you continue to enhance the overall employee experience?
Many aspects are taken into consideration prior to making any decisions. In particular, we must take into account our colleagues’ comfort levels as we map our new way of working while retaining the collaborative culture and lessons learned during the pandemic.
From a flexible working arrangement perspective, the blend of in-office and at-home work will be the default for most of our colleagues.
We want to keep aspects of the virtual environment that have been working well for us, such as greater inclusivity across our global colleague base, increased work-life balance, an enhanced digital mindset, and cutting through bureaucracy to get things done.
All our wellbeing and safety initiatives will continue to be enhanced and reviewed in ensuring they fit well in the hybrid environment, such as more digitised or app-based solutions which can be easily accessed by colleagues anytime & anywhere.
Work processes such as onboarding activities which have already been made virtual will be further elevated into bite-size video modules to ensure simplicity and speed in delivery.
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.
Always put the colleague at the heart of your strategy. When you take care of your people, they will take care of you (the company) in return.
Participating in such awards and forums not only provides a platform to share best practices, but more importantly helps to learn new initiatives from other organisations as we continue on our journey to create the best workplace and colleague experience.
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?
Bring your talents and strengths to the team, and let’s create a meaningful career journey that’s unique to you.
You lead the way, we’ve got your back.
Photo / Provided
Read more interviews on why organisations have won trophies for their HR practices - head over to our Winning Secrets' section!