Race to win hearts and minds

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 September, 2008, 12:00am

Higher staff turnover is forcing banks and insurance companies to shed their conservative image. Their human resources departments are adopting modern methods to hold on to employees.

A key approach to keeping staff motivated, loyal and, at the same time, productive is engaging them through various programmes.

Chimene Woo Suet-ming, head of human resources, Asia ex-Japan and Singapore at UBS Investment Bank, said: 'Engaged employees will stay longer with the firm [and they will] continually find effective ways to add value.

'An employee who is loyal may stay, but may not be contributing to the success of the company to the same extent as an engaged employee.'

Employee engagement has become a catchphrase as human resources departments refocus on employee 'loyalty', to cultivate in new recruits a sense of ownership and belonging to their company. Firms in the United States and Europe have already begun initiating employee engagement programmes.

The solution designed by human resources departments in Hong Kong involves a structured formula of employee surveys, career planning and in-house training.

Standard Chartered Bank has been using a survey developed by the Gallup Organisation since 2001.

'It is a transparent process with scorecards provided to each work team,' said Catherine Fung, senior manager, projects and change management at Standard Chartered Bank, Hong Kong. 'An action plan is developed with the aim to increase engagement and to create a great workplace.'

Global insurance company AXA's Hong Kong affiliate launched an employee engagement programme in 2006. Its CEO road shows and senior leadership breakfast meetings, such as 'Talk to John' sessions, 'facilitate employees [to share] feedback directly with our CEO', said Ellen So, head of human resources, AXA Hong Kong.

UBS conducts annual in-house employee engagement surveys.

Building a road map for employees emphasises communication with management to produce clear and customised career paths.

'With the multigenerational nature of the workforce with diverse needs, it is important to listen to the voices of employees,' said Ms Fung, who added that it was important to allow employees to achieve a work-life balance.

As a result, she said, Standard Chartered 'encourages staff to take ownership of their learning and development by allowing them to identify their training needs, including formal training, e-learning and on-the-job development. They can then discuss and agree on a suitable development plan for the year with their line managers'.

UBS used a four-step approach that begins with interaction between the employee and line manager, and then moves on to identifying development needs, discussing its objectives and periodically reviewing them. This 'will result in individual career planning and a road map which senior management uses for key talent reviews', Ms Woo said.

Rewards and recognition are also important in keeping staff happy. AXA offers 50 company shares to each of its employees as part of the AXA Miles programme. This is accompanied by expanded employee benefits in medical insurance and annual leave benefits.

The insurance company also organises courses in leadership, technical and soft-skills training, institutionalised mentoring programmes, talent management and succession planning.

'A departmental buddy system was introduced to provide immediate and short-term assistance for each new staff member or departmental transferee. [This] greatly speeds each person's ability to learn essential daily skills and to assimilate into their new role,' Ms So said. She also highlighted a 12-month management trainee programme, specifically geared to retaining fresh graduates, and a staff assistance programme that offers personal counselling to employees to promote a healthy work-life balance.

At the Standard Chartered Bank, employees were also given the opportunity to work in its overseas offices, such as in other parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Ms Fung said.

In established industries, such as banking and insurance, where changes are slow, 'the focus of the HR function in the past five years has been to support the expansion of the UBS franchise in Asia-Pacific through the acquisition of top talent ... to create a work environment where people want to stay and build a career', Ms Woo said.

She cited UBS's most recent employee survey that found about 70 per cent of its staff in Hong Kong and 77 per cent on the mainland expected to be working at the firm within a year, while 71 per cent of those employees here expressed satisfaction with their company as a place to work and, presumably, will stay.

Companies that successfully measure, train and retain their staff may have mastered the art of employee engagement and it 'is viewed as an important element to establish the company as an employer of choice', Ms Woo said.

'[Employee engagement] is indicative of a company's ability to [win] the 'hearts and minds' of employees', Ms So said.