By Frances Song, Marketing Manager, Top Employers Institute
By Frances Song, Marketing Manager, Top Employers Institute

What we can learn from Top Employers in China

Daily life has been transformed against the backdrop of the COVID-19 outbreak. While many workers, both medical and non-medical, have been fighting on the frontline since the Chinese New Year’s Eve, most others have been quarantined in an attempt to reduce the spread of the virus.

At the end of the extended Chinese New Year holidays, people started to worry about their back-to-work. Workplace safety has been put in the spotlight.  

Many HR leaders ask, how can we provide support for our employees and broader communities during this critical time?  

Top Employers Institute China conducted phone interviews with four organisations operating in China that have been certified as Top Employers China 2020Wyeth Nutrition, Covestro, Roche Pharmaceuticals and Roche DiagnosticsTheir measures for employee care might inspire you for a better world of work.  

Agile Culture 

Healthcare industry is one of the core players in this battle. With their motto ‘Doing now what patients need next’Roche Pharmaceuticals and Roche Diagnostics in China have donated cash, medicines and medical supplies with a value of over RMB 24 million for hospitals across the country. 

It took Roche Diagnostics a mere 48 hours from the moment that their Shanghai office confirmed the donation to their colleagues to install diagnostics facilities at the front line of the outbreakBehind this swift decision-making, empowerment and mobilisation was the agility at Roche Diagnostics which is composed of three key elements: Speed, Stability and Flexibility. 

To reduce the anxiety among their employees, Roche Diagnostics made announcements by email and WeChat (China’s largest messaging app) at the early stages of the outbreak about their extension of holidays and work-from-home policies. It was the timely and transparent communication that soothed their people about the uncertainty. 

Roche Pharmaceuticals, as a leader in the field of oncologyrecognised that cancer patients would be at a higher risk, not only due to the virus but also given the shortage of medical supplies and the country’s lockdown and quarantine requirements. Immediately, this Top Employer partnered with a national healthcare publication, a specialised digital platform together with leading cancer experts to provide a one-stop online information service for afflicted patients. 

As Roche Pharmaceuticals produces the essential medicines that were in urgent needs for the virus treatment, many employees worked during the holidays to support the medical frontline. These workers also received the support from their organisation. The General Manager and HR Vice President came to the factory to share their appreciation and encouragement with the team. As the canteen was not in operation, they brought the lunch boxes for the employees.

Covestro China, one of the largest polymer manufacturers in the world, also demonstrated how important agility, timeliness and empowerment is in their response to the outbreak. As a chemical organisation‘Safety-first has always been the core for Covestro’s culture. A full set of crisis management procedures have been in place, which enable the company to take correct measures in a crisis or emergency. 

Since 20 January, Covestro has been providing the updates about the virus and self-prevention measures for their employees. Before the Chinese New Year, they set up the China Crisis Management Team, led by Covestro China President Ms. Holly Lei, and they assembled a team of representatives from all sites across China to collect and share the local information. Since then, the team has continuously adjusted the way of collaboration for higher efficiency and reaction speed.

Employees from Wyeth Nutrition, the country’s leading nutritional company with over 100 years’ heritage, have been fully devoted during the outbreak to ensure that necessary nutritional products for mothers and infants would not be interrupted. They launched a campaign for their clients, consumers and employees to 'Stand for love’. In addition, they implemented an emergency framework before the Chinese New Year to integrate the resources for price stability, quality guarantee and supply sufficiency. 

As many provinces in China settled into lockdown, Wyeth’s Logistics Unit optimised their workforce allocation. Teams in different cities supported each other under the emergency conditions. In Guangzhou, local colleagues helped those who could not return to their work to complete the product delivery. In Suzhou, the General Manager for Logistics Site joined the operation on the frontline to pack, label and dispatch over 10,000 deliveries. It was the shared mission that enabled every Wyeth employee to mobilise and devote themselves to conquer the challenges. 

People first  

Mental health is crucial consideration in times of wide-scale uncertainty and crisis. The four Top Employers that we interviewed have all launched employee assistance programs  (EAPs) with 24/7 hotlines offering consulting and assistance for their employees and families. Moreover, these organisations have also rolled out campaigns that encourage employees to share their story/video/photo collections as a way of showcasing the resilience of the people and communities amid the distress. It was also a great chance for employees to use their talents to support each other. 

Covestro introduced online gym on 10 February, which helped their employees to keep fit and healthy while they were home-based. 

Roche Pharmaceuticals has also launched various administrative and safety policies for their employees such as purchasing necessary medicines with home deliveryand they promptly updated their medical claim procedures etc. As most employees started to get back to office in early March, the company renovated the canteen, changing the accommodation for 500 people to 200 so as to increase the dining space and reduce the risk of infection. Plus, all old utensils have been replaced with the environment-friendly and degradable disposable ones. 

Engagement of leadership also plays an important role in crisis management. Wyeth Nutrition invited China’s top management team to join the live program ‘Boss Online’ on the second day of back-to-work. This program attracted over 8 300 viewers and received over 3600 comments. These leaders helped to answer the questions from the audience covering the updated prevention measures, the impact on 2020’s business targets and strategies, how to tackle the challenge of recruitment etc. This transparent mutual communication can absolutely enhance employees’ trust for the company.  

In addition to the donation of over RMB 37 Million worth nutritional products and cash, Wyeth Nutrition has opened an exclusive application channel for healthcare professionals' children, including management trainees and internship programs. They will have priorities over interviews and recruitment. For the employees from the epicenters of the outbreak, Wyeth also provided them with other humanised benefits including advanced salaries, allowance application etc. These caring measures further demonstrated that Wyeth was indeed an employer that put people first. 

Flexible Working 

The results of Top Employers China 2020 Best Practices Survey showed that among the 99 certified companies:

  • 64% provide flex-time workschedules; 
  • 37% provide telecommuting/working from home; 
  • 100% provide online training programmes (always available); 
  • 86% provide mobile learning. 

Flexible work schedules 

In the past five years, we have witnessed more organisations providing flexible working conditions for their employees. For instance, Roche Diagnostics has Early Friday each week and one day per month telecommutingIn response to the outbreak, Roche Pharmaceuticals, Covestro and Wyeth Nutrition also introduced flexible working policies for all employees able to make use of flexible working hours or work-from-home setups.  

However, when work-from-home became compulsory with a longer duration and a wider coverage – for almost all employees, corporates needed to be more detail-focused and ensure their infrastructure was ready for the transition to remote workingThey had to contend with questions such as: how to increase the internet stability when using VPN, how to train line managers in using video interview tools to ensure a good candidate experience, and, how to help employees to achieve work-life balance under unprecedented circumstances.  

Wyeth Nutrition Business School introduced a special learning card during the outbreak. It included over 200 free courses covering virus-prevention measures, guides on mental health, social media management, consumer behavior insights, etc. 
In recent years, most Top Employers have explored HR digitalisationwhich not only helps achieve flexible working and optimal talent management, but also helps management teams utilise HR metrics for better business prediction and decision-making. 

During the outbreak, Covestro collected employee information via short questionnaires on WeChat Corporate Channel. They dealt with topics including health conditions, travelling history, possible contact with patients, duration of quarantine, etc. These analytics could provide solid support for their prediction and arrangement on work resumption. With the premise of privacy protection, HR digitalisation can maximise its values with the help of data analysis and intelligent measures.  

Roche Diagnostics also registered all employees’ health information according to the control of infectious disease requirement, followed by a check-in every other day. Based on the results, the organisation would respond to those who needed the most help including point-to-point delivery of protective equipment. 

The coronavirus continues as a pandemic across the globe, and it will take much longer for corporates to go back to ‘normality’Indeed, this outbreak is like a mirror that reflects the corporate culture and its operating foundation. Are organisations truly putting their people first? Are they agile and flexible enough to survive in an unpredictable world? 

In the past decade, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become a mainstream topic in the business world. When we are talking about how to take care of those less-privileged in the communities and the entire environment, we also need to shift the perspectives internally on our employees. Have we truly committed to creating a better world of work for our people? Have we put their safety and well-being at the top of our business agenda? These are probably the question marks left by the outbreak.