How firms can build inclusivity

One way is to allow time-off to build up self and the community

AN EXERCISE programme that helps charity and a scheme to involve staff at all levels in strategic planning are among the ways two big local firms are engaging employees and giving back to society.

The efforts of Cerebos Pacific and Teckwah Industrial Corporation were singled out by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the annual Singapore Business Awards ceremony on Tuesday night.

Mr Tharman focused on the role that businesses have to play in building an inclusive society.

'Our overarching objective is not economic growth in its own right, but higher incomes and a better quality of life for all Singaporeans,' he said.

'We can only be an inclusive society if employers treat their workers with respect, help them develop themselves, and reward them fairly.'

Cerebos, well-known for its Brand's Essence of Chicken, believes one of the simplest ways a firm can help to build such a society is by giving its employees enough free time for volunteer work.

Earlier this year, it introduced a scheme where employees can have one day of paid leave a year to spend helping a charity of their choice.

'Our responsibility is to provide work-life balance for the staff and at the same time, provide the spark or give them the opportunity to do their part for the community,' said a spokesman.

Cerebos inspires its 180 staff in Singapore to do good through its 'Integrated Wellness Programme' where workers can leave an hour early to attend exercise sessions organised by the firm.

Cerebos donates $5 to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund for each session an employee attends.

If a staff member exercises on his or her own time for at least an hour on a day off or during the weekend, that session can be declared to the firm and a donation will be made in the person's name.

Ms Thresa Tang, the senior manager of group finance at Cerebos, has been taking advantage of this programme since it was introduced in 2002.

Her weekly exercise routine includes golf, jogging and walking and she plans to add zumba to that list when the firm starts offering it as part of the weekly organised sessions this year. Zumba is a workout routine inspired by Latin dance.

The ability to balance work and exercise has made her a more productive worker, she said.

'I do not feel that I need to spend more hours at work despite taking time off for exercise as it is good to have a stretch outside of the office and I feel more energised after the exercise. This allows me to complete my work in a shorter time.'

Inclusivity at logistics firm Teckwah is all about listening to employees and giving equal weight to everyone's ideas.

Since 1996, the firm has included all of its staff, now numbering over 1,000, in its strategic planning exercise, which takes place once every three years and charts the company's direction.

'Staff are guided on the methodology of our planning process and they do their homework in seeking out the critical information before coming to the session,' said corporate communications director Angela Kok.

'At the session, everyone brainstorms and builds consensus. When the strategic plan is finally rolled out, staff can feel the sense of ownership and belonging.'

In fact, the pharmaceutical packaging service that Teckwah offers stemmed from an idea contributed by an employee during a strategic planning session.

Teckwah's staff attrition rate is lower than the national average, something Ms Kok attributes to the various activities that the firm conducts to engage employees and make them feel valued.

A society would not be truly inclusive if it did not value its older citizens, and Mr Tharman noted in his speech that Singaporeans should adopt a different approach towards older workers.

He pointed to a study conducted by the University of Mannheim in Germany, which found that older workers in a Mercedes assembly line were more productive than their younger counterparts as their experience helped them to resolve unexpected problems more effectively.

The researchers studied over 3,800 workers at a truck assembly plant in Germany between 2003 and 2006.

They concluded that even in a work environment requiring 'substantial physical strength', an increase in age is compensated by 'experience and the ability to operate well in a team when tense situations occur, typically when things go wrong and there is little time to fix them'.

Older workers 'seem to know better which severe errors to avoid by all means', the researchers added.

Furthermore, older workers tend to concentrate more on important tasks, so their performance is better in terms of overall productivity.

'While older workers are slightly more likely to make errors, they hardly make any severe errors. The results suggest that older workers are especially able to grasp difficult situations and then concentrate on the vital tasks,' they wrote.