The Human Face of Employee Engagement

Updated: Jan 26


COVID-19 has brought to light that human kindness and giving can go hand-in-hand in business. Companies can still be profitable and yet develop goodwill through values that matter. The capitalistic goal of maximising shareholder value is not the only purpose to run a business. As employees play a major role within any company, decision makers have the opportunity to lead compassionately and strategically with their team. The global community has witnessed the big-heartedness of multinational brands such as food manufacturer Kellogg, iconic toy factory, Lego and musical legend, Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber. Through its Kellogg’s Better Days initiative, Kellogg and its charitable funds have donated more than US$10 million in food and funds to global COVID-19 hunger relief efforts, affirming its mission statement – ‘Nourishing families so they can flourish and thrive’. Kellogg’s contributions are aiding the following organizations around the world – Global FoodBanking Network, sustaining food banks across Asia, Europe and Latin America; European Food Banks Federation, sponsoring food banks across Europe; Feeding America, supporting 200 food bank locations across the US and Food Banks Canada, financing 500 food banks across Canada. Lego, through their ‘learning in play’ philosophy, has donated US$50 million to charities such as No Kid Hungry, which feed children who stopped receiving free or subsidised lunches during school closures. Lego is also helping parents who are juggling their jobs, trying to educate and accommodate their kids from home during the pandemic. The majority of the funds will support charities that provide remote learning tools. Lego will also donate 500,000 Lego sets globally to families in need. In an Instagram post, Lego modified toymaking machines at its Billund factory in Denmark to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), churning out 13,000 masks a day for Danish healthcare workers. In March 2020, Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber (ALW) created his own YouTube try-out video playing All I ask of you in C major (avoiding the sharps and flats in D Flat because of his arthritic fingers). Sharing his own lockdown experience brought so much joy worldwide that in April 2020, a new YouTube channel called The shows must go on began offering a different Andrew Lloyd Webber musical every week on a complimentary basis. The unique aspect of this streaming is Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber’s personal and intimate insight to each piece of musical before it airs. Each show begins streaming on the channel at 2pm (EDT) and remains accessible for 48 hours. Universal Productions, in collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production and publishing company The Really Useful Group created this initiative. Music lovers under lockdown can enjoy ALW hit musicals including Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evita, and School of Rock at home with their family via Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, and ALW’s official website and videos. Unfortunately, not all companies work in an empathetic way. According to a commentary, staff of scooter-sharing start-up Bird unceremoniously let go 406 employees in a modern Black Mirror style. The affected workers were asked to log into a one-way Zoom call with a clinical voice informing them that they had been fired. Their Slack and other accounts were abruptly shut down and given termination dates. The unfeeling way of letting go of employees during these challenging times do not reflect well of the company’s decision-makers, brand and values. With all the remarkable experiences and outpouring of humanitarian efforts – are we expecting things to go back to normal? Life as we know it will never quite be the same, and ground sentiments have pointed to a new normal. Likewise, so will the businesses – we cannot return to the “same old, same old”. So what can we do in our own business to help support human kindness and giving? We turn to AirBnB, Singapore Airlines, KPMG Australia as three companies that look into the heart of their business – their employees – and find out how the decision makers move forward strategically and compassionately with their team. AirBnb A great example of an organisation that put its people at the centre of its business. Letting go of 25 percent of its workforce was one thing, but doing it with compassion, dignity and empathy is rare. Businesses that survive will need to rethink their entire value chain, internally as well and externally. In a message to employees, Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky announced: “Some very sad news. Today, I must confirm that we are reducing the size of the Airbnb workforce.” By being forthright, clear and communicative, Chesky explained to his employees: “We are collectively living through the most harrowing crisis of our lifetime, and as it began to unfold, global travel came to a standstill. Airbnb’s business has been hit hard, with revenue this year forecasted to be less than half of what we earned in 2019. In response, we raised $2 billion in capital and dramatically cut costs that touched nearly every corner of Airbnb.” Chesky told his employees that he would be transparent and offer details, so that everyone was fully aware of all that was happening in the hospitality industry. Singapore Airlines (SIA) In the absence of a vaccine for the pandemic, the travel industry would find it difficult to get back on its feet. On 14th May, national carrier Singapore Airlines reported the first annual net loss in its 48-year history. In a filing to the Singapore Exchange, SIA Group registered a net loss of S$212 million for the 12 months ending 31 March, a reversal from the S$683 million profit in the previous year. SIA’s CEO Goh Choon Phong said that SIA is setting up an internal task force to re-examine its operations and how it can emerge from the ongoing pandemic. SIA has, where possible, redeployed some of their staff to other areas of the business as well as other positions within the airline. KPMG Australia Majority of KPMG's 8000-strong workforce in Australia have accepted its COVID-19 salary reduction scheme as the firm organises for a phased transition back into the office. As lockdown restrictions ease around the country, KPMG said the scheme required employees to accept a 20 per cent pay cut without a reduction in hours, in response to declining revenue during the pandemic. KPMG will slash the salary of equity partners by almost 17 per cent in response to the plunge in client demand. In a decision to keep most of their staff, KPMG Chief Executive Gary Wingrove praised the firm's employees for backing the short-term measures and the proposed pay cuts. From the above examples, we identify five questions that we should ask to move our business ahead and they are:

1. What is our post-COVID-19 business going to look like from the employees perspective? 2. What percentage of the workforce will take up the part-time role or have a shorter workweek? 3. To take the business forward or even to leapfrog ahead, what skillsets do employees need? 4. Identifying the missing skills, that the business requires, can it be off-shored or right shored? 5. Has the company looked at possible partners and strategic alliances instead of employing? With businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative for teams to be involved in strategic change. Communicating with employees realistically and clearly articulating the decision-making process is essential. Informing and involving employees every step of the way is a critical component in navigating the new normal, and it will pave a positive road ahead for your organisation.

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