Accredify Digest: COO Tan Jing Yi on Building An Employee-centric Company
Accredify Digest is a series of ideas, opinions, and observations from Accredify’s employees. Hiring a highly invested team also means welcoming passionate voices that need to be heard. Find out what the brains behind Accredify think about strategy, tech, operations, security, and culture in this series.
In this issue of Accredify Digest, Accredify’s Chief Operating Officer, Tan Jing Yi, reflects on how organisations can foster an employee-centric workplace culture amidst great structural changes brought about by the pandemic, such as an increasingly distributed and remote workforce, the shift towards implementing flexible working arrangements, and the increased risk of poorer employee engagement arising from fragmented, multi-channel interactions.
Employee engagement in the new era:
challenges & considerations
1) Arrangement of work
The pandemic has set in motion a wave of change that has transformed the way organisations operate throughout the world. Now, it is the norm to have teams that are split between working physically in the office and remotely elsewhere. Forward-thinking organisations have also acknowledged the challenges of remote working, especially for employees working from home who have to juggle between duties as homemaker and employee – often at the same time. This has made flexible work arrangements more common, where employees are able to decide their personal working hours, so as to better arrange work around their lives in a way that is more suitable for them.
The result is that HR teams are faced with an unprecedented level of complexity when it comes to employee management. It is almost expected that a dispersed workforce – both in location and time – has led to lower levels of employee engagement, interaction, and satisfaction.
These issues can very quickly add up to larger organisational-wide problems, such as lower overall employee loyalty. In fact, we’re already seeing this in the recent Great Resignation, in which the lower levels of employee engagement and weaker social ties, caused by remote work, have been quoted as potential drivers of the phenomenon in reports by the likes of Harvard Business Review, and Channel News Asia.
2) Changing employee demographic
Another trend to consider is the changing employee demographic. Organisations are now hiring from a promising talent pool of individuals that are mostly Gen Z. These individuals are digital-natives and many of them have begun their careers during the global pandemic lockdown. Yet, it is important to note that while they are familiar with remote working arrangements, they still very much value physical interaction with their colleagues. A study by Dell Technologies has found that:
- 76% of Gen Z workers expect to learn on the job from their seniors
- 50% preferred in-person communication, and
- 51% wanted to work as part of a team
Gen Z-ers also look for the following key factors in a job:
- Learning & Development, and opportunities for growth. Many Gen Z-ers are facing difficulty learning new skills in a remote work setting.
- Work that creates positive impact. Gen Z-ers want to feel that their time is being spent meaningfully in making the world a better place.
- Diversity and inclusion. Gen Z-ers want to see diversity and inclusion as priorities in their workplaces. Many of them view these as very important personal issues.
- Mental health support and work-life balance. These have become increasingly important considerations – not just for Gen Z-ers, but for all employees. As the world adjusts to the new paradigm of working arrangements, many have observed that employee well-being may have been compromised for business objectives. It is time to take a step back, and re-evaluate these new ways of working to prioritise employee well-being, while ensuring business continuity, in a post-pandemic era.
In short, HR teams are faced with both (1) the challenge of engaging a distributed workforce, and (2) the evolving expectations of a new generation of employees. What then, are some tools, methods, and principles HR teams can adopt to ensure a positive employee experience for their workforce?
At Accredify, we consider three broad approaches to employee management:
Fostering a positive workplace culture
A positive work culture is known to promote workplace productivity – a fact that has been validated in studies.
Negative work environments that promote toxic competition often lead to disengaged teams and lower employee loyalty. This has implications on overall business performance, as disengaged workers have 37% higher absenteeism. 49% more accidents, 60% more errors.
Organisations with low employee engagement scores experience:
- 18% lower productivity
- 16% lower profitability
- 37% lower job growth
- 65% lower share price over time
HR teams play a huge role in fostering and upholding a positive work culture – but what does this mean, exactly? A positive work culture could be an environment that: (1) respects each individual and provides everyone with a safe space to express themselves, (2) facilitates constructive feedback that is delivered in a supportive manner, (3) encourages employees to share openly on any workplace topic or issue, (4) encourages the readiness to admit mistakes and a lack of knowledge. This list is not exhaustive. In essence, an organisation with a positive work culture is a place that employees enjoy working at, and can thrive in.
When Accredify was born in 2019, ensuring we foster a best-fit company culture was a key priority of the management team, because we understood how important culture was for a company to be successful.
One defining element of Accredify’s culture is a strong sense of ownership. A strong sense of ownership creates a powerful positive influence over an individual’s motivation and productivity. We nurture this by giving each individual full responsibility over their work, which in turn, allows them to witness the impact of their contributions on the company’s growth closer, feel prouder of their achievements, and be more excited for the organisation’s collective future – one that they had a part in building.
For smaller organisations, like start-ups, every individual plays a significant role in defining workplace culture. For example, the behaviour and action of every employee in Accredify has an impact on the culture of the company. If you are a start-up, or even a scale-up like Accredify, always keep this fact in mind when you hire: the first 100 people you hire will define your company’s culture.
This brings us to the next point: HR teams are the guardians of a company’s culture. At Accredify, we protect and nurture our collaborative and safe workplace environment by hiring carefully, and making cultural, attitudinal, and behavioural expectations clear. For candidates applying to Accredify, they are told from the onset that they are expected to take ownership of their work.
Accredify has also implemented a Culture Round in our hiring process. During the Culture Round, interviewers are tasked to identify and assess character markers that indicate whether the candidate would strengthen Accredify’s existing positive work environment. If the answer is no, then the hiring process for that individual will end immediately, regardless of how technically skilled the candidate may be.
Implementing employee-centric policies
HR teams should always evaluate whether an existing or new policy is truly employee-centric. Keep your employees’ needs and concerns at the forefront of any policy-making discussion, and always ensure you consider your employees’ perspective. HR policies were traditionally focused on improving business performance. As a result, many HR policies that we have come to know often feel cold, transactional, and sometimes, even have the unfortunate shadow of tokenism.
For example, limiting the number of leave days an employee is entitled to stems from distrust. The fear is that if employees had an unlimited number of leave days, then would the employee take advantage of the company by taking as many days off as possible while drawing a pay check? Would the employee get any work done at all? While these are real business considerations, the first step to building a strong company culture and earning your employees’ loyalty is to demonstrate that you trust them. Always believe in the good of your employees – they are the hands, head, and heart of your company.
As such, take the time to review your HR policies. While they may make dollar sense for the company, does it make sense for the human working for your company?
The management team at Accredify has gone through this exercise, and we have developed employee-centric HR policies that are made to benefit our employees. To illustrate, let’s take the example of a company’s leave policy mentioned above.
Accredify has a flexible leave policy, with a compulsory minimum of 14 leave days that must be taken – meaning all employees are required to take at least 14 days of leave a year. This is because we strongly believe that each individual should be empowered to take charge of their physical and mental health, and work responsibilities. We trust each person fully to give them the freedom and ability to manage their time and tasks in a way that works best for them. We don’t believe in “clocking the hours” or “face time”. As long as the work gets done, you should be free to attend to the other responsibilities in your life.
It’s been two years and we have never faced any misbehaviour. In fact, we have had to force some of our employees to take their 14 days of compulsory leave, because these individuals have been so dedicated to their work that they have not taken their required 14 days of annual leave even as the year was ending. That’s the power of an employee-centric, positive work environment.
It is also important to ensure that the reasons behind any HR policy is communicated clearly to your employees. Seek their feedback regularly, and encourage your employees to always challenge your policies directly, to facilitate constructive policy-making decisions.
Understanding employee data
Finally, HR teams can utilise data to drive their operations more effectively. Organisations can begin collecting relevant Employee Relations data. Employee Relations refers to the relationship between employers and employees, and focuses on both individual and collective relationships in the workplace.
A study by HR Acquity in 2021 has found that Employee Relations data is becoming increasingly important as it provides HR teams with actionable insights for managing an organisation’s workforce more effectively.
In order to meaningfully use Employee Relations data, organisations need to go beyond just collecting it, and start integrating Employee Relations Data into business data to generate actionable insights. By integrating these different data sets, HR teams can uncover performance trends and devise better ways of employee management.
One way to utilise integrated Employee Relations Data is to draw links between HR issues and business cycles. For example: if you find that your organisation experiences an increase in workplace conflict during a specific season, you may be able to better understand the reason for it by integrating data. Perhaps during that period, workplace stress is higher than usual due to seasonal events or an unbalanced planning of work streams. This way, HR, Operations, and Business Development teams can gather and rework their business strategy with data-backed insights to reduce overall employee stress and increase employee satisfaction.
Another way to utilise data effectively is to understand what drives employee behaviour. If turnover rates are high and the most commonly cited reason is compensation – then perhaps it’s time to rethink your company’s compensation package. Or if you are uncertain about your employees’ views on where your company stands on diversity and inclusion, conduct short sentiment surveys to get a sense of how you’re doing.
Beyond Employee Relations data, individual employee data can also provide meaningful insights that allow HR teams to better engage their workforce. To give another example, Accredify has a product in the pipeline that uses analytics to create a comprehensive skill gap assessment for individuals. We’re currently working on this project with an educational institution, and will be deploying an industry-agnostic version of it in the near future. This solution involves a pre-course assessment survey, conducted through an app, to analyse an individual’s skills and compare their current proficiencies against the skills that they want or need. The organisation can then send these individuals for courses to help bridge that skill gap. A post-course assessment will also be done through an app to ensure that the employee has been brought closer to his or her desired skill sets. In this way, we can see how data-driven tools help improve employee experience by facilitating learning and development opportunities.
5 guiding principles for employee-centrism
The tech industry has one of the highest turnover rates at 13.2%. It is a competitive industry and the work is not easy. If employee wellbeing and engagement are poor, then employee burnout and turnover will most certainly be unavoidable. To the tech companies out there, here are five guiding principles that have helped our team establish a positive work environment, devise employee-centric policies, and implement insightful tools to improve employee wellbeing and engagement:
- Trust your employees. Do not micromanage. This fosters a sense of ownership. You will find your teams producing better work and taking greater pride in their contributions.
- Encourage candid feedback. Feedback, both positive and negative, should be encouraged at all levels of the organisation. Feedback should never be taken as a criticism, but an opportunity to do better. Create an environment that allows everyone to speak up without fear. This helps management identify and address any issues on the ground quickly as well. Kim Scott’s Radical Candor is recommended if you’d like to find out more about how candid feedback can benefit your company!
- Care personally. Also from Radical Candor. Care deeply for each individual’s wellbeing, and not just about their work. Help your employees achieve their goals through constructive feedback, mentorship, and guidance – because you care.
- Guard the culture gate tightly. When resources are scarce and you need to hire quickly, it is often tempting to hire without considering the impact the individual would have on your company’s culture. This is harmful behaviour to the company. In a Harvard study, a superstar hire brings in an average of only USD$5,000 for a company, while a toxic superstar costs the business USD$12,000. Guard the culture gate tightly, and be on alert to immediately address any unproductive and unhelpful behaviour.
- Hire slow, fire fast. Take your time to know each candidate well, and assess their suitability before offering the role. The cost of a bad hire is minimally 30% of the individual’s first year earnings – and this does not include the hit to team morale when a person leaves the company. Before you make an offer, ensure that you have done sufficient checks and are assured that the candidate would be a good fit for the company. Conversely, if you find yourself with an employee that demonstrates destructive behaviour despite multiple attempts to guide them towards more productive behaviour, then it is beneficial to your company to quickly let the individual go. This gives the individual time to look for a more suitable role elsewhere, reduces costs to your company arising from destructive behaviour, and reduces the negative impact on your company’s culture.
I would like to leave this quote that has always inspired me, and very accurately sums up the key to successful talent retention:
At Accredify, we always keep this quote in mind when we think about employee welfare, policies, and benefits. We want to enable our team to grow and become the best in the industry, and we hope that our team continues to stay with us because our unique workplace culture and experience cannot be found elsewhere.
With the knowledge of how work arrangements and employee expectations have evolved the past two years, we can now take these three approaches – culture, policy, and tools – and think about how our organisation’s existing HR policies can be improved.
Are there ways to promote learning and development, feelings of meaningful work, diversity and inclusion, and mental health support and work-life balance through culture, policy and tools? Definitely. But these may take a different shape and form from the HR policies of yesteryear.
The trick is to stay employee-centric, and lead with trust.