Imagine working for a company that makes sure its staff leave the office at 3pm every Friday during summer, and encourages them to relax in one of the massage chairs installed in the workplace if they need a break. This is also an employer which does not frown on working mothers turning part time or hesitate to grant parental leave to new fathers.
If you find these initiatives too good to be true you are not alone. The 230 participants at last week's HR Magazine conference could not, at first, believe it, but then were in awe when Louisa Bench, vice-president of human resources for Asia-Pacific at Turner Broadcasting which operates television entertainment and news, such as CNN, explained how her company promoted work-life integration.
"As a creative organisation, we are totally dependent on talent. Without our people we wouldn't have our creative content," Bench said.
Putting staff first has benefited the company. According to Bench, Turner is able to attract and retain the best people, reduce absenteeism and lower employee costs. Business grew steadily during the recent downturn, with last year's results exceeding the firm's revenue and cost-saving targets.
The conference was part of a series initiated by HR Magazine to help with the exchange of views and ideas in human resources. Four speakers were invited to the latest event, covering issues from transforming HR through technology and planning for retirement to achieving work-life balance, and instilling an international perspective in young employees.
Jonathan Perrin, global product manager for performance and reward at HSBC, said technology freed HR professionals from unnecessary administrative tasks by automating certain activities or passing them on to a different division.
"The HR usually spends so much time doing the administrative work created by their activities as opposed to just focusing on these activities," he said. For instance, HR tends to administer training programmes where it takes care of things such as booking training venues and handling reply slips manually.
"Technology allows them to spend more time finding out what the business really needs by comparing the differences between the skills they need and what they've actually got," Perrin said. "They will be able to think about how the course can be redesigned and check outcomes rather than how it should be administered."
He added that companies should put in place a core technology platform to ensure the consistency of processes, such as standardising ways of recruitment in different countries and places with only local regulatory deviations, and the availability of data to all those that require it.
Lau Ka-shi, managing director and chief executive officer of Bank Consortium Trust, one of the top five service providers in the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) market and the main sponsor of the conference, said as a result of regulatory changes, employees would be able to transfer their portion of mandatory contributions made under their employment to an MPF scheme of their choice.
She said HR professionals could provide assistance to members of staff in making better informed choices. "They can help employees be more engaged in managing their MPF accounts and pay appropriate attention to the risk and return profile of funds, fund performance and management fees," she said.
HR staff should also be prepared to answer queries about the provider of the MPF scheme and ensure that such information is readily available, including its background, fees and charges, fund performance and servicing standards. Lau suggested that forums should be held for employees to express their views on MPF-related issues.
Responding to the tendency for young people in Hong Kong to become inward-looking, Selina Ko, head of talent development for Standard Chartered Bank in Greater China and Japan, said the organisation had stepped up efforts to instil an international perspective in its employees.
These include a programme that assigns a mentor to four to six employees who have been identified as "high-potentials" - or "HIPOs" - for nine months and sharing sessions by the bank's leaders from Hong Kong and abroad. These talks are usually hosted by two HIPOs. "We want to give them a chance to learn first hand from the leaders," Ko said.
Ko said HIPOs were chosen from a rigorous selection process and that, for the time being, the identity of HIPOs was only known to the employee concerned and the manager. "Interestingly, other staff know who the HIPOs are even though we don't publicise the results. But they won't get jealous because the HIPOs often take the initiative to go the extra mile and are deserving of the extra opportunities."