Making a Difference in the Lives of Our People

The following is an excerpt from The 50: HR Leaders Reimagining the Filipino Organization. Authored by Pancho Dizon,  this chapter is titled, “Making a Difference in the Lives of Our People.” In it, May Sunega, the Head of Human Resources at Sun Life, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in staying communicated even in times of a pandemic.

When you’ve had the career that May Sunega has had, it’s easy to believe that you’ve seen it all. After all, Sunega has worked in the HR field for over 20 years and has taken roles in organizations ranging from tech company Emerson to food manufacturer Edward Keller Philippines. 

 

Still, Sunega shares that her current employer, Sun Life Asia Service Centre-Philippines (ASCP), has managed to surprise her all the same. “My current role here at Sun Life ASCP is more employee-centric than anywhere else I’ve been,” Sunega said, “At other places, you might be asked to take on a more customer-centric role, but it’s at Sun Life ASCP that I’ve learned what it really means to put employees first.”

 

Sunega shared that a shift to a more employee-centric HR strategy means everyone must be consulted when deciding what’s best for employees. In this context, “everyone” means collaborating with even the company’s most senior executives to get their feedback on concerns like issuing a comprehensive healthcare plan. 

 

“What struck me here is you can really feel the deep involvement of senior leaders, even the country head,” Sunega said, “They’re not afraid to take the time out and get into the nitty-gritty of anything that impacts employees. They’ll ask the best questions: how is a new healthcare provider different from the previous one? How will this shift affect employee morale?”

 

Although the involvement in employee affairs takes extra effort from management, it’s always been Sun Life ASCP’s belief that when you take care of employees, they’ll return the favor by giving their best back to the company. 

 

As a result, Sunega and her team also work hard to ascertain employees have everything they need for their personal growth. This initiative is done by working hard to support a regional Sun Life program called Experience the Sun. The company’s young and upcoming leaders, referred to as “cohorts”, are selected to lead a project. Each country’s cohort will compete against one another to present the best solution to a particular issue in the organization. This program touches all aspects of the company’s operations, whether it be information technology or marketing. 

 

“Since it’s an inter-region competition, we also give the cohorts executive sponsorship,” she said, “This gets them in touch with those in management roles and it actually does two things: it enables them to exchange ideas with managers and plan for the future of the business together, while the current managers gain the satisfaction of knowing who they’ll hand over the reins to.”

 

With collaboration being perceived as integral in how Sun Life ASCP operates, the competition also acts as a screening process in assessing those who are diligent collaborators in the workplace, keeping in mind that those who embody this trait are the ones that give the organization a brighter future. 

 

Aside from making certain that every decision on employee benefits and employee growth is thoroughly scrutinized, Sunega noted it’s also important that employees are supported by giving them ample time to rest, recharge and refocus―especially in the middle of a pandemic. 

 

“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it became a policy to give employees an extra paid day off that is not taken away from their leave credits,” Sunega said, “This was something the Sun Life Global team was planning even before lockdown happened.” It was not intended to be a publicity stunt, it was a decision that came purely out of a desire to help.    

 

Yet Sunega also added that employee benefits must go beyond the employees themselves. Whenever a company offers a benefit, it goes a long way if their immediate family is also included. “Think about it, when someone is considering switching workplaces, who do they ask? Their spouse. Who does a fresh grad go to when considering a job offer? The parents.”  

 

This is precisely the reason why Sun Life ASCP’s Employee Assistance Program includes a hotline where employees and their families can ask for professional assistance on almost anything―whether it’s legal advice over a land dispute or tips for maintaining one’s mental health. More than just for the Sun Life ASCP employee, this hotline is also accessible to an employee’s spouse. 

 

“This proved especially useful during the lockdown, where you have couples who’ve never spent that much time together before now together 24/7; where you’ve got kids who are doing their online schooling,” Sunega said, “So the spouses of our employees could actually call our employee hotline and immediately get expert relationship counseling or parenting tips for that matter. How many other companies have you seen do something like this?”

 

Even company events and holidays are specifically designed to be celebrated with the whole family. When they host Halloween trick-or-treats, for example, they don’t limit employees to just bringing one child. 

 

Finally, Sun Life ASCP has also set up an award program called SIKAT Award. It recognizes employee’s children and their achievements in school. Whether it’s academic, sports, or art, the SIKAT Award gives recognition to the hard work of these children and sets aside time to build their confidence. It’s something that their parents especially appreciate.

 

According to Sunega, going out of their way to communicate that an employee’s family is also important keeps Sun Life authentic. They are, after all, working for an organization that promises to take care of their clients and their families. “If we can’t practice that philosophy internally,” Sunega said, “Then we are in the wrong business. Our HR policy has played an integral role in Sun Life ASCP’s success. Perhaps people flock to us because they see how well we treat our employees, and extend it to their families.”

 

“It is in these little things that we make a difference. We invest in our employees and make them feel they truly matter. They, like our clients will always be at the center of what we do best!”

To get more insights from other HR leaders like May Sunega, please check out the full book, available for purchase here


The 50 - and other business books about the Philippines and Asia Pacific - will soon be streaming on Audiophile, our platform for exclusive Filipino audiobooks.

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