The Relief for Stingy Company Benefits

The following is an excerpt from The 50: HR Leaders Reimagining the Filipino Organization. Authored by Pancho Dizon, this chapter is titled, “The Relief for Stingy Company Benefits.” In it, Melissa Yeung Yap, the CEO of Greenstone Pharmaceutical (Katinko), is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in improving company image through HR.

If you’ve ever stepped into a drugstore before, it isn’t hard to sniff out Katinko’s (camphor scented) presence. The ointments the company manufactures cover everything from pain relievers, mosquito bites, simple itches, and even down to muscle pain. With how ubiquitous their products seem to be, one would be forgiven for assuming that Katinko was a huge multinational corporation with thousands of employees and an executive board based in another country. 


The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Katinko is actually manufactured by Greenstone Pharmaceutical, a family-run operation based right in the Philippines. Sitting as the current head of the company is Melissa Yeung Yap, the daughter of the two people who first started the company. With about 200 employees under her jurisdiction, Yap handles everything from overseeing the day-to-day operations to ensuring fair compensation for their employees. 


Yap describes Katinko’s operations as “lean”, a feature that she said has both its opportunities and challenges. 


“Because it’s a family operation, this is reflected in the way we run things,” Yap said, “A lot of our employees are actually husband and wife or siblings, which helps create a stable work environment. Many of our current employees have actually been with us for over 10 years already.”


Thus, if there’s any singular word that best describes Katinko’s HR policy, it would be “generous”. “Our company’s overall goal is to help increase the family income and get our employees out of poverty,” Yap said, in reference to their habit of hiring husband-and-wife teams. “By giving the parents stable jobs, we want their children to grow up and become professionals like doctors or engineers, or entrepreneurs.”


This goal is why Katinko tries its best to avoid hiring on a purely contractual basis. As much as possible, employees at Katinko are given regular positions with full benefits like health cards and bonuses on perfect attendance, good performance, and good character. This practice stands in stark contrast to the norm in the manufacturing industry, where companies will often hire on a per-project basis. 


“Other manufacturing company CEOs actually told me that it wasn’t practical to regularize everybody,” Yap admitted, “I’ve been called naive but that’s simply not the case for us. We found it much cheaper to give regular positions then have to hire and let go because our employees become super productive and efficient year after year.”

As per Yap’s calculations, to constantly hire new people on short-term contracts is impractical for a few reasons. First, Katinko employees all wear personal protective equipment. “If we’re constantly buying new sets of uniforms and whatnot for people, well that’s not exactly cheap,” Yap pointed out. 


Second, regularizing employees sends a message that Katinko really does care about them. Employees then display their gratitude by doing their best in every task, with Yap even sharing that she would sometimes get hugs from thankful employees when touring factories, sharing that their children have graduated from the university or that they’ve built a home for their family. This gratitude then also translates into a marked increase in productivity, with the employees having an emotional stake in the success of the company as well. 


Katinko’s generosity doesn’t just stop at regularizing their employees. Yap noted that the company regularly recognizes the most ideal employees by giving monthly bonuses to employees who go over their assigned quota, record perfect attendance, and show good character. They are rewarded with everything from certificates of recognition to gadgets and even money.

Additionally, Katinko employees have the option to buy into the company’s employee savings program. Here, employees are encouraged to put away a certain portion of their monthly salary and this contribution will be topped up by the company itself. According to Yap, the company also gives savings bonuses to encourage the culture of saving and give employees a better shot at a cushy retirement or finally being able to afford their dream home. They also have a “KATHANK-YOU” package to thank retiring employees who displayed good character and performance during their employment with the company. 


Still, Yap conceded that there are challenges that come with being so generous. For one, there’s always the danger that employees will become complacent and demand more than they should. It’s also a challenge to fire employees because they fight tooth and nail to stay in the company despite them having done some clear violations. 


But how does one deal with this?


“It didn’t take long before they realized they wouldn’t get the same treatment at other companies as they did with Katinko,” Yap said, “They actually tried to come back, but we got all the proof we needed that they definitely weren’t a fit for our company culture so we had to stand our ground to protect the values we hold dear.”


The incident showed that although Katinko may be extraordinarily generous to their employees, they will not hesitate to let go of people who run afoul of company policy. The point is that Katinko’s system works as long as respect is a two-way street. The company can give so much only because they get cooperation and appreciation in return. 


Another safeguard the company uses to ensure a good working environment is investing in managers who can accomplish a good working relationship with the rank and file, acting as the company’s ear to the ground. The company regularly encourages them to attend seminars, with the company even answering any related expenses. 


The aim of upskilling their managerial team is to increase their competence, and also for the rank and file employees to feel confident confiding any problems. Katinko’s managers must display not only the ability to empathize, but also that they’re capable of solving problems efficiently. 


To outsiders, Katinko may seem overly generous at times but it’s clear now that everything they do is for a reason. After all, when a company is able to gather recognition as one of the country’s top analgesic brands and easily meet international safety standards, they must be doing something right. Under Yap’s guidance, the close-knit and family-run company is a clear demonstration that it costs nothing to be kind―in fact, it may even benefit the company in the long run. 

To get more insights from other HR leaders like Melissa Yeung Yap, 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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