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Aon Best Employers Hong Kong 2016: American Express is engaging and energising its people

Published on Friday, 15 Jul 2016
Susanna Lee says the awards are extra meaningful as American Express celebrates 100 years in Hong Kong. (Photo: Gary Mak)

By engaging, inspiring and motivating its employees to contribute to organisational success while supporting their efforts to achieve personal and professional goals, American Express has secured a Best Employer – Hong Kong honour for the sixth consecutive awards – as well as picked up the award for Best Employer for Commitment to Engagement.

YC Koh, president of American Express in Asia, stresses that the company is a people organisation which focuses on driving employee engagement and professional development. “We strongly believe that highly motivated and engaged employees are more committed to the company, the brand and our customers,” he says. “This creates a win-win relationship.”

While companies frequently use the phrase “employees are our greatest asset”, American Express has fully embraced the concept of putting employees at the heart of its operations by establishing multiple engagement platforms, says Susanna Lee, vice-president and general manager of card services for Hong Kong and Taiwan.

“Comprehensive strategies help to maintain an engaged and energised work environment, in which employees’ sense of well-being is a primary concern and the lines of communication between employees and employer are always open,” Lee says. For instance, the company’s annual employee survey welcomes feedback and comments, which are reviewed and acted upon. Meanwhile, employee meetings and town hall events are organised to keep staff informed of recent developments and to facilitate the exchange of ideas.

Lee says that recognition for being a Best Employer overall and a Best Employer for Commitment to Engagement reaffirms the organisation’s ongoing efforts to engage and support employees. “It is especially meaningful this year as we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of American Express in Hong Kong.”

American Express defines the characteristics of an engaged employee as someone who has a positive attitude, is customer focused and is a caring team worker who is committed to achieving the company’s goals. Engaged employees also act as brand ambassadors; contribute to the success of the company through personal accountability; contribute creatively with new ideas for products and services; and strive to be innovative about the way people work together.

The company also believes engaged staff are more likely to stay with the organisation over the longer term. This creates opportunities for them to grow and develop their careers, which ultimately helps American Express build a stronger brand image.

Lee says that as a world-recognised service brand with 166 years of customer service experience, American Express recognises that quality customer service is one of the key factors to remain competitive. Every employee is involved in engaging and servicing customers, either via direct contact or indirectly by supporting a colleague. It is therefore critical that employees feel they are able to contribute to the company’s – and their own – success.

A commitment to talent development continues to be a key priority for the company, both to drive business growth and build a pipeline for the future. Lee explains that from on-boarding programmes for new recruits to coaching and mentoring for high-potential individuals, employees are supported at each stage of their career. Career planning and discussions take place on a regular basis to ensure employees are able to achieve their aspirations. Online learning tools are available to boost self-empowerment and develop skills in areas such as business and IT.

“We’re also making a concerted effort to recruit millennials and include them in critical decision-making processes,” Lee says. “The company has established an internship programme with a local university which will launch this summer with an aim to boost the leadership pipeline.”

She adds that work-life balance plays a key part in the company’s long-term business success. By providing easy access to resources, employees are encouraged to develop a proactive, rather than a reactive, approach to their health. A recently established Healthy Living Centre focuses on ways to avoid various common illnesses while also giving employees access to doctors and experts in the areas of Western medicine, traditional Chinese medicine and nutrition.

Hong Kong was the first Asian location in which American Express started to promote work-life balance for working women and mothers, back in 2006. Flexible work is a core component, with arrangements covering children’s exam time, school summer holidays and post-maternity care.

“With flexible work arrangements in place that meet the needs of employees without having an impact on business operations, we are able to retain employees who would otherwise be unable to work,” Lee says.

Staying with the idea of flexibility, the company acknowledges that employees have different benefits and personal needs at different stages of their careers and life. To accommodate this, it has customised its career progression and benefits programmes. For example, fast-track career progression programmes exist for millennials who look for fast-paced career growth. For more senior employees, enhanced medical benefits and retirement plans are offered along with on-site health screening programmes.

Consistent with the organisation’s values of “respect for people” and “teamwork”, gender equality is another area in which American Express believes equality creates a more holistic working environment. In Hong Kong, 66 per cent of American Express employees are female, as well as about 60 per cent of managers. Of all promotions made in the last 12 months, 69 per cent were for women.

Lee explains diversity and inclusion is fundamental to business success. “We are committed to creating an inclusive culture so people are treated with respect and equality,” Lee says. “We are also committed to a work environment that encourages and supports each individual in our diverse workforce to reach his or her full potential.”

 

SUCCESS SECRETS

Open communication  Multiple engagement platforms help embrace the concept of putting employees at the heart of operations.

Brain building  Online learning tools help staff boost self-empowerment and develop new skills in areas such as business and IT. 

Wise well-being  Employees are encouraged to develop a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to their health, with initiatives including a Healthy Living Centre.

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