Singapore Stories: Eileen Chua, SAP Singapore

Photo courtesy of SAP Singapore
08 Aug 2022

Singapore’s work culture and workforce has greatly evolved following the Covid-19 pandemic. Eileen Chua, Managing Director of SAP Singapore, provides insights on how to navigate this ever-changing landscape.

Following the events of Covid-19 in Singapore, which birthed new work trends, there still seems to be a lot of dissatisfaction among employees, which led to the recent ‘Great Resignation’. What is it that most employees are looking for these days?
While talent volatility has been a long-standing topic, the Great Resignation has only accelerated the push factors for employees in Singapore to rethink opportunities with a renewed vision and sense of purpose.

Interestingly, our recent study, titled ‘Transformational Talent: The impact of the Great Resignation on Digital Transformation in APJ’s SMEs’, found that 64% of Singapore SMEs say more staff are resigning now compared to 2021, and due largely to financial incentives (41%), to pursue more personally fulfilling work (38%), and to change careers or roles (33%).

This shows that more Singaporeans are looking at jobs that align with their personal values and can create meaningful impact both at work and society at large. The responsibility will fall onto the companies to start creating a transformed experience for the employees and re-anchoring the values for a purposeful future.

Are there myths to be debunked regarding this wave of resignations?
The Great Resignation is more than people quitting their jobs or retiring en masse. This is also an opportunity for organizations to contemplate and re-imagine culture and workspaces that align with individual and transitional needs.

This trend is likely to continue in 2022 and beyond. However, The Great Resignation is also a time where we’ll see the Great Hiring. The onus is on companies to relook how they are creating exceptional employee experiences, attractive places to work, and providing a competitive environment to upskill and retain talent. This becomes more apparent as local employees return to their offices with renewed expectations.

How do you think Singaporean companies/employers rethink the employee experience?
In particular, 2022 marks a pivotal moment where competition for skilled talent will intensify; where local SMEs will need to ramp up their attractiveness even as Singapore’s economy opens further; where global companies will look towards leveraging Singapore’s regional hub status and skilled workforce for future growth. Singapore has been long recognized for its highly skilled talent, with its mature, well-developed workforce as the country’s strongest asset.

Besides prioritizing their commitments to talent development, SMEs should also tap into the larger industry ecosystem and identify partners that can assist their transformation, such as human experience management solutions to make the employee lifecycle more transparent and easier to navigate and proactively seeking out and acting on employee needs, manage training and recruitment, and integrate intelligent technologies to automate repetitive tasks.

Employee experience in the new normal would be a blend of personalization, as well as managing scale. New, innovative, and purpose driven experiences will keep employees engaged and provide a sense of belonging to the organization.

What are some ways to create purposeful experiences for the future of work in Singapore? Underpinning Singapore’s future success is its people (within businesses and future workforces), and the need to ensure they have the environment that allows employees to perform their best, regardless of location and time.

At SAP, we have a few initiatives in place that are empowering our employees for the future of the workforce. Besides the Pledge2Flex initiative that I mentioned below, here are some examples of how we’re approaching the new norm: 

  • Family care leave that extends to taking care of parents, children, and even pets
  • Phased 4 weeks back to work for returning new mothers after their maternity leave
  • Flexiben program where employees are given flexipoints and have the flexibility to choose their level of medical and insurance benefits based on their personal and family needs. Any excess points, they can reimburse against more than 250 different items, which includes personal development and leisure activities like overseas travel
  • Fit at SAP: 8k daily steps on average help you earn more flexible spending account points
  • Mental health day off and mental health leave
  • Study sponsorship policy to support further education aligned to supporting long term success in the company, which I am personally using for my Directorship program

(Related: Women support women — a roundtable discussion)

Can you talk more about how companies should reinvent themselves to better attract strong, local talent?
Local companies need to see talent as an integral aspect of unlocking innovation, driving digital transformation, and ultimately meeting the evolving customer expectations. The opportunity for them is to invest to maintain and grow that talent. This means prioritizing commitments to training and upskilling as much as they would priorities their bottom line or sales revenues.

Future of work would need continuous focus on reskilling and upskilling of the Singapore workforce in the borderless digital world. By empowering people through education, training, and embracing a mindset of lifelong learning, the Singapore workforce will be able to lead, innovate, and succeed in the digital future.

As a female leader at SAP, can you comment on the state of women in the workforce in Singapore? What are your observations, particularly in male-dominated sectors like tech?
We are seeing women managing work life balance a lot better now compared to 20 years ago, when it was common for many to drop out of the workforce by choice and prioritize family commitments. Women are also more well represented in leadership positions now at MNCs, parliament, and company boards in Singapore. However, balancing work and family can still be a challenge, as well as societal pressure that limits women from seeking leadership roles, especially in today’s remote or hybrid workforce settings.

What’s more, the increased numbers of women in the workforce in Singapore don’t reflect the structural imbalance when it comes to key managerial roles and C-suites. While women are widely represented at the entry to mid-level, there are insufficient rungs on the ladder to help women climb into senior management positions. Fewer positions only mean more competition and unfortunately, there are companies that still hold onto old structures and notions about what traits or criteria can make a good leader.

The main issue women face in workplaces remains, especially prominent in the male-dominated tech sector – that women still lack sufficient progressive roadmaps to climb career ladder. Due to the long-standing culture and practices across organizations, men continue to surpass women in having the networks and connections to uncover new opportunities and seeking out mentors and sponsors to champion their career advancement.

At SAP, what is being done to ensure women employees are seen, heard, and empowered?
To advance gender equality, I believe that the Government should set the example by prioritizing an equitable workplace by widening recruitment networks and candidate pools, to ensure diversity of women across its statutory boards and leadership positions – especially in fields that still tend to be male-dominated like technology and engineering.

At SAP, we have taken an active role to support and empower women by ensuring sufficient internal growth opportunities, continued professional development and skills training, and equitable retention and promotion policies. Promoting flexible workplace policies, such as our Pledge2Flex initiative, has enabled all employees to find an appropriate work-life balance. We’re creating an inclusive environment where people can work from home, at the office, or remotely so everyone is empowered to run at their personal best.

This is especially crucial for primary caregivers who often take paid leave of absence to look after the immediate needs of their family. Policies and benchmarks that hold organizations accountable are essential to evaluating the progress made and help drive a collective advancement of gender equality on the national level. 

My hope for the next generation of women in the workplace is for them to take bolder steps in advancing their careers and driving business success, without hindrance of gender discrimination or bias. By providing fresh and greater diversity in perspectives, women can play a greater role in driving business creativity and growth.

Finally, can you talk about the Tripartite Alliance Award that SAP Singapore won in 2021? What led to this recognition and what does this mean to you?
SAP is in the people business and our employees are what differentiate us in the industry and define our customer success and experience. If we all take an open minded and holistic view of how talent shows up by embracing differences, we can tap into a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and experiences to help us approach problem solving with a more innovative approach. I am extremely proud of this recognition as it validates our highest commitment to our employees and the unique culture we have built over the years. This did not happen overnight and reflects the efforts of our leadership, HR teams, and employees in prioritizing our people strategy.