Tan Tock Seng Hospital teammates

Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), the flagship hospital of the National Healthcare Group and part of Singapore’s public healthcare system, won the gold award for 'Best HR Communication Strategy' at the Employee Experience Awards 2022, Singapore.

On the achievement, we interview Serene Tan, Chief Human Resource Officer, Tan Tock Seng Hospital to find out more about this strong communications strategy that helped build trust and resilience among staff, to stay and strive through difficult times like COVID.

Q Congratulations on the achievement! Could you take us through the highs-and-lows of your winning strategy?

Staff communications and engagement is one of our key strategies in rallying a large workforce that works 24/7. It has been no easy feat communicating and engaging our large workforce, particularly during the challenging times that we faced over these two years.

With the need to respond nimbly and ramp up resources to support the recurring waves of COVID-19 infection in the community, it was understandable that staff would experience fatigue and morale would be affected. This provided a greater impetus to rally our staff to step up and stand together despite the prolonged situation. We needed to continuously refine our strategy, and be creative and flexible in our communication and response coordination, in keeping with national efforts.

Today, we have emerged stronger together. This is a testament to our strong TTSH 'kampung spirit'. Receiving the gold award for 'Best HR Communication Strategy' is a validation of the Hospital’s collective efforts in communication and engagement.

Understanding and meeting your employees’ needs and expectations is never an easy feat. How did TTSH identify the business & employee needs, and craft out the perfect solution?

We are a "big hospital, small kampung" at heart. While we have grown as a large hospital, our TTSH kampung spirit brings us together. This is central to our communications strategy, which is driven by collective leadership and characterised by authenticity.

Staff communication is a collective effort that goes beyond HR.

There is strong ownership and partnership with the Hospital leadership and all our divisions. Our leaders and managers are on the ground to check in with frontline and support staff.

Besides the plethora of channels, we also needed more targeted communications during pandemic. When the situation evolves rapidly, a huge amount of uncertainty exists, many decisions have to be made with limited information, and the consideration is always around achieving a balance to communicate sufficiently and timely, and to reach out to as many staff as possible. Before you know, things change, and we must hold steady and communicate clearly in time so as not to add confusion.

We also leveraged on technology, such as having a dedicated COVID-19 chatbot who not just provides updates but even reminds us to do our twice weekly routine ART testing!

How did the strategy add to the overall employee experience in your organisation?

A strong communications strategy has helped build trust and resilience among our staff, to stay and strive with us through difficult times like COVID. It is the key to our coordinated and agile COVID-19 response at the national level. Through this, we achieved a quick response and short lead time to ramp up manpower and facilities for COVID, such as adding beds to meet national needs, and converting general wards for isolation and ICU capacity.

Timely and clear communication to staff at all levels and functions across the hospital, supported by collective leadership, has made it possible for flexible staff redeployment to augment manpower in areas of need at NCID and TTSH COVID areas. In turn, we are able to deliver better care and patient experience, as validated by regular patient surveys.

Our last survey conducted in 2021 saw overall improvements in patient satisfaction levels, as compared with pre-COVID times. In particular, in-patient areas had significant improvement, which was commendable amidst the backdrop of tight bed situation and the “no visitor policy” to in-patient wards due to a COVID cluster and Phase 2 Heightened Alert in 2021.

Could you offer some recommendations to your peers across industries into implementing something similar for their own EX foundation?

Timely and open communication. Strike a balance between clarity and certainty with timeliness and transparency. Keep in mind that employees appreciate hearing from the organisation first, rather than from social media. We should communicate the facts, be transparent of what we do not know yet, and give assurance that "we’ve got this".

Communicate the same message in different ways. Maintain traditional modes (emails, physical noticeboards, and roll-call briefings), and complement with mobile apps and social media for information to be available anytime, anywhere.

Communicate in bite-size. Less is more. Use a series of bite-size posters shared over many platforms - from posters, emailers to live conversations or townhall sessions with leaders and subject experts.

Communication needs to be complemented by action! Communication is not just to inform but to engage. It must be two-ways, and when we get feedback from staff, it must be followed by action in order to build trust.  

If you were to reflect, what is one thing you’ll do differently in executing this strategy?

We had two key realisations:

  • Just because it was communicated, does not mean our staff know about it.
  • Even when they know about it, it does not necessarily mean that they know what to do.

With this, we learnt that we must communicate in different ways so as to reach as many staff as possible, taking into consideration that we have a multi-generational workforce. Other than communicating via different modes, we also leverage on different communication formats, such as using a chatbot that can respond to keyword queries, in addition to bite-sized infographics, simple step-by-step flowcharts, mobile-accessible knowledge library, and even cartoons and illustrations for better awareness and understanding.

Looking ahead, how is TTSH going to take this winning strategy higher and further in the coming years? 

To grow overall employee experience, we are working to transform the way we work and communicate by leveraging more on technology through “HR anytime, anywhere”, empowering managers and staff with access to HR information and data, and enabling 24/7 HR transactions.

It is not only about what we do for the staff, but what we do together with the staff. We aim to champion staff empowerment, shape shared accountability, and strengthen trust to enhance employee experience, through relationships enabled by technology.

Collective leadership will continue to remain as the cornerstone of our organisation health. Ultimately, it builds and sustain strong relationships that enable us to navigate unforeseen challenges and respond to a crisis, and it will be the foundation as we steer towards HR transformation and digitisation.

10 years down the line, where do you see the future of HR?

Over the past two years, COVID has once again fortified HR’s role in an organisation, heightening the importance of strategic HR partnership, where HR is an integral part of the boardroom discussion working closely with leaders to address both immediate needs and future-ready plans. At the same time, managers and employees turn to HR for guidance, and see HR is a co-driver for change.

Moving forward, HR will continue to be a key partner in strategic and senior leadership.

We will also continue adopt a consultative and partnership approach to align and synergise employees’ aspirations and needs with business goals, and provide people-centric solutions to business challenges (e.g. multi-generational workforce) and change management (e.g. digital transformation).

Being a key touchpoint between management and employees, HR will be a vital change leader to harness collective ownership and build resilience as we move towards data analytics and digitalisation. 

Photo / Provided (featuring the TTSH team)

Read more interviews on why organisations have won trophies for their HR practices - head over to our Winning Secrets section!  

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