Listening, caring & taking action helped Circles.Life reduce attrition rates, triple hires per month

At the Employee Experience Awards 2022, Singapore, digital services company Circles.Life took home the gold award for Best Rewards and Recognition Programme.

Following the win, in this interview, we speak to Circles.Life's Tan Ai Sim, Head of People and Culture and Tan Yee Yon, Head of Total Rewards and Wellbeing, who share how the team's philosophy of "we listen, we care and we take action" in decision-making has, through many instances, elevated the company's employee experience. 

Q Congratulations on the achievement! Walk us through the highs and lows of your winning strategy – and how important is it for the organisation to have these efforts recognised this year?

Circles.Life has been on an ambitious growth trajectory and made several key investments in people and leadership over the past year, which paved the way forward for us to rethink our approach to rewards and recognition. We realised we needed to do much more to be competitive for top tech talent in a tight labour market.

We dialled up on celebrating and communicating more fully on two key elements of the employee value proposition - growth and ownership in the form of employee stock options or what we call: “Circles.LifeShare Ownership Programme (CSOPs). While companies see this as a way to attract talent, a challenge we face is the unpopularity and skepticism that revolves around stock options as a wealth-building tool due to a limited number of companies going IPO.

To address this, one of the headline successes for the year was offering employees the opportunity to cash in on S$5mn worth of employee shares under the CSOPs.

This gave more clarity to what CSOPs are and showed employees its wealth-building potential, even before an IPO happens. Moreover, it also celebrates employees’ years of hard work and dedication.

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

There is no perfect solution, but we adopted a simple philosophy of "we listen, we care and we take action" to guide decision-making. This was reflected in the communications about the CSOPs – employees expressed confusion at the complexity of the employee share ownership programme. Recruiters particularly flagged that they found it challenging to engage candidates. To address this, we now run monthly sessions to educate and refresh employees on the benefits of stock options in wealth building and creating a sense of ownership. Additionally, this philosophy is vital in a world that is going through so much flux and employee needs shifting along with it.

It does not only guide us in designing rewards and recognition initiatives, but it also helps us in planning our wellbeing perks to enhance our employee experience. For example, to facilitate return-to-office, we surveyed our employees on what would draw them back to work and one of the suggestions was to restart shuttle bus services. Shuttle bus services were a feature of our employee benefits during pre-covid days.

However, we halted this in the last 24 months due to COVID, when most of us were working from home. Despite the higher cost, we decided to provide the services to encourage employees to return to the office. We also have resumed running weekly employee events and revamped our usual Wednesday lunches to provide meals on random days considering that employees from different departments come in on different days of the week.

Through constant listening to our employees, we continually develop and/or redesign a broad range of initiatives supported by internal and external communications to demonstrate progress on promise.

Q How did the strategy add to the overall employee experience, in terms of ROI, when it came to fruition? Share with us the benefits of having such a strategy in place.

By reinvigorating and simplifying CSOPs, along with the liquidity event and more regular updates about rewards and recognition, a more compelling packaging and philosophy, the People and Culture team made progress in 1) stabilising attrition rates with a 3-5% decline overall and 2) increasing the number of hires from 15 to 45 hires per month.

In four short months, the programme achieved buy-in from all levels of the organisation and feedback from employees that the revised rewards and recognition plan was robust, authentic and delivering on what we say it does.

Q Could you offer some recommendations to your peers across industries – what advice or lessons would you have to guide them into implementing something similar for their own EX foundation? 

Employee feedback should be at the heart of the strategy. Taking an insight versus intuitive-led approach to listen and tune into what matters most to employees sets a good foundation for what to do next, what should be prioritised and where time and money should be invested. This is why we regularly survey employees, and most recently redesigned the surveys to ensure we’re gathering meaningful insights that we can assess and potentially act upon to ensure that programmes are fit for purpose.

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

I wouldn’t have changed anything given where we are now. However, if there is a learning point we have gained, it would be that we could have acted on executing this strategy sooner rather than later.

Q Looking ahead, how is Circles.Life going to take this winning strategy higher and further in the coming years? Give us a sneak peek into your upcoming plans to grow the overall employee experience. 

This year is about laying the foundation to roll our initiatives to consistently re-energise and reinvigorate the employee experience, especially with the exponential growth that we are going through as a business. For the years to come, the focus will be on real recognition and investment in bolstering employee experience, rewards, and wellbeing resources to get to the heart of employee satisfaction as key retention strategies, and placing much greater emphasis on the importance of employee brand critical for attracting top talent.

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

HR will not be spared from rapid technological transformations, or what we also coin as “disruption”. While this is perceived to replace certain skill sets, disruption should be viewed as a value-add to the role of HR as it streamlines administrative work and allows us to derive better insights from innovative people analytics. This makes room for what I believe that HR will perpetually require – the human touch.

The pandemic has shown us the demoralising and debilitating effects of social isolation but technology served as a tool to connect people across time and space to create positive social experiences that we were unable to do in person. This should spur HR practitioners to challenge the status quo – marrying a humanistic approach together with technological functions to preserve or improve ways to solve problems, engage stakeholders, build social connections, and support the mental wellbeing of employees.


Image / Provided (Pictured: Circles.Life team at the Employee Experience Awards 2022, Singapore)

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