Q&A: Joann Hizon – ‘Employees Now Look for Purpose, Meaning, and Value in Their Jobs’

“The pandemic has shown us that the more important word in our title as HR practitioners is the word “Human”.

To get more insights into the evolving HR field, we caught up with Joann Hizon, a long-time Human Resources expert who recently retired as Vice President for Human Resources from SM Investments Corp in The Philippines.

Over the course of our conversation, Joann, who is set to judge at the upcoming Asia-Pacific Stevie Awards, talks about some of the biggest changes she’s seen in the industry, lessons learned in HR management during the pandemic, the importance of a loving workplace, and more.


You have more than 20 years of leadership experience in Human Resources, Training, Operations, and Facilities. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen since you started in the industry?

I think the obvious change would be how technology has taken over the HR function, in fact, in almost all facets of business. It’s freed up HR of repetitive tasks, and helped accelerate our role from one that is administrative to one that is strategic.

 
 

Another would be how certain things we could do before would now be considered inappropriate. Before, it was acceptable to turn down job seekers who were pregnant, married, of a different sexual orientation, and so many more reasons. Now, that is not only unacceptable, but also illegal and discriminatory. We’ve now become more aware of workers’ rights.

Another big change is how employee engagement and having a positive culture has become a top priority, especially in light of the pandemic, and the current phenomenon “The Great Resignation”. Before, people were just happy to have a job and a salary. You would think twice about complaining for fear of losing your job, or even losing favor with the powers that be.

Now, the power rests with the workforce. People are quitting even without having another job waiting. Employees now look for purpose, meaning, and value in their jobs, and employers are hard-pressed to find ways to retain their people.

 
 

Lastly, it appears that remote work is here to stay, perhaps not 100% but in some form or other. Traditional and conservative companies need to adapt to this, instead of suspecting that an employee who can’t be seen or isn’t at the office must be goofing off. Many companies and countries are experimenting with hybrid arrangements, shortened workweeks, and other variations of remote work. Technology has allowed that to happen, and you can be sure that companies with a positive and engaging culture will be doing this.

What are some lessons learned during the pandemic that are being carried forth into the post-pandemic world in the human resources field?

Remarkably some of the most inhuman people I’ve met throughout my whole career, have been in Human Resources. The pandemic has shown us that the more important word in our title as HR practitioners is the word “Human”.

“Now, the power rests with the workforce. People are quitting even without having another job waiting. Employees now look for purpose, meaning, and value in their jobs, and employers are hard-pressed to find ways to retain their people.”

We – and when I say “we” I mean HR leadership and not myself specifically – learned to be more human. We had to learn to make sure our employees feel safe. This means that understanding that they can be as efficient working from home where they feel safe versus travelling to and working in an office exposed to different people. This was especially true before vaccines became available.

We had to learn to trust our employees that they could be equally productive out of sight.

The pandemic put HR front and center. How do we help keep the company running when employees can’t go to the office, do we keep paying them, what safety precautions should we put in? Add to all that was worrying about everyone’s mental health – another thing we didn’t have to worry about when I first started my HR career.

“Remote work is here to stay, perhaps not 100% but in some form or other. Traditional and conservative companies need to adapt to this, instead of suspecting that an employee who can’t be seen or isn’t at the office must be goofing off.”

HR leaders who excelled in managing change, and could do it quickly, were the ones who stood out – the ones who could effectively respond to changes at a moment’s notice (dealing with an infection at the workplace, an employee needing medical assistance when hospitals were full, what to do with someone who didn’t have a conducive WFH environment). The most important lesson for HR leaders was to lead effectively with speed, but more importantly, with compassion.

Previously you wrote, “The key to setting up this loving relationship is to set up a happy workplace, and eventually, a loving one.” Tell us more about that and how brands can create that kind of work environment.

One of Maya Angelou’s famous quotes is: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

Nothing can beat goodness and kindness. Better if you throw fun into that equation. Take it from someone who’s won Employer of the Year awards five times for different companies I’ve worked in.

It doesn’t matter if you work for any of the Top 100 Corporations if you don’t feel fulfilled; worse, if you feel undervalued or mistreated.

“HR leaders who excelled in managing change, and could do it quickly, were the ones who stood out – the ones who could effectively respond to changes at a moment’s notice”

It also doesn’t matter if you have a flashy website, you have a nice page on Facebook, or Instagram, or any other social media site. Job seekers can now check you out on Glassdoor or Indeed or check out comments on your Twitter company page. Go ahead and read a Glassdoor review. What do they talk about? How their company treated them, how they made them feel.

And this is where culture and values come in. Does your company closely guard its values? Does it make sure that everyone – top to bottom – exhibits those values consistently? And if they don’t, does your company call them out – whether clerk or Executive? Because no amount of whitewashing is going to attract job seekers or retain employees as long as they can air their sentiments on social media.

You’re on the Company/Organization & Achievement jury at the Asia-Pacific Stevie Awards this year. What are you looking for from entrants that will make them stand out from the rest?

Authenticity. Are you who you claim to be? That’s where employee reviews – even product reviews – come in handy.

Originality. Are you doing a copy-paste of benefits or HR programs that are popular, or are you customizing it to adjust to your employee demographics, your values, your vision? It doesn’t have to be things no one has done before, but it does have to be relevant.

Purpose. Did the company fill an unfulfilled current need? Or did it provide a service or product that’s useful now?

Why do you think awards like the Stevies are important?

The global recognition that the Stevie Awards brings provides other companies something to emulate. The winners are concrete examples of excellence whose journey to success is something we can all follow.

This is part of a series of interviews done in collaboration with the Asia-Pacific Stevie Awards. To enter go here. The final entry deadline is January 17, 2023.

The Staff

The Staff

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