Building A Global Working Culture, Locally

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BEFORE BECOMING A freelance writer, I worked in various MNCs as a technical writer for nine years. The perks were great – free coffee and soft drinks, a foosball table in the game room, and great medical benefits. I was part of a global workforce with a clear organisational structure in a conducive work environment. What I do not miss though are the endless corporate policies training, town hall meetings and employee engagement programmes.

Be that as it may, I do understand though, that with offices in various regions, countries and across different cultures – which also means contrasting work cultures and ethics – MNCs wanted these activities in order to better communicate their values and codes of conduct to reach their business goals.

Hasifah Wati Harun.

Flex, a leading Sketch-to-Scale® solutions company, is no exception. Since establishing its presence in Bayan Lepas in 1988, the US company has built a globally recognised and consistent corporate culture with a bit of local flavour. The core culture of the corporation – cultural framework, key values, leadership traits and employee value proposition – translates well everywhere in the world where the company sets up business in. No doubt, certain policies are localised to respect local customs and traditions, and to improve the quality of life of its employees.

In Malaysia, for instance, during the fasting month of Ramadan, Muslim employees have the option of going home earlier. In the spirit of celebration, during festive occasions like Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Deepavali and Christmas, employees are also given mid-month advancements, treated to scrumptious catered lunches at the workplace and spoiled with festive goodies.

According to Hasifah Wati Harun, the director of Regional HR Business Partner at Flex Penang, the company believes in creating a “Flex Family” that provides humanised management style, good working environment and career development opportunities, and promotes diversity and inclusion. “Just like a real family, we want to meet our people's social, emotional and developmental needs,” she says.

Challenges

For an MNC that boasts a multilingual workforce, coherent communication and understanding are the biggest obstacles to overcome; for this same reason, Flex ensures its policies, philosophy and strategies are communicated in a clear and precise manner. According to David Johnson, the vice president (Product Industrialisation & NPI) of Flex, the publications and messaging in the factory's common areas, and even the food allowed in the facility are respectful to all religions. “None of this is hidden from view or spoken about in secret. It is open for all to see and communicated by senior management down to the floor-level employee. It has set a new standard of tolerance and acceptance for everyone,” he says.

David Johnson, the vice president (Product Industrialisation & NPI) of Flex.

Nevertheless, the country’s culture is often reflected in the workspaces as well. “In Malaysia I notice that employees like to share their expertise with others and are more community-centred. This has to do with the strong influence of the local culture of humility and modesty where greater importance is placed on group and collective values, as opposed to drawing attention to oneself,” observes Johnson. In MNCs like Flex, shared expertise and skills remain pertinent for the employee to advance within the company.

There is also a sizeable number of expatriate employees, like Johnson, at Flex Penang. Many of them are transplanted here from the US and India; and although there is no formal cultural awareness training in place, the company’s naturally diverse work culture works well in mitigating culture shocks and language barriers which are part and parcel of such moves. “We also have strong employee engagement programmes which benefit both the local and expatriate employees. In Penang our site HR and employee engagement teams work closely to help boost employee experience through local cultural or festive celebrations at the workplace; sports tournaments; talent competitions; birthday parties; Women's Day activities like healthcare and fitness programmes; sustainability-related programmes, e.g. People with Disabilities (PwD) initiatives, Earth Day activities, tree-planting, donation drives, school and community outreach; and further education programmes, including certificates, diplomas and master's degrees.”

Talent Investment

Flex also fosters personal and professional growth of its employees; this encompasses life-long learning and dynamic work assignments to aid individual advancement. Employees have access to online and classroombased training, which enables them to further scale up the career ladder. Feedback from such initiatives reveals that employees begin to embrace a more positive approach to work and are motivated to not only see their goals through, but to exceed them as well. They also become more proactive in learning new skills and developing their careers. “At Flex, we believe the stronger a company’s culture is, the better employees understand what is expected of them and what their goals are. After all, it has been proven that engaged employees are more likely to stay happy, motivated and committed to the company," says Hasifah.

Through Flex's further education programmes, more than 400 employees have completed their master’s degrees, as well as certificate programmes from local universities and colleges.

Today, Flex is embracing global work culture trends such as diversity and inclusion, equal career opportunities and continuous education. Flex Malaysia is currently one of the largest employers of PwDs in the country, having hired over 150 hearing-impaired employees across Penang and Johor. Through the company's further education programmes, more than 400 employees have completed their master’s degrees, as well as certificate programmes from local universities and colleges – all fully sponsored by Flex. Moving forward, Flex is keen to develop more of such initiatives to cement itself as a global organisation with its most prized asset – its employees – at the heart of its operations.

Emilia Ismail is a freelance writer who has a love-hate relationship with the weighing scale.



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