Words by Kieran Howells
Organisations who believe that they can make demands of their talent, whilst offering little in the way of an employee value proposition, will find themselves at the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.
The current challenging climate isn’t simply a blip in an otherwise employer-led talent market; data from organisational consulting firm Korn Ferry state that by 2030, there will be a shortage of human talent, globally amounting to more than 85 million people. If this shortage is left unchecked, then it could result in a loss of £8.5 trillion in unrealised annual revenues. This is a very real threat to the trading capabilities of innumerable businesses.
It's one thing to understand that a robust EVP could turn the tide on talent woes, but it’s another to actually do something about it. This begs the question: what does a good EVP look like? And, what are the signs that you’re getting it right? To answer these questions, we’re exploring one organisation that is leading the charge – Japan Tobacco International (or JTI).
As a people-centric business, I can say that whatever we’ve done, we’ve taken the interest of the employee as an equal factor to the interest of our customer, or society as a whole
Founded in 1999, JTI is the international arm of the larger Japan Tobacco Group of Companies. The company maintains a head office in Geneva, Switzerland, but also has UK headquarters in Putney London, along with a national distribution centre in Crewe and a nationwide field-based salesforce.
Whilst the company name may not be familiar to you, most will know its brands, which include Benson & Hedges, Camel, Amber Leaf and Hamlet among many, many others.
However, it’s not the external perception of the brand that makes it a great place to work. Just as JTI maintains a curated range of brands in its portfolio, so does it carefully curate an internal culture built on wellbeing, benefits and employee value.
JTI also has hard evidence that it’s getting it right. The company has gained numerous accolades, including being featured in the Top Employer list for the 9th year in a row, receiving an EY Equal Opportunity Certificate (one of the first companies in the world to receive it), and gaining a Swiss LGBTI Label, which is exclusively given to companies that have an ‘open and inclusive structure’.
Senior Vice President, People & Culture and Corporate Security
According to Guergana Andreeva, Senior Vice President, People & Culture and Corporate Security at JTI, these accolades are a direct consequence of the company’s dedication to offering a constantly-iterating EVP that truly caters to the priorities of its staff.
Yet rather than relying on structured reviews of its EVP, the company instead chooses to take a continuous progression approach, which is inspired by the Japanese word ‘kaizen’, meaning ‘continuous change for the better’.
“We have a Japanese parent company, and what we gained from it was a focus on the long-term impact of our decisions. This word, ‘kaizen’, it means really considering the consequences of our actions every day, in everything that we do," explains Andreeva.
“Not just tomorrow, but for decades ahead. We’re not just thinking about revenue, but the impact on the employee, the impact on society and our consumers. We believe that through constant incremental improvements, you get significant overall impacts,” she says.
When honing in on HR’s approach, this kaizen-led philosophy to developing internal culture means that literally every aspect of JTI’s EVP is honed, considered, and built not just for tomorrow, but for the tests of time.
“As a people-centric business, I can say that whatever we’ve done, we’ve taken the interest of the employee as an equal factor to the interest of our customer, or society as a whole. In a culture where you’re constantly asked what the impact of your decision is on the employee, obviously the culture has been hugely positively affected as a result. It gives us a mandate to really take care of our people.”
In terms of material change at the hands of this meticulously considered approach, JTI has rolled out some impressive initiatives.
For example, in 2021 the company considered the effect that familial responsibilities had on its staff, and revamped its parental leave policy, giving all staff 20 weeks of fully paid time away from work, including for adoption or surrogacy. This formed part of a greater piece around diversity, equity and inclusion, which garnered some impressive results.
“It’s perfect example of how, when you unequivocally set a whole-company expectation for it to be top-line important, you can really build some amazing policies,” notes Andreeva.
The most important thing for us is that employees still feel a strong sense of culture, engagement and belonging in their working lives
“When we gave people equal rights to parenting leave, we gained a 60% uptake among men within the company sharing these critical responsibilities with their partners. And this was across the board; we saw managers and leaders take this opportunity up.”
Another example of a key change is the introduction of employee resource groups (ERGs), in which advocacy is regularly discussed, and employees are given the opportunity to present on a range of perspectives.
The aim of these groups, Andreeva notes, is to ‘contribute to creating understanding, engagement and to help educate others’.
“These are essential spaces where typically underrepresented demographics have a real say in the future of the company. They help create a culture where everyone feels included and engaged, and we enlighten each other on what makes us special.”
Whilst few could argue with the benefits of increased equality in parental policies or the introduction of advocacy groups, it’s perhaps the impact of the shift to hybrid working that shows the outcome of the kaizen mindset.
When exploring JTI’s flexible working policy, you may anticipate that employees have a few boundaries for where and when work happens. However, this isn’t the approach that JTI ended up taking.
“The most important thing for us is that employees still feel a strong sense of culture, engagement and belonging in their working lives. So, simply being away from each other at all times wasn’t an option,” says Andreeva.
Instead, the company settled on a 50% office-based and 50% work-from-anywhere approach, designed to increase collaboration and engagement, whilst also inbuilding the ability to define where the best location for different types of work can be. “I strongly feel that by still having set time together, we decrease the likelihood that staff will feel cut off from the culture and values that we hold dear. We’re giving them choice, but also the structure they need to thrive,” she adds.
We’re not just thinking about revenue, but the impact on the employee, the impact on society and our consumers
And therein lies the key to the ethos that defines how JTI sees its policy management. Whilst employees may well opt for remote working today, the company isn’t simply considering today in its approach. Instead, its crafting an EVP that it believes will stand the test of time, and the shifting nature of the working world.
From its focus on equality, through to its stance on the value of culture and engagement, JTI is proving that a considered, yet agile approach is what’s best for its people. And, Andreeva herself is perhaps a good example of the success of this approach incarnate.
“I’ve been with the company for over 30 years. I’ve stayed because every day is an exciting new challenge, and because it’s allowed me to develop and thrive here,” she concludes.