The Japanese digital giant invites its home workers to take an hour a week for a non-work activity to support their safety, health and wellbeing. IOSH magazine spoke to Simon Head CFIOSH, head of international health and safety, about Fujitsu’s people-first approach.
Like all multinational corporations that support customers in a global market, the Covid-19 pandemic forced Fujitsu to adapt its operating model overnight.
Although some critical staff continued to work on-site and as mobile technicians, most of its more than 125,000 employees moved to home working.
Fujitsu prides itself on its ‘people first’ approach and the initial challenge was to make sure that all employees, regardless of where they worked, were kept safe and healthy while continuing to support its customers in more than 100 countries.
However, after the initial novelty of home working wore off, it became clear to strategic managers that the operating model presented a few issues for some employees who needed more support to manage competing demands.
‘What we found was that people’s working life extended around their home life,’ says Simon.
‘They had children who weren’t at school and caring responsibilities that had to take place during the day. At the same time people were still working.’
Putting people first
Before the pandemic, Fujitsu had offered employees flexible working options. However, the first lockdown and then subsequent restrictions necessitated a need for even greater flexibility.
‘We noted that there were some employees that were really struggling, certainly with home teaching at the same time as working,’ he says.
‘We’d see people online in the early hours before their children were getting up and they would still be there in the evening. We felt very quickly that we had to intervene and say, “You need to prioritise some time for yourselves”, do some self-care to make sure it’s sustainable for the future.’
The company had operated a policy for a number of years that enabled employees to take time out to participate in charitable events. The decision to invite workers to take an hour a week to pursue a non-work activity was viewed by strategic management as a logical extension of this policy.
Designed in part to reduce virtual meeting fatigue, Fujitsu also recognised the importance of giving employees a ‘stepping-off point’.
In practice, it means home workers now have the freedom to choose their own non-work activity, whether that is taking the dog out for a walk, spending time home tutoring the kids or switching off entirely.
Fujitsu has reduced screen time further by introducing a maximum 55-minute meeting function in Microsoft Teams that means employees can pause and take a short break from the screen when they have one meeting after another.
Trust reaps benefits
Head says that inviting employees to take an hour a week as their own time does require building trust to ensure that everyone reaps the benefits.
He acknowledges that sceptics may feel that staff aren’t adding value to the business if their screens aren’t turned on and they aren’t sitting at their desks but that isn’t reflected in their customer promoter scores, which is an important corporate benchmark.
‘Our customers have never seen anything but positives in how we have managed Covid and also the way in which our employees have engaged with them,’ he observers.
This is an important point because Fujitsu’s workforce has been instrumental in enabling governmental bodies worldwide and staff working for international infrastructure customers to maintain business continuity by delivering secure and reliable connections at a time of great disruption.
He also sees the positive scoring in employee engagement surveys as a testimony to how the Fujitsu way principles have been applied.
Early on in the pandemic, the Japanese digital giant assessed the Covid risk in all of its regions and rolled out a package of tailored measures to support employees in what were very challenging times.
For home workers, these included a selection of breakout sessions provided through its diversity and inclusion employee networks, which enabled staff to access virtual concerts and yoga classes, for example. They also actively encouraged participation in online conversations so that individuals felt more connected and less isolated.
‘One of the things we noticed early on was that employees missed their coffee machine chats,’ he says. ‘We try to encourage those kinds of scenarios with discussions between line managers and employees.’
With line managers assuming greater responsibilities, the business introduced a monthly briefing session to advise managers on how best they could support employees depending on their own individual circumstances.
Fujitsu also offered physical support for staff that required workplace adjustments, which included the provision of bursaries so that home workers could purchase ergonomic chairs and desks and workstation assessments.
At the height of the pandemic, the business also offered those employees with caring responsibilities an additional week off as paid leave to fulfil their personal commitments.
‘It was the right thing to do from an ethical perspective,’ he says. ‘It was based on our Fujitsu way principles and how our social development goals are built. It encompasses the whole culture of the business.’
Fujitsu was particularly proud of its support for the UK Home Office and its push on mobile apps to help domestic abuse charities respond effectively to the huge surge in demand for their services.
Although most staff moved to remote working, Fujitsu manages a variation of risk profiles to ensure that everyone is kept safe and healthy, including critical staff that need to be on-site and mobile technicians.
To reassure employees, and to act as a risk mitigation measure, the company implemented Covid testing for these operatives in a number of countries, including the UK, before national testing schemes were up and running. It also introduced a strict policy to safeguard the public, staff and their families. In some countries, once vaccinations were approved that enabled private companies to support national campaigns, employee vaccinations were also made available.
‘Irrespective of government restrictions on how infected people should stay at home, we said that our minimum standards would be to keep people isolated if they tested positive for coronavirus,’ says Simon.
He notes that although regional governments varied their requirements, the company standardised its location risk mitigations which remained at the highest levels across all of its regions. This ensured the business kept those required to be at a location safe.
‘Our hybrid working assessments were introduced very early into the initial lockdown periods in 2020 to ensure we could validate the safest possible working conditions,’ he continues.
‘It was clear from our assessments that some employees’ wellbeing was impacted due to being isolated or homeworking situations. This meant the safest place to be would be back at a location. Our OSH, HR and properties teams collectively introduced bespoke control measures and adjustments to return “at risk” employees back to a location – and this was a priority to support their needs.’
The business recognised early on that infection data was not always readily available in several countries so it created its own Bi Dashboard and made it publicly available to support its entire workforce globally.
Fujitsu also developed its own COVID-19 employee portal that enabled staff to access reliable and trusted sources of communications throughout the pandemic. The business went further to reassure staff.
‘Nobody in Fujitsu world-wide was put on furlough,’ notes Head. ‘That was an absolute from the top and that reassured employees as well as having a huge impact on motivation.’
Fujitsu’s head of international health and safety explains that this ‘people first’ approach is part of its commitment to fostering a sustainable workforce and demonstrates its support for the Vision Zero project.
‘We have to embrace not just safety and health, but also wellbeing, diversity and inclusion,’ he argues. ‘We have to consider all of these elements to really make this a holistic approach to supporting employees.’
Fujitsu has built its sustainable development strategy around IOSH’s Catch the Wave programme which emphasises the importance of human capital and how ‘setting high standards’ in a business ‘for the treatment of its workforce, communities and supply chains’ will reward it with ‘stronger performance and growth’.
This also applies to Fujitsu’s recruitment policy towards young talent globally. As Simon acknowledges, it is impossible in the modern world to separate recruitment, retention and new business from sustainable development.
‘Society has changed and employees now will only work for companies that have got a good background in supporting sustainable development, human rights, diversity and inclusion.’
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