Imagine a workplace that actively resists ageism, offers flexi-work arrangements, promotes internal mobility, disregards your in- office hours in favour of output, gives you ample opportunity to upgrade your skills, and compensates and values older workers as fairly as their younger colleagues.
Policies aside, your office isn’t exactly an office. You arrive at work every morning to a breakfast spread at the in-house cafeteria, which rivals Starbucks. And when tea time rolls around, snacks served range from tacos to dim sum to samosas. There are sleep pods for a power nap, nursing rooms for mums and showers for those who need freshening up.
At 4.30pm, you join a free daily yoga, pilates or muay thai class with your squad. Come 5pm, you are welcome to help yourself to beer on tap or a choice of wines from a dispenser. You choose to sit where you’re most comfortable – from a variety of work spaces, lounges and meeting areas. You might even find yourself seated next to your CEO, since your company practises 100 percent hotdesking. And the best part – the incredible culture and welfare are exactly that; not an inducement for staff to stay late or forget about returning home.
If the above scenario sounds like a fantasy, it is because you don’t work at Prudential Singapore. The man who made it happen is its Chief Executive Officer Wilf Blackburn, who has been spearheading waves of dramatic, and positive, transformation in and outside his company since taking the helm in November 2016.
Champion of change
With all that hype on promoting a thriving work environment and a healthy work-life balance, few organisations truly put their money where their mouth is. One of Wilf’s first initiatives was a “culture transformation” that extended beyond company walls into the lives of their employees. Kicking it off in 2017 was a complete revamp of the office space.
He says: “Prudential Singapore used to be characterised by closed doors, corner office spaces and high cubicle walls. Today, we work in an open-space environment. The traditional symbols of hierarchy – offices and assigned seating – are gone. Everyone, including myself, does not have a desk and is given a locker. A key outcome of the change in our physical environment is accessibility and its effects on collaboration and innovation. The leadership team is no longer ‘hidden’ behind high castle walls, and is more accessible and accountable to our colleagues.”
Being a father of five children who live outside Singapore, the importance of family time cannot be over-emphasised – not just for himself, but his 1,200-strong staff. He says: “Work-life balance is achievable when you have an accountable team that is empowered to lead and to make decisions. I often tell my leadership team to lead more and do less. I spend time coaching and nurturing them so I can deliver more through them.
If they are doing work that could be delegated, they are actually stealing resources from the company because they are allocating the wrong level of resources to get the work done. By delegating, leaders create the capacity to drive focus in their teams.”
Empowerment, however, isn’t just a term reserved for his senior staff; proactive decision-making is encouraged through all staff levels. “It is also about pushing decisions down to ensure that the people closest to the customers make the decisions, because they have the most knowledge about what our customers want.”
Harbouring a deep passion for changing the narrative on ageing, Wilf is instrumental in championing the rights, aspirations and potential of older workers in and outside the company. Practising what its chief has become renowned for preaching, Prudential Singapore abolished the retirement age in October 2018, and in August 2019, became the first financial institution in the country to raise the CPF rate, on a voluntary basis, for its staff aged above 55 so that they reap the benefits of the total 37 percent CPF contribution rate enjoyed by their younger peers.
“My team’s commitment to build a more age-friendly workplace is something I am very proud of. We believe performance matters, not age. Our people shouldn’t have to retire at 62 if they are still delivering. In giving everyone equal opportunities and pegging remuneration to quality of work and not age, we want to help our people be more financially ready to enjoy their rising lifespans and live to age 100,” he adds.
Your life, his life
Indeed, a longer lifespan (and increased years of productivity) was a key factor that drove changes within Prudential Singapore’s HR policies. It is a reality that Wilf, an insurance veteran in his early 50s, is all too aware of. “I am passionate about healthy eating and living. I believe in investing in my health, so I can live well for longer, and be there for my family and loved ones. No matter how busy I am, I always make time to exercise for at least an hour a day. I also spend all of my leave days with my kids.”
He believes he also speaks for his customers when he says he’s most concerned about his holistic well-being. To that end, Prudential Singapore’s business approach has changed – moving beyond merely selling policies to protect people from risks and help them pay for medical bills, to innovating to help them live well. “Singaporeans now have the world’s longest life expectancy at 84.8 years. Our focus has thus turned to helping people take charge of their health by practising preventative care. We are doing this by investing in innovative tech solutions designed to provide timely health information, nudge healthy behaviours and help people better manage their chronic conditions.
“We have also introduced a novel pricing approach on our hospitalisation plans that reward people for staying healthy. With our claims-based pricing that was launched in 2017, our customers who stay healthy and therefore claim less, pay a lower premium.”
With later retirement ages, the insurer has also conceived new solutions for a greying workforce. “With our PRUactive Retirement plan, customers can determine how long they want to save, when they want to receive their first payout and for how long they want the monthly payout. To help our corporate customers meet the aspirations of their staff to work longer, we have extended coverage of our customised group insurance policies to age 100. These products shape new ways of thinking of a multi-stage life in which our 60s or even 70s could be the new mid-life.”
Ultimately, Wilf hopes for a new perception of ageing and retirement in Singapore, and encourages companies to play a part. “Discourse on ageing tends to be negative and fuels ageism, stereotypes and discrimination at the workplace. Organisations must tackle these issues to fully embrace an older workforce. We need to stop defining ourselves by age and start reimagining how we spend our time, now that we will have more of it. This means rethinking education, careers and finances. It also means investing more in our health – physical, mental and social.”