Enabling five generations of employees

The Top Employers South Africa 2017 retail industry leader, the Clicks Group, encompasses retail brands Clicks, Musica, GNC, The Body Shop and Claire’s, and has a growing presence in the healthcare market through its pharmaceutical distributor UPD and through Clicks Direct Medicines. It has an 18.7% share of the retail pharmacy market with 401 Clicks pharmacies, and UPD holds a 25.2% share of the private pharmaceutical wholesale market.

The group has a varied employee base, with staff ranging from tellers through to pharmacists, from Generation Z to employees nearing retirement. Bertina Engelbrecht, director for group human resources at New Clicks Holdings Limited, concedes that with a varied skills base across five generations and staff distributed across southern Africa, maintaining the group’s reputation for exceptional employee conditions could prove challenging.

However, the group has achieved leadership status in the human resources (HR) environment, boasts a level 3 broad-based black economic empowerment rating, is among SA’s most gender empowered retail groups and is included in the JSE Socially Responsible Investment Index. Around 62% of all staff and 33% of the board are women and the group works to build a pipeline of women across occupational levels. This is considered particularly important because the majority of the group’s end customers are women. Staff benefit from group shareholding, unique wellness facilities, and a range of developmental programmes and incentives.

Strategic HR

The group’s successful strategy starts with aligning HR to deliver on the overall business strategy, Engelbrecht says. “Within the group, HR is regarded as a key enabler of business strategy, so weight and value is attached to HR operations. HR is represented on the Exco and boards to support and deliver on both short and long term strategic goals.”

“HR must remain relevant, and must be seen as valuable by the business. HR can only achieve this if it understands what the business wants to achieve today and five years down the line, so it can build the necessary capability within the organization,” says Engelbrecht.

The group’s HR management, practices, payroll and transformation are all managed and driven centrally for the group. While policies and procedures are benchmarked against international standards, the group allows for some flexibility within these policies and within its benefit structures.

“We maintain employee motivation through benefits and rewards. Everything we deliver, we do through people, so they must be engaged and productive,” she says. “We want a culture where the rules of the game are clear but within that, our people are able to apply their intellectual capital and ask ‘how can we do things better?’ Our performance indicators are broken down to store level, looking at factors such as sales, customer satisfaction and shrinkage.”

Recognising achievement

Financial incentives are always important, but employees also value recognition, career development opportunities and the opportunity to innovate, says Engelbrecht.

“The value of recognition and clearly defined incentives is illustrated in the approach we took to driving sales in our Musica stores, for example. We incentivised and motivated staff to assess sales on a quarterly basis, setting targets per quarter and rewarding staff for achieving those targets with certificates. At top performing stores, more training and development was put in place, and new graduates were placed in leading stores to pilot new trial projects. This approach drove market share, and beyond that, illustrated that people welcome an opportunity to innovate and contribute to the group’s performance.”

“In our pharmacy business, we stage an annual pharmacy conference recognising excellence among all levels of pharmacy staff. This peer recognition is an important motivator.”

Enabling learning

The group has solid learning and development programmes in place. These include study loans and time off for studying, an academic programme, internship programmes, graduate development programmes and mentorship programmes. The group has a target of at least 6% of all employees being on an accredited learning programme in any given year, and typically exceeds this target.

Clicks registered 332 learners on the South African Pharmacy Council pharmacist assistant learnership programmes, provided full bursaries to 82 pharmacy students nationally and 49 pharmacy internship opportunities in 2015, with plans to register 200 pharmacy assistants, 150 pharmacy bursary students and 100 pharmacy internships this year. The group supports continuing professional development for its pharmacists, nurses, chartered accountants, internal auditors, psychometrists and lawyers.

Enriching life

In the group’s employee engagement surveys, one of the group benefits rated most highly is the employee wellness programme, says Engelbrecht. “We have a phenomenal wellness programme with a high rate of utilisation. Among its benefits are free HIV medication in the event of accidental exposure, and a 24/7 counselling service for all staff, giving them access to professional services such as legal services, debt counselling, social workers and psychologists.”

The award-winning programme offers free counselling and advisory services to all permanent employees and their household dependants.

Managing five generations

“For the first time, we find ourselves managing five generations of staff — each one with a quite different approach to work and life,” says Engelbrecht.

“One generation, born during World War II, believes in lifelong work for a company and seeks security from their employer; the next generation lives to work but wants recognition for it; the next says ‘we work to live’ and wants work flexibility so they can be fully engaged in parenting.

The younger generations include the millennials, who seek flexible opportunities and want their work to have meaning; while the latest generation now emerging from school and university (also known as iGeneration or the Z Generation) want to work in organisations where knowledge is valued, are incredibly mobile and want clearly defined outputs, fairness and transparency.”

Aiming to accommodate the needs of these varied age groups, Clicks has stratified elements of its benefits, allowing some flexibility in areas such as contributions to life assurance and retirement policies, for example. “We try to provide some flexibility within a responsible approach,” says Engelbrecht.

Addressing the growing need among staff to feel a sense of pride in their employer and to contribute to society, the group supports a number of community development and CSI programmes, in which staff are actively involved.

The Clicks Group provides quality graduate development programmes and training through its accredited learning and development academies, in response to the skills challenges facing the country. Corporate social investment is primarily channelled via the Clicks Helping Hands Trust, which offers free health screening and primary health care services to mothers and their babies who do not have access to private healthcare, and through its new Girls on the Go initiative, which aims to equip 10 000 girls with unique, washable sanitary pads.

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