Showing the human side – Farrer Park Hospital
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Showing the human side
Tue, 6 June 2017
Article by HRM Asia
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Technology-dri​ven Farrer Park Hospital is determined to ensure its staff focus on its goal of being the best caregivers to patients.
 
The main lobby area of Singapore’s newest private hospital, Farrer Park Hospital, in operation since March last year, looks more like a glamourous spa than a busy medical facility. 
 
But that luxurious atmosphere is by design, and certainly no accident.  Indeed, the private hospital is the first in the world to incorporate a five-star hotel – the One Farrer Hotel and Spa, with 243 rooms, suites, and villas – into its complex.
Combined with its own medical centre of more than 189 clinics, the 20-storey building called Connexion is located in Singapore’s inner-north. Farrer Park Hospital aims to be a centre for comfort, service, and medical excellence.

Jeethu Syriac, Farrer Park Hospital’s Head of HR, says the hotel and hospital are linked in more ways than just sharing the same building.

Many patients will leverage on the hotel’s rooms and spa facilities in their recuperation efforts. And as the hospital’s kitchen is run by the hotel, patients are able to order the healthy meals they choose- all from a touch of the hospital’s in-house tablet application.

Syriac says this is just one way that patients benefit from Farrer Park Hospital’s technology-driven strategy. Employees also benefit, through the faster career development and the chance to use the most advanced equipment available for patient care. And the hospital itself is seeing cost savings with the more efficient work processes.

“Technology saves 2,100 hours of work at this hospital every week,” he says.

Technology with a human touch
Syriac shares that the use of technology in employees’ day-to-day work is especially attractive for new-generation recruits.

“Even when you tell them there is an internal staff app, it excites them,” he says.

“But it also offers challenges because when we hire people, they need to have some knowledge of technology.”

The staff app Syriac refers to is Farrer Park Hospital’s key communication tool for employees.

“Everyone has a smartphone now and the best way to communicate with them is through a means that is available to everyone,” he says.

The app comprises of a training calendar, a customised nutrition, stress-management, and diet plan for every employee, and a step-tracker to calculate how far they walk each day.

While technology is a key enabler for employees, Syriac says the human touch is also incredibly important, especially in a hospital setting.

“A hospital is a place where your customers are always unhappy,” he notes. Nobody comes to a hospital happy, unless it’s for the birth of a child.”

“If there are no human beings around, it’s going to be very depressing for them.”

Hence, Syriac says while every effort is undertaken to ensure employees can be more efficient and productive in their day-to-day tasks, some roles simply cannot be automated.

“This is why we have client service executives and patient service officers. We want to have a human touch and a face that people can interact with when they’re depressed, or need assistance,” he explains.

Service excellence is a key component of Farrer Park Hospital’s values, and there are annual training programmes in this area. In addition, the hospital also invests substantial resources in emotional intelligence (EQ) programmes for its staff.

“The duty of a clinical person is not just about doing clinical work; it’s about emotionally connecting with the patient,” says Syriac.

“We have a number of EQ programmes which run almost every month, and if we see a gap in clinical staff emotionally connecting with patients, we train them.”

A learning culture
Syriac is candid when it comes to the organisation’s difficulties in fostering a unified culture across the nearly 600-strong workforce. This is a big ask for any new hospital.

“We have been attracting people from other hospitals, so everybody comes with their own culture and way of thinking,” he says. “It’s tough to ensure they are all focusing in the same direction.”

Despite the difficulties, Farrer Park Hospital is striving to specifically foster a learning culture across the ranks, with training consistently at the forefront of its HR strategy.

The hospital has drawn up a training roadmap for its first three years of operation. This calls for an annual set of core training programmes that are compulsory for all employees.

“Apart from this, we also have our learning needs and analysis which is done for employees on a yearly basis. This is where the supervisor assesses each employee and identifies their learning gaps, before rolling out customised training programmes for them,” says Syriac.

Training is also geared towards enabling employees to cross into different roles, whether they are doctors, nurses, or support staff.

For example, under the Cross-Functional Training (CFT) programme trained nurses can be found working in the hospital’s business office.

“It’s a learning process for them and it also gives them the opportunity to switch between roles,” Syriac shares.

Cross-functional training is firmly aligned to a competency-based career structure. Staff can only progress through the career ladder if they have demonstrated that they possess the necessary competencies required for the new role.

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This includes clinical employees, especially doctors.

“If you’re not clinically proven, it could lead to death. Unless a person proves a particular competency, they do not climb up the ladder,” says Syriac.

“We don’t specify how many years this should take; we train them and if they are competent, they move up.”

There are three career tracks: with different paths for managers, individual contributors, and professional roles.

The managerial track is for employees in managerial and support functions, while the individual contributor track covers staff such as payroll workers who perform a particular task alone.

The professional track is reserved for employees requiring technical expertise or certifications, including nurses, doctors and pharmacists.

All employees at Farrer Park Hospital are afforded the flexibility to move “up” or “down” these three tracks.

For instance, the marketing head at the hospital’s Health Screening Centre is actually a trained nurse, while Dr Timothy Low, Farrer Park Hospital’s CEO, was a practising doctor before progressing on to the managerial track.

Anyone keen to move into another track are subjected to competency-based interviews, similar to when the hospital is looking to hire fresh blood.

Twice-yearly held appraisal sessions are also competency-based processes, with each employee also entitled to an individual development plan.

“That’s when the supervisor sits with the appraiser and finds out where the person needs to progress in the next three-to-five years, and comes up with a development plan,” says Syriac.

Family-based benefits
Due to Singapore’s rapidly-ageing population, the demand for quality healthcare in the city state has never been more pronounced.

Syriac stresses that there’s only one clear factor that attracts patients to any hospital – public or private: competent staff.

“The population of clinical staff in Singapore is not huge. There’s a limited population and we need to get the best ones,” he says. “This is where HR comes into play,” he shares.

With at least 50% of Farrer Park Hospital’s patients being Singapore-based locals, the hospital’s primary focus is to hire locally-trained nurses.

One key recruitment tool is a deliberately enticing compensation package. For Farrer Park Hospital, this includes its unique Family Care Leave initiative.

This is separate to an employee’s annual leave, with the hospital offering an additional three days of leave for all staff to ensure they can spend time with their families.

Employees are also entitled to a flexible spending allowance of between S$750 and S$1,750, which can be used for health screenings, family-related activities, or even recuperative vacations.

On top of these schemes, employees are also entitled to a medical spending allowance. This sets aside a small amount for each family to spend on medical expenses incurred through a general practitioner.

“One of our key mottos is ‘the power of one’; We aim to cultivate that one big family culture,” says Syriac.

Where to deploy?
Attracting talent to join Farrer Park Hospital has been the easier task for HR.

“It’s easy to attract people - when you pay them more, they will come,” shares Syriac.

“But we need to know where to position these staff as well.

“If you position them in a wrong place, it’s going to be more damaging than getting the wrong person initially.”

Hence, the hospital undertakes personality profiling for all new hires above the managerial level, as well as for front-office staff such who deal with clients and customers.

“We do this for all new employees to find out where they work best,” he says.

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Engagement on its own backyard
Working in a 24-hour-a-day environment means it is impossible to gather all employees together for a single function or company event.

However, this doesn’t mean Farrer Park Hospital shirks on engaging staff through events and activities. It organises several “reruns” of the same activity to ensure employees don’t miss out.

It also tries to plan its activities during shift changes which take place between 2:00pm and 5:00pm, so that more employees can join in the fun.

Farrer Park Hospital also offers parents its “Kids at Work” initiative, where employees are permitted to bring their children to work for a full day during the school holidays.

This allows children to see what exactly their parents do in a typical day “at the office”.

Participating children are even given some hands-on learning and development themselves.

“For example, kids have studied Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and have learned how to bandage a wound. They even wear medical gowns and headgear,” says Syriac.

At a glance: Farrer Park Hospital

Number of employees: 584 

Size of the HR Team: 8

Key HR Focus Areas:
To attract, retain and surround the organisation with the best talent from the industry
Grooming outstanding individuals through significant investment in training and development
To create a culture of caring and sharing; the “Power of One”

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