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Transforming Boys’ Town’s work culture by caring first for its staff
She brought her corporate sector experience to the Boys’ Town family in 2015, then spent three years building better ways to support the development of its staff
Photo by: Caroline Chia | Words by: Serene Goh
Ms June Eng, fresh from a human resources position at a multinational company, arrived at Boys’ Town in 2015 to a work culture that had placed such emphasis on its beneficiaries that it had neglected itself.
The 74-year-old home turned social service agency serves both boys and girls, from infants to young adults. It helps children and youths who come from families with complex needs, who may have faced hardship resulting from difficult home situations, financial struggles, abandonment, and abuse. Boys’ Town equips them with skills to become socially integrated, responsible and contributing members of society.
It has a staff strength of about 107 employees, children and young adults social sector to help them integrate into society despite their backgrounds. Because they frequently went the extra mile for clients, many would grow weary from the case loads, and suffer burn out.
There was a lack of structure and understanding of the role and function of human resources management, and how better processes could improve work. That shortcomings proved to be a hurdle for instance, during the process of recruitment and retaining talent.
Then a new human resource manager and pioneering member of the organisation’s Corporate Services department, her mission was clear: restructure raise the bar of its internal support system.
Yet shifting people’s mindsets proved to be a Herculean task.
Undaunted, she took the lead when Boys’ Town became part of a three-year People Practice Consultancy (PPC) programme by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS). The programme launched in 2016 to strengthen people practices at 100 social service agencies, enabling them to build sustainable human capital, while improving their service delivery to beneficiaries.
The process called for tenacity.
No quit: A journey with her people
Through two phases, Ms Eng, working with consultants, identified key gaps and priorities, then implemented solutions for training, recruitment, performance management, succession planning, among other things. It then began a practice of continual evaluation to calibrate and adapt to ensure that new practices were effective.
The process empowered her, as she was still new at the point, and was much needed as an assurance to the team, she recalls. “When PPC came in, it was really helpful because there were professional consultants who speak the same language as myself. It added strength to my voice, because I wasn’t alone.”
Working with consultants, Ms Eng got staff involved in building a shared vision for their workplace. Little by little, they went from having no clear understanding of objectives to finally being able to lay out different functions and articulate its organisation value proposition (OVP): “Passionate and dedicated people journeying with children, youth and families to transform lives.”
Boys’ Town set in place a focused, long-term strategy, which it then followed through with recalibration and adaptation where necessary. The organisation also braced itself for continuation, dedicating resources and effort to continuously sustain new organisational habits.
Ms Eng then garnered support from its senior management team to cultivate a better work culture, in order to continue success after the consultants left. While managing perennial issues such as a lack of manpower or having to train new staff, she also sought to motivate them with new projects utilising existing resources.
To motivate them without over-taxing their abilities, she developed a human-centric approach, making it a point to “measure the existing manpower capability and competencies first, and talk to the team, before embarking on projects”.
Most critically, staff and leadership began to communicate better. As an ongoing and an extremely important process, said Ms Eng they started planning and scheduling key messages to share.
“Communicating to the senior management and getting them involved is important to gain their support before rolling out [plans],” she said. “Communicating frequently is also important to the senior management team and the whole organisation as there will be attrition of staff, and continuation of communication keeps everyone on the same page.”
Change was slow, but steady, and took three years to root.
Since its PPC, Boys’ Town has been able to demonstrate its work culture to the public, and attract more people to its cause. Internally, rejuvenation came with a raft of campaigns, including learning journeys and a photo campaign, as well as the BT Ambassador programme, which celebrates staff stories.
Most importantly, Boys’ Town’s staff are heard.
After Ms Eng noticed the staff repeatedly saying, “‘Oh, I don't need a voucher, I don't need food, I just need time off’. I realised, they would really benefit from a break, without any people calling, or paperwork, or email”.
So Boys’ Town offered a 10-day sabbatical every five years for all full-time staff. Noting that most of its staff suffer burn out by their fourth year of work, the organisation sanctions their time away, during which they can choose to sign up for courses.
For practices such as these, among many others, Boys’ Town earned the silver award at The 15th Singapore HR Awards by the Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI) in the Talent Acquisition Category. She is rightly proud of the accolade: it not only shows that social service agencies can operate on par with commercial outfits, but that they can be exemplary.
Today, Ms Eng is Boys’ Town’s Assistant Director of Corporate Services, and credits the success of its people practices to plans that emerged through the PPC and the support of the management.
That, and having a spirit of not giving up.
“We have gone through a lot,” she said. But each time she grows weary, she thinks of the impact that Boys’ Town makes in the lives of its young charges.
“I wanted to serve and help,” she said, sharing her reason for joining the social service sector, and her personal commitment to make impactful change in young lives. In HR, where she cares for frontline social workers, she said: “I still can help children, by doing what I do best.”
“I do hope that the social service sector can be seen as a vibrant sector that is as recognised as finance or IT, and not perceived as a volunteer-only or retirement job.”
Ms June Eng's story is one of the many inspiring stories and individuals in NCSS initiative, Stories from the Heart series, in celebration of its 30th Anniversary. To view about others who have made an impact.
Boys' Town is amongst one of the agencies which have worked with NCSS on the PPC programme. If you would like to start on the journey of enhancing the capabilities and capacities of your agency, do find out more on the steps.
This article is brought to you in partnership with WhatAreYouDoing.sg (WAYD), a visual storytelling platform that celebrates Singapore's everyday heroes.