Elderly and disabled an integral part of Han's family

SINGAPORE - Dine at Han's and the staff bringing your meal or clearing your table could well be a disabled or an older person. The food and beverage company readily accepts senior workers - 40 per cent of its staff are over 40 years old, with 18 over 62 and two over 80.

The firm also employs people with disabilities - usually those with mild intellectual disabilities or autism - at each of its 24 outlets.

Han's has more than 40 staff with disabilities - or 10 to 15 per cent of its total workforce - either working full- or part-time or in training.

Incorporated in 1977, Han's has come a long way: From a family business with fewer than 30 workers, it now employs 460 staff across its 24 cafes and bakeries. And there are plans to open two new outlets this year.

Managing director Han Choon Fook attributes a large part of the chain's success to staff management: "I think we have handled our manpower challenges quite well. Productivity is continually increasing, even with the hiring of the elderly and disabled."

It started hiring people with disabilities in 2007, after it maxed out its Dependency Ratio Ceiling, which sets a cap on the number of foreign workers a business can hire. It has links with 10 special schools, including Metta School, to provide training and attachment.

While many businesses worry about the reduced productivity levels of non-conventional workers, Mr Han said people with disabilities and elderly folk form an integral source of labour in a tight market.

The firm's labour productivity, defined as value-added per worker, has improved by 40 per cent since 2006, he added. Back then the figure stood at $22,000 per employee but a series of measures to improve performance, such as investing in machinery and equipment, raised that to $32,000.

The company is keen to hire more people with disabilities, lifting their share of the workforce from 10 to 15 per cent now to about 20 per cent.

Mr Han is proud of the firm's inclusive culture, where the more able-bodied work alongside older and disabled workers. Such an environment, he believes, is key to attracting and retaining staff.

"Everyone is willing to help one another and do not look down on or discriminate against the less able," he said. "We show everyone our welcome when they join the company. We want to make new employees feel a part of the Han's family right from their first day at work."

This culture permeates the company. Mr Han makes a point of greeting a disabled worker first thing in the morning, or helping another to carry a plate or two to the kitchen.

"I want them to feel accepted at Han's. If they see that the big boss is also happy to help them, they'll feel happy working here too," he said.

"In such an inclusive working environment, employees will be willing to learn, grow together and work hard."

Han's subscribes to the motto that a company that learns together grows together.

Mr Han noted: "Training is part of our daily life. The aim is to build capable and multi-tasking workers who can handle the challenges of our F&B business."

Each outlet must send one employee for training a week. There are internal training sessions, and staff sent for external workshops will train colleagues on their return.

More care is given to training PWD and elderly workers.

Staff who train on their days off are paid $5.50 an hour.

"In December last year, Spring, as part of a productivity study, linked us with a Japanese productivity consultancy group which stepped in to assess our business," Mr Han said.

"The consultants reported that our company was doing well in terms of training, such as in the areas of customer service training and procedure training."

While its training costs shot up to $300,000 last year from about $150,000 in 2010, Mr Han said the payoffs make it worthwhile.

There are now fewer customer complaints than five years ago and sales are up by an average of 10 per cent for each outlet compared with a year ago.

"Han's believes that happy staff will bring in a crowd of happy customers," said Mr Han.

Keeping staff happy was behind moves to set up a profit-sharing scheme in 2008.

Now 15 per cent of group profits are distributed to staff as bonuses. Quarterly sales incentives were introduced last year to motivate good performing outlets.

If an outlet exceeds its sales quota, staff get an extra 2 per cent of their quarterly pay as bonus. This is on top of two pay increases across the board instigated in March last year.

Employees get a $10 voucher for each customer compliment they receive and an additional $50 to $300 for each month of full attendance with no medical leave. They also get $200 if they refer workers who stay on for at least three months.

Staff are provided with insurance coverage for hospitalisation, personal accident and term life.

These benefits are for full- and part-timers. They also apply to the 15 per cent who work flexible hours such as short weeks, night shifts or reduced day hours.

Mr Han said: "As Han's has a diverse workforce which includes a good proportion of part-timers and flexi-workers, it is timely that Spring introduced us to flexi- scheduling - a manpower planning system which helps us to better manage the challenges in manpower and resource optimisation."

He explained that the system lets Han's better forecast labour demand based on data extracted from point-of-sales systems.

It automatically generates employee schedules and deployment plans, while taking into account staff availability, competencies and shift preferences.

"The manpower scheduling tools are useful in managing our diverse workforce of full-timers, flex-workers and part-timers."

Implementing the system at a pilot outlet at Great Eastern Building resulted in cost savings of 2 to 3 per cent in manpower plus productivity improvements. Han's plans to roll out the system to the rest of its outlets this year.


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

SERVICES