In the first #HRSpotlight interview of 2023, Business Review sat down with Iulia Sbiera, Chief Financial Officer at Pehart Grup, to talk about the #futureofwork, employee wellbeing, benefits, remote & hybrid work, and the future trends of the HR world in 2023 and beyond.
- Starting with a bit of background, how was 2022 from an HR perspective and what were the most important actions and programs you undertook for your employees?
2022 was in line with the normality of recent years in the sense that, having new production capacities, we continued recruitment. The large Pehart “family” now numbers 600 employees in the two factories we own, the one in Sebeș, in Alba district and Dej, Cluj district. But we also have colleagues working from Bucharest or in sales, who are all over the country.
In 2022 we focused on those measures meant to ensure a safe and healthy working environment for our team, while professionally we did what we have always done: we created the best conditions for development and growth. The paper industry has several peculiarities and one of them is that you have to continuously train your own professionals.
That’s why we strive to create a climate that stimulates our employees, to encourage them to continuously improve. When I referred to the Pehart “family” I was speaking only partly metaphorically, because in the oldest paper factory in Romania, which is also the largest tissue paper producer in south-eastern Europe, generations of employees come from the same family.
- Employee wellbeing is no longer seen as a benefit, so how can employers and HR leaders take this concept to new heights and get more involved in the personal wellness of their people?
Based on our experience and what we have observed over the years, I would say that employees need a combination of factors to feel good in a workplace. Obviously, the salary needs to be fair and, on top of that, some benefits that meet specific needs, sometimes particular to that ecosystem, are required.
Moreover, benefits must be easy to access, not requiring the employee significant effort to take advantage of them. But in addition to concrete, material benefits, people also need something else: room for development, advice and support, encouragement to take initiative, and, in general, to be heard when they have something to say (professionally speaking).
- We can’t talk about the #futureofwork without talking about the future workplace. Is it going to be back to office or WFH? How does WFH impact HR activities?
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have tried to create a schedule as flexible as possible for our employees in order to avoid overcrowding. However, the specific nature of the work in our field means that for those operating in the production lines working from home is not possible. At Pehart the workflow is continuous, and some production employees work in 4 shifts. But the production lines are fully automated, we have high-performance equipment that stands even among the best in Europe in our industry, therefore we don’t need a lot of staff to supervise them. We rely on home-based work where possible, and we can’t say that impact is a major one. I noticed that the yield remained high regardless of the form of work.
- Recent studies show that many employees expect their employer, and business in general, to be a force for good in society. How involved are your employees in your CSR and Sustainability programs and what are you doing to increase this involvement?
In its long history, which is soon approaching 200 years, Pehart – the Paper Factory – as it was called, has always been the heart of the community. There has always been a close connection between the company and the community in the midst of which it developed. As I mentioned earlier, three generations of the same family work at Pehart, so it is only natural that we contribute to the economic and social development of our communities.
We help whenever and wherever needed and involve employees in these actions. This was common during the pandemic when we distributed hygiene products in hospitals and schools. We reacted again with the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine when a wave of refugees arrived in Romania. And these are not exceptional situations. The communities in which we have grown are seen by our employees as a big family, so it is natural to support each other or help people in need. It’s a natural gesture of humanity. We are also involved in reforestation activities to help create a better environment.
- Summing up the previous questions and adding own insights which might not have been covered so far, what are the most important trend that HR leaders will focus on in 2023 (and beyond)?
Probably one of the trends that will continue in 2023 is the import of labour. This is a problem faced not only by Romania, but by the entire European space. We have also studied this trend, but before implementing this measure we resorted to staff relocation. More specifically, we have targeted people in the east of the country, where jobs are harder to find, and we have created all the conditions for them to integrate into the Pehart family.