#HRSpotlight2021 | Sorin Bănulescu, People Director, HEINEKEN Romania: Wellbeing, people connection, continuous adaptation and agility, defining the ‘new normal’

Mihai-Alexandru Cristea 04/03/2021 | 13:35

Spring is here and the Working Romania HR Conference is drawing closer as we speak! With that in mind, #HRSpotlight, BR’s interview series dedicated to the Romanian Human Resources sector, pushes on for the #FutureOfWork. In this episode we sat down with Sorin Bănulescu, People Director at HEINEKEN Romania.


  1. 2020 Overview: the most important actions and programs in your organization?

In times of uncertainty and unprecedented context generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, we, HEINEKEN Romania, put at the heart of our actions the care for our more than 1.100 employees. First and foremost, our no.1 priority was the health & safety of our colleagues, while ensuring our business continuity. In Romania, we have 4 breweries and a large sales team (our front line), thus keeping the business operational, while protecting the health and safety of our colleagues was more important than ever. Not only we invested significant budgets, making sure that every colleague is safe, but we aimed to have a team that stays united and motivated, to overcome any challenges brought by this new situation. To add to this complexity, about 200 of our colleagues in Bucharest office started to work from home. The positive news is that we have done it without disruptions, being very well prepared and greatly supported by the IT team.

Since uncertainty, restrictions and social distance can have an impact on each of us, mental health, wellbeing and connecting with colleagues became priorities on our internal agenda, as we have realized that this is a marathon rather than a sprint, so we need to adapt accordingly. Under the concept of #WeAreHEINEKEN #StrongerTogether #ÎmpreunăMaiPuternici, we developed a 360° internal engagement plan, aimed to support employees. We initiated multiple initiatives, starting with transparent and on-time information, internal communication campaigns, different challenges that would create the feeling of togetherness, and promoting emotional, physical, and mental support through our wellbeing program.

All this reflects our commitment of engaging and developing our people, through the dedicated people pillar within our business strategy, as well as our 2021 focus on collaboration and care.


  1. Keeping an eye on the future, with so much change and uncertainty on the horizon, how is your organization now to accelerate the 2021 changes?

As I mentioned, by the time we’ll cross the finish line of this situation, we’ll all realize it was a marathon. With this in mind, and using our guiding principles of Transparency, Speed, Respect and Support, we have accelerated the implementation of the relevant organizational changes, that will support us primarily in winning in the market, while remaining competitive from cost perspective.

A big focus in 2021 will continue to be creating the proper context for our people to feel safe and healthy, through initiatives like flexible working hours, encouraging time off, offering tips & tricks on being efficient at work and balancing personal time. Our engagement initiatives continue and will accelerate further, given the strong results we had in 2020. We know that this is something that becomes ‘common language’, that employees need, want and appreciate. The wellbeing program goes further, with its holistic approach: physical (online sport, medical checks & webinars, internal activities challenges), emotional (ongoing helpline support, appreciation days) and mental (work-life balance interventions).

Also, very important in these times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity is to make sure this support comes from across the organization. And this is where people leaders play a huge role, thus a specific program on developing the leadership skills in these difficult times will be at the core of our activities.


  1. Which will be from your perspective, the 2021 top 3 most important trends that HR leaders will focus?

Getting digital, however stay socially close. It is clear that last year has enhanced our journey to becoming more digital and online connected. In a way, the pandemic context forced us to accept a different way of working and proved that old beliefs are not always the right ones. However, in order to be able to make a step change, we will need to further improve our systems and processes in the people area to enhance positive employee (including self-service) experiences. At the same time, we shouldn’t lose sight that digital needs to be balanced by creating enough opportunities and context for people to socialize as we are deeply rooted social beings. This is also embedded in our culture through one of the values that we share within HEINEKEN: enjoyment of life. Therefore, creating socializing and physical interaction opportunities (keeping the right measures in the actual context) is essential to stay mentally fit.

Flexible ways of working. If a while ago, for many companies, topics such as working from home and flexible schedule raised questions, now, with the pandemic, they are no longer debatable, they are proven. We saw that with proper set-up you can have the same or sometimes even improved levels of efficiency and productivity, as in the past with working from office. That will definitely become what the majority call “new normal”.

Continuous adaptation and acting with agility. If there’s one lesson that the pandemic revealed to everyone is that we need to adapt regularly. Companies should remain open minded, have the readiness to accept changes faster, when relevant and beneficial for the company. The way we run the businesses should take a more obvious turn to scenario thinking approach, developing more strategic plans and ways of working.


  1. How your organization will adapt the future normal, shaping the future workforce, keeping the engagement and performance?

Nobody has yet the answer on what the new normal will really look like, however we can all imagine potential scenarios. What should be clear is that flexibility & speed is the name of the game in the near future. On the one hand, flexibility becomes more important, working from home will be implemented in more companies, however, people are built to socialize. How can this be balanced properly, keeping a healthy connection with your employees and creating the right context for effective collaboration across the company? This is one of the main questions to be answered by companies in the next years.

We are proud and excited to launch this year our new Employer Branding campaign. This will help us not only from a recruiting perspective, but also in terms of attracting talent on a market that is already scarce. Competition for talent is quite high and pipelines are not abundant. Although on short term, people might think more available workforce will be on the market due to reorganizations, on longer term, the impact of online schooling and its’ difficulties in most areas (especially rural) in the context of continuously challenged educational system, will make its mark.

Wellbeing will become more and more important for our colleagues and should remain one of the focus areas in the near future and long-term. Also, ensuring the proper context for people to perform will be key. Good performance always drives high engagement. Supporting your workforce to become more and more flexible from development perspective, equipping people with necessary capabilities will be paramount.

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Mihai-Alexandru Cristea | 02/08/2022 | 10:15

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