Article: Keep them connected, engaged, and inspired: SABIC's Mohammed Al-Nafea

Employee Engagement

Keep them connected, engaged, and inspired: SABIC's Mohammed Al-Nafea

How can companies meet the changing needs and expectations of a pandemic-stressed workforce by creating a supportive employee experience? Mohammed Al-Nafea, General Manager for Corporate HR in the MEA & Asia Regions, shares how chemicals giant SABIC is maintaining a people-centric approach.
Keep them connected, engaged, and inspired: SABIC's Mohammed Al-Nafea

COVID-19 has placed several corporates under the spotlight to demonstrate to customers and employees their social purpose and has reinforced the need for greater accountability and sustainability.


READ the June 2021 issue of our magazine: COVID-19 Rages On: Are You Ready?

The disruption of the last year and a half has changed people's expectations of the workplace. Care, concern, flexibility, social purpose—the need for these things and more has influenced the entire concept of employee experience over the long months of the pandemic. How are companies evolving to keep up?

People Matters spoke with Mohammed Al-Nafea, General Manager, MEA & Asia Regions, Corporate HR, at multinational chemicals giant SABIC, to understand how SABIC's approach is kept people-centric and what works to create a future-ready organization from the pressing needs of today. Here's what he shared.

Could you share some thoughts on what employee experience means in today's workplace, after all the disruption of the last year? What do you see people expecting from the workplace?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented changes across the world in how employees work over the past year. In many countries, as the virus evolves, many office employees have had to adapt to working from home amidst country lockdowns, providing further restrictions to daily life.

The entire world of work as we know it was upended overnight with overwhelming concerns for safety, stability, and security – alongside the discomfort of adjusting to an indefinite, new normal. 

Amidst this global pandemic, all organizations need to practice empathy in the workplace. We need to listen to our employees, keeping them connected, engaged, and inspired. The need for flexibility is also key, as there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution – people have adapted to the pandemic in different ways. 

For us at SABIC, the key focus remains our employees’ health and well-being. Our ‘Employee Assistance Program’ is available to employees supporting their mental health and emotional well-being and providing them with access to counseling by external experts.


People have always been at the center of SABIC and we remain committed to providing a nurturing and supportive work environment for all employees.

Could you share the approach you and your HR teams take to match employees' changing expectations?

This crisis has provided an opportunity for companies to rethink the employee experience by providing a degree of flexibility that respects individual differences, while keeping our employees safe and adapting to rapidly changing circumstances. 

For instance, some employees may have to care for their children and elderly whilst working from home, which may require flexible schedules that accommodate their caregiving responsibilities. We have implemented work policies that provide employees with the flexibility to start and end their workdays at certain times. This is key in pushing for a greater work-life balance.

Enabling growth and learning should not be overlooked. We have for a long time provided employees with extensive learning opportunities to constantly upskill our workforce, and we have now transitioned many of our learning offerings to online formats so employees’ learning and development can remain consistent.

Consulting employees for feedback and comments is also critical in ensuring that the employee experience remains relevant and enables organizations to be responsive, tailoring and adapting their programs to suit the changing needs of their people especially amidst these challenging times.

Companies today also face employee expectations around important aspects of corporate citizenship such as sustainability and diversity. Could you share how SABIC is engaging employees in these areas?

The pandemic has placed several corporates under the spotlight to demonstrate to consumers and employees their social purpose and has reinforced the need for greater accountability and sustainability.

For us, sustainability is embedded in the way we do business.

We recognise that in order to succeed in today's global marketplace, we must offer solutions with long-term benefits to the environment, economy and society as a whole.

To incorporate our employees into this journey, we launched a ‘Global Sustainability Ambassador Program’ in 2019 with the objective of elevating our employees’ knowledge and cultivate advocates to help build a better tomorrow. This employee-training program is designed as part of our sustainability journey for continuous learning, adaptation, and improvement of our basic business processes and our response to the priorities of our diverse stakeholders. 

Correspondingly, we recognize that diversity of experience, knowledge, and ideas in an inclusive atmosphere makes our company more creative, innovative, and effective.

As we know, Asia Pacific is one of the most culturally diverse regions with unique complexities across markets. Acknowledging this, we have built a robust and diverse talent pool that demonstrates a deep and nuanced understanding of our customers, across different cultures. 

We have also activated several DEI – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – forums which strengthen our culture. For instance, our ‘SABIC Women’s Network’ (SWN) and ‘SABIC Young Leadership Council’ (SYLC) provide us with valuable feedback on various programs and policies and make us a more inclusive employer.

To date, the region has over 30 percent of female employees holding leadership roles.

What are some HR best practices that you feel are particularly useful in keeping up a high level of satisfaction for internal stakeholders?

A diverse workforce, which brings a multitude of backgrounds and experiences, can help drive greater innovation.

We invest in continuous communication and dialogue with all segments of our workforce and this helps us receive valuable and timely feedback to proactively address the needs of our employees and keep engagement levels high. This approach also serves as an effective mechanism to manage organizational change.

For instance, we recently launched our flexible benefits system, which empowers employees to customize the support they prefer for their own medical, healthcare, and lifestyle needs, recognizing that we all have different needs. 

In that same vein, we focus extensively on providing employees with learning opportunities that enable constant upskilling through exposure, experience, and education. It is important to build a talent pool that has a global mindset with the agility to adapt and transform the industry across companies and sectors.

Through global assignments, employees can gain international experience at one of our offices abroad, allowing anyone to immerse themselves into another culture should they wish to do so. By keeping the focus on the people, HR works continuously to ensure employees feel valued and empowered.

In managing the organizational culture to keep it people-centric, where do you see the main challenge? What works to address it?

People are our assets and SABIC has always adopted a people-centric approach in the way we operate and the decisions we make. The pandemic has impacted our people in many ways both in their professional and personal lives – the way work is done, the way we engage our customers, and how work and personal spaces are being intermingled in an unprecedented way.

I am proud that SABIC’s culture of people-first approach has served us well during these trying times. Our employee well-being is of utmost importance. We provided support to our people and their families in all possible ways and this is evident in our recent engagement survey, which reinforced employee appreciation and gratitude in cultivating a caring and highly empathetic culture.

The challenge going forward is to ensure this value is consistently exhibited across all levels of the organisation to ensure connectedness at the work place. 

We are embarking on a holistic well-being program, which focuses on several key dimensions such as mental and social well-being This includes solutions that are personally meaningful, re-energizing employees to build resilience. We hope to build an empathetic workforce, an organization that listens and collaborates to ensure that the ‘human element’ is not lost in the pursuit of better productivity and performance. 

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Topics: Employee Engagement, #EXChecklist

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