Adaptability is key. Expect the best and strive to improve

Adaptability is key. Expect the best and strive to improve

Interview with Mrs. ELENA PAP, Regional Director (Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece) Up Coop, General Manager Up Romania

Q: The global economy seems to experience challenges we have not seen in decades: very high inflation, the prospects of synchronized recession, higher and higher interest rates, and even war. In this context, how do you deal with such challenges in your business sector?

Mrs. ELENA PAP: We are definitely living unprecedented times which bring along new challenges. The general context impacts our activity, as it does all other business sectors. What I find helps stay ahead and to keep our clients happy is maintaining our own standards high and making sure that we perform to the best of our abilities. In good and bad times, it is essential to focus on what you can control while keeping a close eye on how the situation evolves.

In this case, what we can control is adapting to the context and giving our best each and every day. We will keep focusing on being the best we can be and not let any sense of loss of control influence us.

Q: If 2021 seemed to be the year of the Great Resignation, 2022 follows with a new trend: quiet quitting. From your perspective, from your experience with more than 20.000 companies as clients, what are the tools that companies use to prevent or limit such a trend?

Mrs. ELENA PAP: Seeing that we activate on the fringe benefits market, we are in the grateful position of seeing that companies monitor what type of benefits employees seek and matching them to the best of their abilities. Employee benefits – from the popular meal vouchers to offering share packages – are some of the most effective tools used by companies to ensure employees are as satisfied as possible while working for them. It is telling that the shift on the human resources market encourages organizations to see the true value of people in their teams and to utilize all that is in their power to minimize turnover.

Q: What are the most popular benefits employees ask for and receive from their employers as extra wages? How can you help?

Mrs. ELENA PAP: Fringe benefits are very useful in employee retention and motivation. They demonstrate a healthy corporate culture and show how much top management wants to have happy and productive teams.

This is confirmed by the findings revealed in the latest research conducted by eJobs, that showed meal vouchers are the most popular benefits offered to employees, followed by holiday voucers, private health insurance, extra days off, on the job training and so on. Moreover, employers are starting to offer office lunches, gift baskets, counseling services, performance bonuses, share packages, regular social events, birthday vouchers or short Fridays, albeit in fewer companies. This demonstrates that organizations are connected to their staff’s needs and are willing to adapt accordingly.

Q: Can you evaluate an average budget/ employee as extra-wages benefits? How much is this package compared with the classic wage? What does this package include? The most straightforward answer to this question is that it depends.

Mrs. ELENA PAP: Even companies similar in size that activate in the same market sector have very different employee benefits, which is pertinent, considering different people have different needs and that reflects not only in the manner employers want their teams to work – on-site, hybrid or remote -, but also with regard to the benefits they offer.

Q: 2022 was perceived as an after-pandemic year. Do you feel that employees have re-evaluated their relationship with their job? In what ways?

Mrs. ELENA PAP: Employees have definitely reevaluated their relationship with their job over the past year and have adjusted their attitudes consequently.

The impact of the unprecedented events over the last almost three years have put into perspective that life is short and having certainties regarding the future might come with unwanted and unpleasant surprises.

Thus, employees are putting a bigger emphasis on personal wellbeing, on good mental health, on firm boundaries regarding work-life balance and so on. Moreover, employees want to feel like they are working in organizations that are ethical, in companies that do not focus solely on making a profit, but also on giving back to the community and on creating positive change, either in what concerns the environment, or on a social level.

This is a good challenge to have, and I think it will be a powerful driver for change for the good in the business landscape. Only the future will tell.

Q: 2022 was also the year when Up Romania celebrated its first 20 years of existence. What 2022 brought for your company, and does it look similar to a specific year from your company?

Mrs. ELENA PAP: 2022 has been a year that showed us that it is of utmost importance to be connected to the times, to anticipate and to be one step ahead of everyone else. This is also the reason why, this year, at Up Romania, we put an emphasis on the digitalization of services, on the constant improvement of user experience, on innovative proposals and partnerships as diverse and relevant as possible. For example, in the last few months we have signed two important partnerships for the beneficiaries of our cards - one with Tazz by Emag, and the second with UrbanAir, the app that quickly finds alternative and environmentally friendly transport solutions in Bucharest.

Furthermore, we were honored to receive the Great Place to Work® certification, because it represents a recognition of the effort, we have constantly made over the years to keep people involved and passionate about what they do. We have always relied on transparency; trust and we have always done our best to make people feel valued and to maintain that team spirit that makes us successful. We pride ourselves greatly on the fact that most of our employees have been with the company for more than 10 years, know each other very well and manage to have an effective collaboration that is also reflected in the success of our business.

Q: Up Romania states it helps employees to choose flexible benefits. Can you detail it a little bit? And do you see it as a trend?

Mrs. ELENA PAP: Indeed, we are constantly working on demonstrating that flexible benefits are the way of the future. This year, we worked on consolidating Up MultiBeneficii – a platform that allows employers to offer a monthly budget that employees can use either for meals, medical services, cultural services, gym memberships, entertainment, holidays or private pensions.

In addition, Up MultiBeneficii offers access to special offers, negotiated exclusively with Up Romania partners, in sectors such as health, transport, energy, finance and insurance, marketing, courses, IT&C, retail.

What we found very important when we developed Up MultiBeneficii was to help companies realize that employees are different people with different needs. And that if you give them the freedom to choose the benefits they want, they will be more satisfied, motivated and loyal.

We hope this becomes more than a trend and moves into a movement that is adopted by as many companies as possible, as it will ensure that their employees have flexibility and that their needs are met.

Q: Besides Romania, you keep an eye also in Bulgaria, Moldova, Greece, and Serbia. Do we see some big similarities/differences between the markets from your company’s perspective?

Mrs. ELENA PAP: Regarding similarities, all five countries in the region are seeing an accelerated growth when it comes to the adoption of electronic meal vouchers as these products have become increasingly digital. In addition, they are increasingly being seen as more than a necessity. The perception around them is that they are a fringe benefit that can help companies to further gain the loyalty of their employees.

The penetration rate of electronic meal vouchers in Romania is around 45%, which means that over 2,7 million employees receive this benefit. For the other countries in the region I coordinate we are talking about similar rates, namely: 20% in Moldova, 35-40% in Bulgaria, 30% in Greece and sport solution in Serbia. These penetration rates depend on several factors, one of the most important being the lower purchasing power in each country, the role of electronic vouchers being precisely to increase purchasing power among beneficiaries. On the other hand, penetration rates increase with the network of affiliates. This includes supermarkets or hypermarkets, cafes, shops or pharmacies and so on.

Q: How was 2022 for your company, for you as a business leader, and what do you expect to see in 2023 as confirming or new trends? What are your plans for 2023 and beyond?

Mrs. ELENA PAP: Due to the unique nature of the social and business landscapes, 2022 was the year we learned at an accelerated pace and we made the most of our new partnerships. What has become very apparent is that companies need to better listen to their teams and to ensure employee retention and to make themselves as attractive as possible to talented candidates.

What employers can do in this sense, in order to improve their relationship with their teams, is to closely listen to their employees and to see if they are doing well. Thus, companies’ concern for employee wellbeing needs to be more than declarative and needs to be backed up by sound organizational practices.

Over the last few years, employee retention has become as important as attracting new people to the team, so it’s necessary to consider both aspects at the same time. To keep valuable people within the company, it is necessary to ensure they take care of their health, their well-being, including their mental health.

In addition to private clinic memberships, employers should also provide access to psychotherapy services for employees or teambuilding services to rebuild the team cohesion that existed before the pandemic.

For example, for us, the team is one of our strongest assets, and we have implemented several steps to support it over the years: ensuring a climate of collaboration, offering regular training courses, encouraging employee initiatives, rewarding them with an attractive package of fringe benefits, focusing on internal communication and, last but not least, carrying out CSR actions.

Q: What is your main message to your clients/partners regarding challenges and opportunities for the short and medium term?

Mrs. ELENA PAP: I think the key word going forward is “adaptability”. I think that the events we have been through in the last two years – be it the pandemic, the geopolitical context, the Great Resignation or quiet quitting – they have all left a definite mark on us - both personally and professionally - and the effects will be felt in the long run.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that adapting in an agile way is the one thing that helps you effectively navigate any situation, even when it’s completely unforeseen.

Performance is also about teamwork - it’s almost impossible to deliver large, quality projects that deliver long-term benefits without teamwork. Empathy and understanding are absolutely necessary in human relations, and business relations are no exception.

I am proud of the people in the Up Romania team, who are not only accomplished professionals, but also wonderful people, with whom I know we can excel and improve the lives of our product users, but also work efficiently with our partners.