Did you know that when you line up one billion people, you can reach the moon and go back to the Earth? One billion is a significant number for Essilor, a world leader in prescription lenses. 

With over 170 years of existence, the company has produced around a billion lenses in the Philippines. Now on its 43rd year in the country, Essilor – part of the EssilorLuxottica group – has remained resilient even during economic downturns, natural disasters, and other challenging events. Guided by the Essilor values of working together, innovation, respect, entrepreneurial spirit, and diversity, EMPI maintains its image of providing quality employment in their plant in the Philippines.

With their Philippine plant based in Bataan, we interviewed Eduardo “Jojo” Custodio, Senior Human Resources and Admin Manager of Essilor Manufacturing Philippines, Inc. (EMPI) to share what makes EMPI a desirable employer with very high employee retention rate and the organization’s plans for work in the new normal.

Interview Transcript

As a world leader in prescription lenses, what are the organizational challenges Essilor has faced so far, especially during the pandemic? How did you face them? How did each difficulty help the organization grow stronger?

During the pandemic, one if not the biggest challenge we had in EMPI was continuing the plant production while keeping the employee safe versus the COVID-19 virus and letting them know and feel that they are protected coming into the factory and going back to their respective homes every day. Our management had to take into account both the business requirement and the workers’ psychological aspect while facing the reality of the present danger with the COVID-19 virus. Continuous lockdowns and control measures from the local and national government have also tested EMPI’s capacity to continue its quality service to all our customers without disregarding the high level of health & safety protocols. Continued and transparent communication has helped us to ensure employees’ awareness and that they also feel responsible and accountable for protecting their own health. At the same time, we also developed our own COVID-19 Financial Assistance and Care Programs that showed and sent messages to all our employees that our company cares and supports them. The EMPI Labor and Management Council and our medical team also provided support to those employees who struggled the most. It’s not yet over though, and the COVID-19 virus continuously tests our management and workers. But it has made us stronger, bringing out our resilience, perseverance and maturity.

Essilor has 170 years’ history in bringing better vision to the world, being one of the strongest manufacturing contributors to the brand, what were the milestones that the company has achieved in the Philippines?

For more than 40 years as a lens manufacturing company in the Philippines, EMPI has produced and delivered one billion quality lenses. Just like what my previous Managing Director has shared during our 40th anniversary celebration in 2019, “If we could only line up the people who wore the 1 billion lenses we successfully produced, they would make it up to the moon and back to the Earth”. In addition, for the past 40 years, EMPI was able to withstand several political disruptions, hurricanes, strong earthquakes and even a volcanic eruption. These catastrophic phenomena have naturally engraved the words “resilience and strength” in EMPI’s banner.

One of Essilor’s human resources priorities is enabling all talents to develop. How does Essilor Philippines manage to provide career growth and advancement?

In Essilor, the career growth and individual development of our employees are a priority. We are committed to train and develop individuals while they work for our organization, designing their career development plan, managing their performance by setting yearly objectives and establishing clear targets. In addition, it is in Essilor’s culture to conduct our weekly one-on-one discussion with our “N-1” (exempt employees directly reporting to us) that creates an avenue for coaching, mentoring and feedback mechanism. More so, being a multinational company, it also offers opportunities for promotions and mobility both locally and internationally. Last but not the least, Essilor always prioritizes the investment for its employees’ learning and development which benefits not only the employees but the organization as well in its readiness for its present and future’s talent demand. In this context, the Company provides a state of the art e-learning platform “Leonardo”, to support our employees – as well as our customers and partners – with best-in-class learning content available 24/7 on any device.

With the growing demand for hiring qualified candidates in the job market, what are the pro-employee benefits that would make you a desirable employer?

Essilor is one of the well-known companies that operates in the Authority Freeport Area of Bataan not only because our remuneration levels are higher than the local market standards, but also because of our reputation in the economic zone of providing good working environment for our employees. We endeavor to keep our standard at the highest level by complying with all the local employment laws and regulations. In addition, our company takes care of our employees by providing them with the appropriate rewards and recognitions they deserve and in a timely manner. In addition, one if not the best benefit we offer our employees is the opportunity to participate in Employee Shareholding Programs, which help them to participate in the growth of the Company while also supporting long-term financial benefits.. Last but not the least is the Essilor values (Working together, Innovation, Respect to everyone, Entrepreneurial Spirit, Diversity) which serve as our guiding principle that makes us cohesive and resilience.

How is Essilor redefining the workplace (i.e., work setup/arrangement) for the well-being of its employees, post-pandemic?

Even before the pandemic, Essilor was already practicing the flexible work arrangement that allows our office-based employees to adjust their working schedule in line with the timekeeping guideline and policy.. Having said this, this pandemic also taught the Essilor management operating our business to optimize the use of the internet connection and other electronic mobile devices. The divider or partitions that keeps the required working distance between employees continue as the new normal work set up in our office. The rest of the activity such as employee engagement, events and programs will also continue perhaps on a different approach beginning with the new normal work arrangement.

What is the company’s direction and plans for growth in the next 3 to 5 years?

It is always our plan to prepare people and plant for its upcoming demand. One of which is to prepare the entire organization to work in the new normal. The employees’ working habits along with their expectation should be transposed seamlessly in the next 3-5 years while providing for the basic needs. We of course continued planning for our plant expansion and installation of new additional machines in the production workshops. We are investing significantly to support and protect the future of our organization and its stakeholders, guided by our commitment to sustainability and continuous improvement.

Finding the right employees who will stay in ‘routine’ jobs in manufacturing seem to be difficult. What HR strategies have you and your team implemented to address this challenge?

It is always a challenge to all HR keeping our retention rate high. With the routine jobs that are inherent in manufacturing plants like Essilor, we ensure that we always put into our yearly calendar company events that employees will be expecting to happen in the year.  Our employee engagement unit always thinks of new activities that could somehow break the routine jobs of our employees. In addition, our employee rewards and recognition are active in terms of incentivizing employees. One of Essilor’s strong retention program is our Retirement Package and Employee Sharing Plan that are being offered to employees who tend to stay longer in our company.

Some of your employees have stayed within the company for more than a decade. How do you manage to keep your team motivated and productive? How are you able to champion their health and well-being, as well as guide them through the changes?

It is always important that the company ensures their employees feel valued by the management/organization. They tend to be motivated and productive with their job when we appreciate, recognize, and reward their good work. Having said that, setting clear objectives and targets is important to guide both employee and the company in achieving their successes.

With more than two decades of experience as a human resource professional, what are the events in your career that you are most challenged with? How did you conquer each of them?

One of the biggest challenges for me as Human Resource practitioner is the leadership development. We HR are faced with being expected to provide the essential structures, processes, tools, and point of view to make the best selection and develop the future leaders of the organization.

To be able to at least meet the expected leadership development and future leaders, it is important that we know how to optimize the development tools we have. We should never let go of using the individual development plan, career development discussion, and talent review sessions. The 9-box formula (performance plus potential) for me is very useful and effective in identifying potential leaders of the organization.

What advice would you give to HR professionals, especially to those who are specializing in recruitment?

A strong HR is a good HR — strong in terms of integrity and understanding. Specific with the recruitment; recruiters should always consider the importance of applicants. We should let the applicant feel that they are being valued and considered. Never should we neglect returning to the applicants regardless of the result of their application with us or with our client. Recruiters should ensure that any applicants passing through in their hands are satisfied and shows gratitude towards them. You can never tell when you will need these applicants again for your future requirements.

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