People, the Jewel in On Cheong’s Crown: How an SME Achieved Greater Employee Performance

Read how jewellery retailer On Cheong overcame obstacles to put its employees first.

13 May 2024 Case studies Age management Performance management Recruitment Remuneration Work-life harmony Best practices

Jewellery

Profile

Organisation

On Cheong Company Private Limited (On Cheong Jewellery)

Established in 1936, On Cheong is one of Singapore’s leading jewellery retailers. Besides selling jewellery, it also crafts custom-made pieces for customers.

Industry

Wholesale and Retail Trade

Employment size

35

Employment profile

Executives, managers, retail staff, and jewellery designers

Business Case

The retail industry is often characterised by long working hours and lower wages, making hiring and retaining talent challenging, especially for a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) like On Cheong. The jeweller has worked to position itself as an employer of choice by implementing employment practices that are aligned with its mission to establish long-lasting cohesive relationships with employees, providing a conducive and satisfying working environment.

  • Undergraduate sponsorship programme
  • Career progression scheme – opportunities to train for and perform cross-functional duties
  • Training programmes
  • Recognition and rewards programme
  • Reemployment scheme
  • Health and well-being programme – team-building activities to ensure employee wellness
  • Flexible working hours

Implementation

As an SME, On Cheong faces limited resources including manpower and time when implementing fair and progressive employment practices such as fair hiring. Yet, despite having just one person in its HR department, it has overcome challenges to enhance talent attraction and retention by:

Starting Small and Prioritising 

Recognising the extensive scope of fair and progressive employment practices, On Cheong decided to take small, incremental steps by first identifying and prioritising recruitment and performance management. 

It implemented merit-based recruitment, where employees are hired based on skills and experience rather than factors such as their race, religion, gender or age. Those who do well are also given performance-based bonuses and shout-outs during staff meetings. On Cheong’s older employees, who are valued for their experience, are offered a re-employment option even beyond age 70 - which is at least three years past the national requirement of 68. 

Next was training and development. On Cheong’s structured training programme helps employees identify and plug skill gaps, with each of them completing at least 60 hours of job-specific training and personal development training each year. Such programmes have enabled some employees to take on cross-functional duties – a sales executive took up jewellery design while another salesperson became its Infocomm Administrative Manager (Administration & IT).

To keep employees engaged, On Cheong has also implemented a health and well-being programme which gives staff a break from work and the chance to bond through outings and exercise sessions at least once every two months during Learning Days.

Tapping on External Resources and Internal Feedback

On Cheong initially lacked expertise in designing and implementing fair and progressive employment practices, but overcame this by sending its HR manager for various workshops and seminars to equip the company with the necessary knowledge and best practices.

It also leveraged external resources like MySkillsFuture and Workforce Singapore training programmes to upskill its employees. Each employee is signed up for the NTUC SME Corporate Membership, giving them a $250 grant to take up training programmes. Everyone is also sent for the Work Skills Qualifications (WSQ) Certificate in Service Excellence, and all managers for the WSQ Diploma in Leadership & People Management. 

Continuously improving employment practices is important to On Cheong, so it encourages staff to provide feedback through its Employee Suggestion Scheme. Managers and heads of departments review the feedback, implement relevant suggestions, and update employees on the outcome. In 2023, a total of 64 employee suggestions were implemented, up from 49 in 2022 and 34 in 2021. 

Clear Direction from Senior Management 

On Cheong’s leadership has played a key role in the success and sustainability of fair and progressive employment practices. In 2011, its Managing Director took the first step by signing TAFEP’s Employers' Pledge of Fair Employment Practices. 

Since then, senior management has made sure to set a clear direction by communicating the importance of fair and progressive employment practices to its employees through staff meetings, internal memos, policies, and standard operating procedures, and allocating adequate resources to empower HR.

The leadership also demonstrates its commitment by exemplifying inclusive behaviour. They actively listen to diverse perspectives and participate in HR initiatives, leading On Cheong by example.

Outcomes

As a result of fair and progressive employment practices, the company has an average service length of 18 years and a near-zero attrition rate. Employee performance and productivity have increased – the average sales per salesperson went up from 4 per cent in 2022 to 18 per cent in 2023. Customer satisfaction has grown too, with On Cheong receiving 797 compliments in 2023, a 35 per cent jump from 590 in 2022 and more than six times the 130 plaudits received in 2021.

At On Cheong, we believe in a people-centric approach which our management has adopted. If the company takes care of employees, they will take care of the customer.” - Ms Lee Meng Ling, Senior Human Resources and Administration Manager

Regardless of one’s background, upbringing, religious beliefs, gender or race, employees ought to be treated fairly based on job performance and abilities. Human capital is the greatest asset of a company and a pillar of strength and vitality.” - Mr Ho Nai Chuen, Managing Director