HRD Awards Asia 2021


The HR Awards Asia 2021 returned with much fanfare this year following the overwhelming success of its inaugural event in 2020. Like last year, HRD received a surge of submissions from HR teams across the region and countless inspiring stories of resilience. While many saw 2020 as an extraordinary year for HR, not enough is said about the continued efforts of the people teams who kept their organisations motivated through a tumultuous 2021. This year’s group of judges, made up of experienced industry leaders and global HR heads, had a tough time choosing between the impressive submissions to crown winners across 15 categories and recognise well-deserving teams for their excellence.

Building resilient HR teams
Developing resilience was key to combating the unique set of challenges that came our way in the past 12 months. This was even more critical for HR teams expected to continue holding the fort in the ongoing people-centred crisis. Workplace resilience levels were already low in 2020, according to a study by ADP, so HR heads had to double down on their efforts in 2021 to ensure their organisations pushed through another long year.

According to ADP, resilience levels varied widely by country. India (32%) and Singapore (19%), for instance, noted higher levels of resilience when compared with the global list. Other Asian nations surveyed ranked much lower – Japan at 12% and China at 11%, with South Korea and Taiwan both reporting just 8% resilience in their workforces.

Being in harder-hit industries like hospitality and tourism was even tougher on HR teams. But this didn’t stop companies like Seda Hotels in the Philippines from achieving sweeping wins at this year’s HR Awards Asia. Seda Hotels won in the Employer of Choice and Best Health & Wellbeing Program categories. These well-deserved awards were due to the HR team’s laser-focused commitment to their purpose at the organisation.

“Resiliency really is part and parcel of the job of HR, especially in the hotel industry,” says Wilma Estaura, group director of HR at Ayaland Hotels and Resorts Corporation, the parent organisation of Seda Hotels. “You have to be selfless with your time. You have to be there all the time and think of ways to give back to the people and how to be resilient. If your mission really is for the people first, I think you won’t go wrong.”

DANA Indonesia, a winner in the HR Team of the Year category, shares the same focus. “During troubling times such as the COVID-19 period, HR is expected to serve as the organisation’s change catalyst,” says Lisa Mufrisno, head of people culture, strategy and employer branding at the financial services company.
“Raising awareness about the [business] mission to the HR team and how critical it is for the role to be executed well is essential in instilling motivation and a sense of purpose within the team during this difficult time.”

Engaging employees in a hybrid world for DANA Indonesia, building team resilience was critical to sustaining engagement levels across the organisation – a tricky task in today’s ever-changing world of work. The upside of 2021 was the positive stats around the impact of hybrid workplace arrangements. A study by Qualtrics found that hybrid working led to the most benefits in areas like wellbeing and engagement. Respondents reported a 10% rise in their ability to be customer focused in a hybrid environment. This was compared to working either in the office or remotely full-time.

Regardless, challenges abounded when it came to managing engagement in the past year. Mufrisno still considered the task a tough balancing act in 2021. “The biggest challenge was ensuring that DANA was able to maintain peak productivity while still having that human connection,” she says. “This, without taking away people’s autonomy or flexibility around working arrangements.”

The HR team at another multi-award-winning organisation, edotco Group, overcame engagement challenges by focusing on a top-down strategy. The group also won in the HR Team of the Year and Best Reward & Recognition Program categories, with additional Excellence Awards in two other areas. Its success at this year’s HR Awards Asia was likely driven by having engaging leadership as a core pillar. This had a widespread effect across the multi-country organisation.

“Another thing we did was to constantly drive high performance and enable a ‘championship mindset’,” says Ramon Chelvarajasingam, chief people officer at edotco Group. The team frequently reviewed their progress to ensure everyone was engaged in achieving the same end goal: world-class business success.

“COVID has just been a slight distraction,” he adds. “Maybe you’re struggling a little bit, but pick yourself up and refocus on the ‘world championship’.

Retaining wellbeing as a top priority
Engagement aside, 2021 has shown that the struggle continues to be real for many individuals. A study by Wunderman Thompson found that almost one in four employees has suffered bouts of anxiety and depression during the prolonged pandemic. Others said they had been struggling with an increased sense of isolation (13%) and the inevitable loss of privacy or personal space (9%) since they started working from home.

“While 2020 and 2021 offered its own set of challenges in HR, the number one is of course mental health issues and employee wellbeing,” says Estaura.

Employees at Seda Hotels continued to experience high levels of uncertainty in areas like job and financial security. “They’re always asking us if the hotels would close or if there’d be more job opportunities [or hotel] duties scheduled,” Estaura says. This was why leaders kept employee wellbeing top of mind and focused on taking care of their people, even if it meant contacting them frequently to ensure staff were safe and feeling OK wherever they were located.

This focus on wellbeing was shared by HR leaders across all industries in 2021, as many understood the debilitating impact of extended remote working arrangements. “People need to keep the balance between working life and personal life,” says Mufrisno at DANA. “When working from home, the boundaries between working and non-working hours are blurred. Failure to honour such boundaries can cause burnout and mental health issues.”

A culture of compassion
In such an uncertain working environment, it was vital to encourage empathy and compassion across an organisation. Authenticity was also essential for employees to believe their leaders and colleagues were being genuine. “They know if you are sincere, they can feel it,” says Estaura. “They know if you are really taking good care of them. As a head of HR, you should always be authentic.” She believes that if leaders and teammates shared a genuine compassion for each other, companies would have a higher chance of retaining employees.

A World Economic Forum study has found that employees have an increasing desire for emotional intelligence and intuition in their leaders. If a business is keen on unlocking commitment and creativity in its team members, research shows that leaders should focus on demonstrating their ability to be ‘truly human’, showing compassion, humility and openness at work.

2022 and beyond
All in all, when HRD asked HR leaders what they were most looking forward to in the new year, the answers were unanimous: the digitalisation of HR. The pandemic gave HR teams the chance to accelerate their digitalisation journeys, so leaders are hoping to see continued momentum.

“In 2022, what we’re looking at is the digitalisation [of processes] around us,” says Estaura. This includes in areas like employee engagement as well as training and development.

Mufrisno, on the other hand, would like to see DANA utilise more technology in the HR decision-making process, and hopes it will keep churning out people-centric solutions. “HR should automate and utilise more AI in decision-making,” she says. “Automation in employee listening tools can ensure HR practices remain relevant in the fast-changing world.”

HRD Awards Asia 2021

Best Health & Wellbeing Program

  • Seda Hotels, Philippines

Excellence Awardee

Best Leadership Development Program

  • Top Glove Corporation Bhd

Best Learning & Development Program

Best Reward & Recognition Program

  • edotco Group

Best Use of Technology

  • Janssen (Commercial Excellence Team, Pharmaceutical companies of Johnson and Johnson)

Best Workplace Diversity & Inclusion Program


Best Workplace Flexibility Program


Employer of Choice (> 1000 employees)


Employer of Choice (1 - 99 Employees)

  • Rotam Agrochemical Company

Employer of Choice (100 - 999 Employees)

  • Dexterra Group

Excellence Awardee


• HRD Asia issued an open call for nominations to the title’s regionwide readership of more than 20,000 HR professionals
• Prospective nominees sent in submissions online – hundreds of nominations were received
• After a lengthy vetting process, the shortlisted candidates were invited to send additional information so that our judges had all the information they needed
• Winners and Excellence Awardees in the 15 categories were announced on 12 October 2021. Each award had its own judges

• The HRD Awards Asia featured 15 individual and company categories, recognising employers, teams and leaders from small to large businesses across the region