Annalou Marie de Villa, Synchrony Philippines: In Sickness and in Health

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Fear gripped Annalou Marie de Villa as she lay in a hospital bed at the Peter Paul Medical Center in Candelaria, Quezon. Breathing through a tube hooked to a ventilator, she was fighting a long-drawn-out battle with COVID-19 that left her too exhausted to move and struggling to breathe. Going to sleep scared her, afraid that she might no longer wake up the next day and leave her husband and their three children motherless.

It began with a terrible backache on April 4, 2021. She took a pain reliever to help the pain subside. Later that evening, she became feverish.

“I never thought it was COVID-19 considering how cautious I was practicing health protocols, until I decided to take antigen and RT-PCR tests, which both came out positive,” she shares.

She immediately contacted her direct manager and her HR partner at Synchrony’s Philippine office where she worked as a Portfolio Control Manager.

With the help of relatives and neighbors, Annalou and her family quarantined themselves and managed her illness at home. Two of her neighbors, who also worked at Synchrony, offered to prepare food for her family and buy their necessities. To aid in her recovery, she did online consultations with doctors and bought medicines and an oxygen tank. Meanwhile, a COVID ward nurse regularly monitored her condition.

While this happened prior to the wave of infections caused by the highly contagious Delta variant, which peaked in September 2021, finding hospitals that could accommodate COVID-19 cases was already difficult. Once again, her colleagues and relatives came to the rescue.

“My friend Carlos, Synchrony Philippines’ Corporate Social Responsibility Manager, enlisted me at all the hospitals around the Calamba, Laguna area up to the neighboring cities. My relatives also contacted a lot of hospitals to make sure we can reserve a slot should the need for a confinement arise,” Annalou shares.

A Test of Faith

Managing her condition at home was short-lived. While she showed no other symptoms aside from her fever and back pain, her oxygen saturation level began to decline on the ninth day. On April 14, she finally received a call from Peter Paul Medical Center, one of the hospitals that had her on the waitlist.

So began her month-long confinement at the hospital where she developed bedsores and other effects of fighting off her illness. Breathing through a tube eventually made speaking and eating difficult during her recovery. It was around this time when she feared that she might not make it. But she did. On May 11, the tube that helped her breathe was finally removed and she was discharged from the hospital on the 16th.

While she feared not seeing her family again, she fought on with the help of the medical doctors and support from her relatives.

“Our faith has been tested. Our relatives supported one another as we dealt with my intubation and expensive medications, while ensuring that my husband and I remained strong for each other,” says Annalou.

How Support Led to Recovery

After a five-week battle against COVID-19, what followed was an even longer path to recovery. Aside from the damage on her skin from her bedsores and dealing with the after-effects of intubation, she continued to struggle with her breathing.

“I easily got tired and experienced shortness of breath every time I moved. I had to take a lot of medicines and had to be hooked to an oxygen tank to stabilize my oxygen saturation. COVID-19 pneumonia damaged my lungs, and up to now, I am still waiting for the drug currently being developed to help them heal completely.”

It can be difficult dealing with the social isolation brought about by COVID-19, particularly among patients. But it also brought out bayanihan or solidarity among Filipinos as seen in how Annalou’s family, friends, and relatives, along with medical professionals assured her that she never had to fight her battle alone nor worry about anything while she focused on her recovery.

Moreover, Synchrony’s HR leaders Tyler Torreliza (AVP, Human Resources), Veen Lipardo (VP, Total Rewards Philippines) alongside their business leader Wawee Langit (SVP, Business Leader) personally reached out to her and her husband, comforted them and guaranteed that her hospital bills would be taken care of.

“Fighting for my life was never easy but I was able to endure because we were offered and given help from day one. My ‘Silver Lining’ sisters (our group of colleagues turned friends) and my team consistently cheered me on,” she shares.

What began with a backache and fever became an arduous six-month journey for Annalou. But throughout that period, Synchrony ensured that she continued to be compensated.

The level of support she received from the company, her colleagues, and leaders themselves remained when she finally returned to work after half a year and received what she says, “the warmest welcome,” from them.

More than Fringe Benefits

Synchrony’s response to Annalou’s case not only showed how it embodied bayanihan, but also its seriousness with regards to its commitment to its employees.

“Synchrony is a great place to work because it remains true to its core, and that its people matter. Synchrony truly cares for its employees, may there be a pandemic or not,” Annalou shares.

But the company didn’t come up with such a comprehensive response overnight. It took foresight to ensure it already had a response plan in place even before it recorded its first COVID-19 case among its employees.

This involved having managers regularly check up on their employees and then endorse positive cases to their onsite doctors. Managers also keep in touch with their employees if they need support or to go on leave based on the company doctor’s recommendation. The doctor also monitors the employee’s condition and checks if they are fit to return to work after they quarantine.

Along with this response plan, Synchrony also set up a structure to attend to employees with the disease. This includes a 24/7 COVID hotline support, standby oxygen tanks for employees and their health insurance dependents, expanded medical support, round-the-clock ambulance support, teleconsultation, life coaching, assistance for immediate family members, and air ambulance assistance for seriously ill employees with COVID-19 who have no access to a hospital bed or urgent care in their current location.

All these go above and beyond the level of care an employee can expect from the company they work for. In particular, leaders in Synchrony took an active and personal role at ensuring Annalou’s well-being through her recovery, showing the company’s and its people’s willingness to go the extra mile when it really counts.

Post-Recovery Support, Synchronized

It isn’t just during the pandemic that the company looks after its employees’ well-being. For example, it holds monthly Mental Health and Ask Our Doctor sessions and launched Life Coaches to support and educate its employees’ physical and mental health. It also extended its Synchrony Assist support to dependents and included mental illness in its health maintenance organization coverage.

Synchrony also provides additional support for managers like Annalou who have more demanding responsibilities. The company provides workshops and training like practicing psychological first aid and self-care, building mental resilience, and monthly sessions that teach them how to have a consistent approach in handling their employees.

Synchrony’s commitment to its employees’ well-being showcases its respect for the people who work there. Respect is one of the five dimensions in the Great Place to Work Trust Index™ model, which is, “the extent to which employees feel respected by management.”

The level of respect given to employees is shown in the levels of support, collaboration, and care they experience through management’s actions toward them. Synchrony’s employees further confirmed their experience in the Great Place to Work®️ Trust Index™️ Survey where they gave the following responses:

Managers in companies like Synchrony understand how work impacts the personal lives of their employees. That is why they put an emphasis on creating a safe and healthy working environment and benefits that support people’s lives outside of the workplace.

When companies truly care for their employees and show genuine interest in them as individuals, they become more open to sharing their whole self to work. And when they do this, they perform better, are more creative, and are more than happy to give their best in whatever they do.

This kind of dynamic between company and employee, like the one that Annalou and Synchrony share, benefits the business too. This is because when employees feel that their leaders care for them, especially during difficult times in their lives, they reciprocate this act of kindness. These are the employees on whom companies can depend to generously contribute to the betterment of the organization even amidst a pandemic.

While Annalou has worked at Synchrony for nearly 10 years, the care the company gave her during her illness and recovery will stay with her for life.

“I have been and will always be grateful for Synchrony, our leaders, and colleagues. The highest level of support I was provided made it possible for me to build up my strength and recuperate. To Synchrony, our leaders and colleagues, my family and I are extremely grateful for you being on our side during this most difficult time. Thank you very much for making things possible in helping me get that second chance in life."

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To be eligible for the World’s Best Workplaces list, a company must apply and be named to a minimum of 5 national Best Workplaces lists within our current 58 countries, have 5,000 employees or more worldwide, and at least 40% of the company’s workforce (or 5,000 employees) must be based outside of the home country. Extra points are given based on the number of countries where a company surveys employees with the Great Place to Work Trust Index©, and the percentage of a company’s workforce represented by all Great Place to Work surveys globally. Candidates for the 2017 Worlds Best Workplaces list will have appeared on national workplaces lists published in September 2016 through August 2017.