The Growing Role of HR Tech and AI

Interview with Playtech’s HR Manager, Marilena Trichina, HR Manager at Playtech, highlights the importance of feedback in identifying problems and solutions, how the company promotes autonomy to relieve stress and the efforts made to maintain social ties among employees who are working from home. By Adonis Adoni

New hires who get off to a rough start can create far-reaching problems for any company. What strategies do you have in place to ensure that a candidate is the right fit for Playtech’s culture and what is your action plan to get a new employee that didn’t click with the team back on the right track?
Choosing the right candidate is essential. Our primary focus is to hire the person and develop the skill if needed. We are looking for passion, commitment and an attitude that fits our values. We first make sure our workplace attracts the right candidates, and we then utilise our employees’ network for sourcing candidates. During the interview process, we make sure there is a diverse interview panel in order to avoid taking decisions based on unconscious bias. We are always honest and clear about the pros and cons of a position so that the candidate can make a well-informed decision in the end. Moreover, for certain positions, we use pre-employment assessment tools like psychometric and integrity tests. During the probation period, HR closely monitors the new hires, so we can identify someone who does not click with the team at an early stage. We also conduct a number of short surveys, which can sometimes help us identify issues that the team has and not the other way around. Through the survey, we can address the root of the problem and set new targets in collaboration with the line manager. There is always open communication and honest feedback with an employee to mutually agree on the way forward.

Playtech was one of the first companies in Cyprus to adopt remote working for its teams when the pandemic started. What were the challenges you faced to keep productivity levels high and how did you resolve them?
We are still working from home, since productivity has not been affected. Following a survey we conducted in August 2021, 87% of employees responded that they have a good work-life balance and that they feel as productive from home as they were when working in the office. Also, they rated the communication with managers and colleagues very highly, and 89% of employees responded that they can stick to a work routine when working from home. Having said that, our main challenge has not been to keep productivity levels high, but rather to maintain social interactions and connections among employees. The main goal of the HR team is to organise initiatives like the virtual coffee-buddy programme, virtual competitions and team-building exercises to encourage employees to share their experiences, personal life changes and have fun with colleagues in a more casual context.

The importance of being passionate about one’s own work often doesn’t get enough credit. How to you make sure that employees at Playtech remain passionate about their job and how do you help them develop their skills further?
It is true that a job is like a relationship: fun and exciting at first but passion can fade after a few years! It is the managers’ responsibility to keep employees engaged by providing opportunities for innovation, asking for feedback, giving praise and encouraging knowledge-sharing. At Playtech, we organise seminars for the management team in order to equip them with the knowledge and skills required for the development of their team members. Also, a training budget is allocated to each team, so all employees have the opportunity to develop their skills. In addition, we do career check-ins once a year, where employees can discuss with their managers their future career path within the company, whether this is a change within the same team or moving to a new team. Finally, all employees have the opportunity to apply for an internal transfer when there is a position opening that they are interested in, even if that position is for Playtech subsidiaries in other countries.

What other steps do you take to retain talent, especially nowadays, when so many people are leaving their jobs en masse in what has been termed ‘The Great Resignation’?
I don’t believe that the ‘Great Resignation’ trend has affected Cyprus. Of course, there are a lot of opportunities in the market, especially in the tech industry, which increases competition among companies that wish to retain their talents. Besides compensation and benefits, which one might view as the number one retention factors, at Playtech we believe that a healthy working environment, the professional development opportunities that are offered and the appreciation the company shows to its employees’ achievements and hard work are the main retention factors. In addition, in the last year, we reviewed our employee retention strategy and several new initiatives have been or will be introduced in 2022. For example, we are trying to create a more engaging onboarding process that will make new employees feel as if they are part of the team right away. Also, we will introduce a mentorship programme to benefit both mentors and the mentees. Working in a multinational company offers a lot of career opportunities, since the company is constantly expanding, which in turn allows the creation of new teams, involvement in new projects and the promotion of key employees.

How do you measure the performance of your employees to evaluate pay rises and promotions?
There are two factors that affect pay rises and promotions: the overall performance of the employee and the market salary range for each position. Performance is measured officially once per year; however, we have quarterly check-ins where an employee’s goals and development are discussed. We recently introduced an online tool that gives us the opportunity to perform a 360 review, which makes the process more transparent and fairer. Also, once a year we collect salary data from the market (salary surveys) to perform a comparison with our current salaries per position.

Mental health and burnout are often discussed in the context of a crisis but burnout can arise at any time. What strategies have you adopted to prevent the problem and how do you ensure that they are constantly maintained?
As HR professionals, we have an essential role to play in reducing the effect and likelihood of burnout within the working environment. At Playtech, we have built an environment where stress at work is at a minimum, employee wellbeing is the priority, mistakes are allowed to happen, and flexibility is the norm. The keyword is autonomy: employees have clear goals and deadlines and they decide on how and when they will complete the work. Also very important is the mental health and wellbeing programme we follow each year. Our wellbeing framework focuses on four pillars: (1) to improve positive lifestyle behaviour choices to ensure good health and avoid preventable diseases and conditions; (2) to promote a positive mental health working culture that supports everyone; (3) to encourage a work-life balance by providing flexibility and valuing family, friends, colleagues, and the wider community; and (4) to provide control and information over finances and savings and protection against the unexpected. Obtaining employees’ regular feedback through surveys is always the basis on which we plan our annual wellbeing initiatives and this is how we achieve increased resilience, better employee engagement, reduced sickness absence and higher performance and productivity.

What are the technological innovations that will drive human resources management in the near future?
For sure, HR technology trends have been affected by the shift to remote working. Remote work is quite an administrative challenge for HR teams, since they need to find the right tools to connect employees in different time zones, to create virtual co-working spaces or to onboard new employees. The recruitment cycle has been already become digitised in many organisations – it is becoming all about the “experience”. The emergence of candidate experience platforms will change the way HR teams work and promote their vacancies. In addition, AI will play a major role in the applicants’ screening process, which will save valuable time for the recruiters. AI also seems to be the new trend in data analytics. HR manages large data sets; with machine learning, we will be able to quickly see trends and track important KPIs. When it comes to learning and development, online training is necessary. Not only have self-paced courses and individualised career paths already been introduced, but we see a shift towards gamification and VR. At the same time, employee wellness programmes will need to become more personalised by using employee data. Organisations are starting to understand the importance of mental health when it comes to employee performance, so the introduction of digital mental support might be needed. As working from anywhere and hybrid workplaces evolve, the need for innovative tools/software is increasing. HR Tech will assist HR departments to offer a better employee experience and useful insights that will influence business strategies.

Playtech’s numbers:

Number of Cyprus-based employees: 155
Number of internationally based employees: 6,400
Locations of employees (including remote workers): Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Gibraltar, Isle of Man, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Philippines, Romania, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, USA
Number of new hires in 2021: 20
Age range of staff: 20-62
Gender distribution of staff in Cyprus: Male 68%, Female 32%