Despite facing business challenges, co-founder and CEO of Greendot Fu Yong Hong has put the welfare of his staff first.

As COVID-19 spread rapidly all over the world, it became increasingly apparent that many businesses would face difficult times ahead. But instead of first worrying about his bottom line, Fu Yong Hong was more concerned with how he could protect the older workers in his company.

The 31-year-old co-founder and CEO of Greendot, a vegetarian restaurant chain with 11 outlets, decided to make a tough call.

When Circuit Breaker measures kicked in, he asked his older employees to stay home and take a break, as they are more vulnerable to illnesses. Most of the Singaporean workers are in their 50s and 60s and have been with the company since it started in 2011. They were granted two weeks of paid leave, without any deduction of annual leave. When they returned to work, they were rostered for a shorter work week, and did not have their salaries cut.

Other younger workers, who were working as servers and cashiers, were redeployed to other roles such as packers as Greendot’s takeaway business surged. Some staff based in its headquarters also doubled up as delivery drivers.

He says, “I told them that they need to stay healthy and no one should get infected, especially our older staff. Meanwhile, those who had to take on new roles were very understanding. For us to survive, everyone has to play different roles and help each other.”

The Jobs Support Scheme has helped Yong Hong with paying his workers’ wages. Under the scheme, the Government pays 50% of the first $4,600 of his local employees’ monthly wages for 10 months. Rental reliefs from the Government have also been passed down by Greendot’s landlords for all its outlets, which in turn helped the company reduce costs and put it in a better position to retain staff.

Yong Hong and his staff Denis load a van with boxes filled with bentos, ready for delivery.

Even as he juggled managing daily operations, Yong Hong still decided to take on orders that would help those in need.

The restaurant chain was contracted by Enterprise Singapore to provide food for migrant workers living in dormitories here. As Greendot’s regular menu leans towards a Chinese fusion cuisine, Yong Hong felt that migrant workers from Bangladesh and India might prefer food closer to what they eat back home.

His team decided to tweak the menu to include new dishes such as curries, and sourced for other ingredients that Greendot does not use, such as Basmati rice and chickpeas.

At the start of the programme, he also helped to deliver meals to the dormitories. His staff also generously donated extras like snacks and fruits for him to take to the workers.

On another occasion, a customer asked if he could sponsor meals for some 80 elderly residents living in rental flats in Bedok. He said yes without hesitation.

Greendot prepared food for migrant workers. Food was packed into bento boxes, which were then picked up and delivered to dormitories by volunteer delivery drivers.

“It’s definitely a challenging time for everyone, but ultimately, everyone is facing the same situation. I feel that it’s not a time to see how we can profit, but rather, what we can do to help others.”

Mabel Peh, 57, one of Greendot’s staff, has had to deal with changes to her role in the company as the COVID-19 situation evolves. She has worked at Greendot for the last seven years. She first started out as a cook at its stall in Tanjong Katong Girls’ School. She now works at its Paya Lebar Square outlet, where she cooks, trains new staff, and oversees quality control. She was also part of the team of cooks who came up with the menu for migrant workers.

Mabel Peh (right), a long-time staff member at Greendot, appreciates how much care Yong Hong has for his team, especially the older staff members.

She has taken the disruptions to her routine in her stride and is appreciative of how Yong Hong looks out for the the team and has kept everyone employed during this difficult time. “If my boss wasn’t a kind person, I wouldn’t have followed him all these years. He’s very selfless and gives us opportunities to excel, so we give our 100% at work.”

With the murky outlook for the economy and safe distancing measures still in place, the road ahead does not look easy. However, Yong Hong is upbeat that Greendot can get through this, as long as the company continues putting its people first.

Many of the staff have worked for Greendot since its first outlet opened in 2011, and Yong Hong considers them family. For him, this is a time when bosses need to help their employees and tide through this difficult period together.

“This is the time for companies to prove that they mean what they say about staff welfare. I’m close to my staff as they have worked for Greendot for a long time and they treat me like their son. Our staff have supported and trusted us through the years, so now we have to think of them too.”

To keep workers employed, the Government will pay 25-75% of the first $4,600 of monthly wages until August 2020, or up to 10 months, under the Jobs Support Scheme. This is on top of other measures like rental waivers and tax rebates to help businesses reduce costs and keep workers.

For businesses that are unable to re-open after circuit breaker, they will continue to receive wage support at 75% until August 2020, or when they are allowed to re-open.

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