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  • Andrea Fielding

How JTI is responding to the pandemic

The original copy of the article below was published on the website of Top Employers, a World Employer Branding Day 2020 International Platinum Partner.

By Lidiya Nadych-Petrenko, Head of Global Talent Attraction, JTI

JTI sets an example of how Top Employers respond to the pandemic.

We interviewed JTI’s Lidiya Nadych-Petrenko to find out what JTI is doing to adapt and respond to the coronavirus crisis. She shares JTI’s strategic actions, as well as her own perspective as an employee who has experienced the organisation’s response first hand.

People first As I am not a member of the crisis taskforce at JTI, before I started collecting the information for this interview, I was getting the same level of information as any other employee at JTI. This is why in addition to what our company is doing in these uncertain times, I think it’s important to share my personal perspective as an employee.

Here are four key outcomes from that experience:

  • Despite all the uncertainties of the current situation I have a strong feeling that we have a thought-through plan. All measures that were introduced by the company (travel bans, self-quarantines, remote working – just to name the major ones) were introduced at the right time, well-ahead of the government-imposed rules. They felt adequate to the situation and I personally felt great gratitude for my employer for its forward-thinking and willingness to protect all of us.

  • It feels that we were well-prepared in terms of equipment and connectivity – everything was in place and ready for us to work remotely, so there were no surprises when we had to switch to remote working overnight. Surprisingly enough, it does not feel like a dramatic change of the work setup. We were working like that in the past, just not every day.

  • I have a super-strong feeling that we are in this together. There were several coordinated communications from various teams, but many employees felt empowered to take immediate individual actions in terms of communications, experience and info sharing and supporting each other. At a time when many of us are locked in our apartments, we became even closer across borders.

  • Last but not the least is the level of trust and support. We do what we can, and there is a lot of understanding for parents who now need to combine two roles within the same timeframe. The company recognizes and accepts that it is a great challenge, and we share our experience openly amongst colleagues.

Setting higher standards I would also like to note that over the years, being a Top Employer has pushed us to have higher standards, notably when it comes to flexible work practices. We have consistently progressed in this area and we finally achieved global consistency across our locations in this year’s certification. For me, flex work is a golden standard of HR practices.

Every year, our certification not only facilitates the spread of good practices inside the organization but also allows us to assess ourselves against other companies and see where we are performing well and where certain improvements are needed. Therefore, I believe that it is important not to underestimate the impact of the work from home practice into our overall readiness to handle the crisis globally like now.

Telecommuting What guidelines does JTI have in place for working remotely?

  • A few days before work from home began at our international headquarters in Geneva, our management was preparing us to this eventuality. Our IT colleagues shared guidance with us so we could test that our equipment and connections were working well from remote locations.

  • As soon as work from home became a reality, on March 11, we were well supported. Key functions such as People & Culture, Environment Health & Safety (EHS) or IT have been instrumental in providing employees extra tips on how to get organized for a longer period than the usual one day a week.

  • Meanwhile, our Corporate Security colleagues have been keeping employees updated on the COVID-19 situation, reassuring them and reminding them of common ground rules while working from home.

  • Our IT colleagues set up a series of webinars, a Smart Home Office guide and recommendations such as using audio over video in calls to reduce network saturation, advice on cyber-criminality, etc.

  • To ensure maximum comfort and help employees cope with a longer ‘work-from-home’ situation, standalone wide screens will also be provided as needed.

  • Our EHS colleagues are collating thematic recommendations on a daily basis – on ergonomics, knowing when to slow down and stop, healthy food and work-life balance, just to name a few. These are not only useful tips but they’re also important in terms of establishing common expectations during these challenging times.

  • Colleagues have also been sharing their smart tips with each other, from easy cooking and how to use your spare time over the week-end in these days of confinement, to keeping the children busy while working at home – something I’m experiencing myself!

Well-being How is JTI dealing with employee well-being in terms of any mental health issues as a result of the pandemic, or dealing with isolation?

  • Team leaders have been particularly sensitive to connecting on a regular basis with their people and encouraging them to support each other.

  • There has been massive solidarity between team members as well. For example, our team has setup a series of catch-ups during the past week, including virtual drinks on Friday evenings! Some teams share a virtual morning coffee, or check in on each other individually. This new experience allows us to have some collective fun and to be more mindful of each other in these turbulent times.

Employee engagement What is JTI’s leadership doing to motivate and engage employees during this time of remote working?

  • From the outset, our senior leadership was very proactive in supporting their teams, whether organising regular catch-up calls, sharing videos or live-broadcasting from their homes to encourage our people in these difficult times, inviting us to reach out to and support each other, as well as making themselves available.

  • Our CEO has been updating all employees via a weekly video on our internal collaborative platform, Workplace, since the end of the first week of confinement. It’s great not only to know more about the current situation first-hand, but also to better understand the steps taken by management to limit disruption to our business. Other senior leaders are also sharing regular videos with their teams across the globe.

What are your HR priorities during this time?

  • Our first priority is the safety and wellbeing of all our employees, as well as their families and communities. JTI’s management is reviewing all the latest news and scenarios on a daily basis to decide whether there is a need to change any of its current practices.

  • Business continuity. The company’s management is regularly assessing the feasibility to stick to original plans – there is a constant flow of business updates to ensure that JTI, together with its employees, can deliver on its business commitments to the extent possible.

  • Time to value. Some employees have more time now due to the nature of their jobs and we are working on scenarios for the best use of their time: pro-active virtual learning, talent profile update, analysis of their own development needs, etc. Conversely, some parents are finding it difficult to balance their work with their family life, particularly with young children at home. Managers are expected to be flexible on their workload so that employees can take care of their family as well.

Is your organisation providing assistance to society at large? Please describe your CSR efforts in this regard. All of our entities in the countries where we are established are assessing the best way to support their communities, partly through our existing schemes: volunteering, matching, in-kind donations.

Do you have an online strategy to increase collaboration and productivity?

  • We are extremely lucky to have a range of collaborative tools available, from Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business to our SharePoint platform. This coupled with performing laptops, a secured network, and a company phone in most offices, has enabled employees to be as productive as if they were in the office.

  • We also have Workplace from Facebook, our internal collaboration platform, which has been up and running for a year and is not only now part of our DNA – it has become instrumental in the current context. Other than being used for business updates at all levels, it is also used for small or wider team chats and more informal communication.

To conclude, I want to say that while we have no control over certain circumstances, we can try to shape our approach towards them. There are many ups and downs, and it is important to try to find enjoyment whenever you can. Particularly I’ve enjoyed responding to some of these questions while sitting on my sofa and eating a giant box of ice cream. There are some great benefits to the current situation!


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