How This Major Singapore Retailer Supports Employees In Their National Service Duties

From topping up their IPPT incentives to support for in-camp trainings, Dairy Farm Group looks out for its NSman employees.

By Sean Yee        2 November 2022

As an NSman, you probably understand the need to balance multiple roles in your life. It might even be daunting to keep up with the stresses of your responsibilities as a civilian while being ever ready to serve your duty to the nation. 

Thankfully, there are employers that make the effort to ensure NSmen don’t have to worry about personal career repercussions as a result of the call of duty. One example is DFI Retail Group, which owns well-known brands such as 7-Eleven, Cold Storage and IKEA stores. The company is accredited with NS Mark Gold for its policies and HR practices that support their NSman employees (scroll to the end for job listings by NS Mark Gold companies).

We hear from two managerial staff of the company on balancing their professional roles and duties as NSmen, as well as from their director of human resources on how the company supports its NSman employees.

Empowered employers, empowered employees 

Haslam Preeston, DFI Retail Group’s Director of HR in Southeast Asia, sat with us to discuss how employers can better support the ambitions of their employees, while reinforcing the necessity of their military obligations. Having accumulated an extensive military portfolio of his own, Haslam also reflects on how his own military journey has shaped his views on National Service. 

Q: Can you share some insights on DFI Retail’s operational scope, as well as its subsidiaries? 

Haslam: We are one of Pan-Asia’s largest retail groups, with our head office located here in Singapore. Giant, Cold Storage and its upscaled variant, CS Fresh, as well as 7-Eleven and Guardian stores are under our stable of brands. Human resources wise, we have over 6,500 employees in Singapore, most of whom are residents.

Q: On the topic of National Service, we understand you are no stranger to the need for an operationally ready defence force.

Haslam: Yes! I was a full-time officer in the British army. As such, I oversaw both peacetime and active operations, having served my operational tour in 1999. While undertaking my undergraduate studies, I was also actively part of Britain’s military reservist force. 

Q: How has your own military experience influenced your view of National Service in Singapore?

Haslam: As I was finding the right balance between my academic and military obligations during my university days, I came to realise how important it is for organisations (regardless of industry) to support citizens who are also passionate about national defence. It is important that we create a safe space for NSmen to take on their military obligations without fear of professional or personal ramifications, whether it is career regression or personal guilt. 

As each of them must navigate through the concurrent duality of his identity as a citizen and soldier, it is crucial that employers understand their role in creating a safe environment for residents so that they feel supported when military duties call. 

Q: How does the DFI team support employees who are still serving their reservist cycles?

Haslam: As of right now, we have just incepted an organisation-wide scheme that rewards employees who fulfil their IPPT obligations. In addition to the monetary incentives provided by the government, we further top up the reward amount based on the level of competency they manage to attain. 

Of course, we have always been transparent about our stand on the issue – that we are strong supporters of National Service, and we want our employees to take up their national duties without worrying about outstanding work assignments. The many departments that we have are more than happy to cover for our NSman colleaguea who are away on duty, ensuring that operations can continue seamlessly while they are away. 

Q: Does DFI Retail have future plans to expand on its current support scheme for NSmen?

Haslam: We are still in the midst of communicating our new IPPT incentive scheme to our many regional branches and stores. My team and I are incredibly excited to hear feedback and make improvements based on input from our staff. It’s a continuous work in progress, as we constantly work upon our initiatives while maintaining transparent and consistent communications with our stakeholders. 

Q: Can you tell us about representing DFI Retail Group in ACCORD’s Employer and Business (E&B) Advisory Council?

Haslam: For those that are not aware, ACCORD functions as an advisory link between our Ministry of Defence and its ambits, one of which being the business sector. As such, employers from a diverse range of sectors have a platform to propose suggestions and inputs to MINDEF, and in turn we can better understand the contemporary circumstances of both NSFs and NSmen. With these insights, we can then better implement suitable policies or programmes for our employees who are also NSmen.

Q: Why do you think it is crucial that employers support National Service and the contributions of our NSmen?

Haslam: It’s not easy to strike a fine balance between one’s military, professional and personal obligations. We should provide them psychological support – assuring NSmen that it’s okay for them to be away for their in-camp trainings. Employers should accept that it’s a national obligation, and that they should provide them the necessary space and time to fulfil their national duty that is imperative to our security. We do not want our employees to feel pressured to defer solely on the basis of corporate interest. 

Haslam having a game in the DFI breakroom with staff.

Q: If you could send a message to your NSman employees right now, what would it be?

Haslam: Do not see National Service as a burden. This unique experience will provide you with a plethora of learning skills that are not just valuable to your military growth, but your own professional and personal lives as well. Having personally served in the military , I have attained an indispensable sense of discipline that has helped me tremendously.  The necessity of working with people of different backgrounds has also translated positively into my own personal life. 

If you’re struggling with these obligations (understandably so), do not be afraid to ask for advice. Speak to your manager, your co-workers or even your commanding officer and be transparent about the support you will need to navigate these many spectrums of life. 

In blue and green collars 

(L-R) Seow Shao Ting and Daniel Lee

Like many NSmen, Daniel Lee and Seow Shao Ting fully understand the common struggles faced by active NSmen in our contemporary climate. Like many past and present NSmen, they strive to find that equalising pivot that balances their professional and national duties. 

Daniel, who is a supervisor of a Cold Storage outlet as well as a military driver, feels very assured of the company’s support during his military call-ups. He appreciates that he can safely leave the management of his assigned store in the care of his colleagues and serve the nation without worry about professional backlash. 

As he grows older, Shao Ting, a store manager of a 7-11 outlet and armour technician, understands the imperativeness of his military role. “Recent international conflicts, especially the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia, emphasise the importance of NS and how its existence is needed to protect our loved ones,” he reflects. Like Daniel, he is grateful for his company’s unconditional support of his military endeavours and reaffirms its importance for the welfare of NSmen. 

For more information on how your company can support NS and be accredited with the NS Mark accreditation scheme, please visit go.gov.sg/supportns.

If you’re looking for a job with a company accredited for supporting its NSmen, click here: www.safra.sg/jobs-for-nsmen.

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Photographer: Frenchescar Lim
Hair and make-up: Nikki Fu | Stylist: CK
Outfits: Zara and subjects’ own