Nestlé's Tania Hector is a huge champion of flexible working 

She crafted the flexibility policy for Nestlé's South Africa office five years ago.

“Flexibility improves productivity because it enables people to work at times when they are most productive,” states Tania Hector, Nestlé’s Human Resource Director for the East and Southern Africa Region (ESAR).

Tania is a huge proponent and advocate of integrating flexible working conditions as part of improving employee productivity and wellness.  

“Some people are larks like me, which means they get their best work done super early in the morning. Other people are owls and work really well late at night. So why on earth do most organisations still insist on making every single employee work from 9 am to 5 pm?” 

Tania strongly believes work is something you do and not some place you go to.   For this reason, she conceptualized and crafted Nestlé’s flexibility policy for their South African office years before she moved on to Nestlé Malaysia in 2015.  Although the policy was approved by the leadership, it was not fully implemented.

In her first four weeks on the job, she immediately allowed one of her direct reports, who works in Johannesburg while his family resides at the coast, to work from home for one week of every month. Her Executive Assistant, who has a very long commute to work, was allowed to come in whenever she wanted, choosing to either work early mornings or late afternoons in order to avoid traffic. On Fridays she works from home. 

“I have made it a point to learn something in every role that I have had and use those learnings to make an impact in every subsequent role.  The big lesson from my time as the head of talent, engagement and leadership at Nestlé UK came from noticing how little people cared about where work gets done and the extent to which that improved talent attraction and retention,” adds Tania.

In her opinion, the reason why most South African corporates still have such an archaic approach to flexibility is not due to a lack of policies. Rather, the problem is that the people in those organisations still believe they have to see staff physically sitting at their desks in order to believe they are working. But this, Tania says, represents an opportunity for HR leaders to change organisational mindset. 

A vegetarian farm girl

Tania’s energy is infectious. Everything she says is delivered with such exuberance and conviction that one can only deduce that she wholeheartedly believes in every word she utters. It is a characteristic she says is borne from being raised on a farm in George where she spent most of her youth around animals and nature. Her affection for people in general, she says, is not dissimilar from her love for animals, which she views as equal sentient beings, and is the driving factor for her vegetarianism. 

A few years after she left for university, she started to become uncomfortable with hurting animals and gradually became uncomfortable with consuming the flesh of other sentient beings.

Says Tania: “I believe animals have the same right to life as we do as human beings. That’s very different from what felt when I was younger, when animals’ only purpose was to breed and eventually become food. I would quite literally be able to out into the wilderness and shoot a buck. To this day, I can skin it while there in the bush as long as I have sharp enough knife. I know how to track animals. I know how to slaughter cows and pigs and can cut their meat into chops or make sausage. I have done all of that many times in my childhood.  It's not a skillset I’m proud of having now that I am a vegetarian. But I do have it.”  

Nestlé and Tania – a case of love at first sight 

A creative problem-solver and decision-maker with strong communication, coaching, negotiation and problem-solving skills, Tania has successfully managed various turnarounds within a variety of HR departments in South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore and the UK. 

With a deep passion for enabling potential, she started her career as a social worker, eventually specialising in marriage/family therapy in South Africa, before making the move to HR in 1996. For the next 10 years, she had regular opportunities to apply change management principles in her personal and work life as a generalist HR practitioner at Clicks Group. In 2006, Tania moved to Nestlé.

“I remember it like it was yesterday. Nestlé advertised a job for in an Employee Wellness manager in one of the Sunday publications and one of the requirement for the position, was around one possessing a mental health professional with HR experience. I vividly recall turning to my husband on that Sunday morning and telling him that it was my dream job description,” she says, adding that she owes a lot of gratitude to the Employee Relations manager at the time, Bright Nkosi, who gave her the opportunity. 

“Bright was a visionary. He realised that stable employee relations are about employee engagement. He started building relationships with unions and created the employee wellness department which would enable increased engagement with employees. Our focus areas at the time was HIV/AIDS and other chronic disease, financial wellness and so forth. It was such a good strategy that it is still the way we do things today.”

Over the next seven years, Tania fulfilled a variety of roles within the HR function at Nestlé, specialising in everything from including talent acquisition to learning and development.

“I pretty much did every HR leadership or management job with Nestlé HR,” says Tania. 

She later moved on to Nestlé Malaysia/Singapore for two years before relocating to the UK in early 2016 to become the head of Talent, Engagement and Leadership at Nestlé UK and Ireland, before returning to South Africa in 2019.