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How O&L Boosts Employee Engagement with Great Place to Work Certification 

18 February 2021

Find out how one Super Large workplace boosts their employee engagement scores through sustaining their Great Place to Work-Certified™ status.


As the global authority on workplace culture, our teams in Great Place to Work® offices around the world have read over 100 million survey responses from employees in more than 90 countries. Below we share key engagement practices and tips from one of Africa’s top-performing workplaces.


Who is O&L?

Ohlthaver & List Group (O&L) is one of Namibia’s largest private sector companies. Employing over 6,500 Namibians this 100-year-old family business contributes to nearly 4% to the country’s GDP, working across myriad industries.

These include:

  • food production
  • beverages
  • fishing
  • farming
  • retail trade
  • information technology
  • property leasing and development
  • renewable power generation
  • mining and marine engineering
  • steel retailing
  • advertising
  • and the leisure and hospitality industry.


O&L’s People Achievements in Context

Year after year since 2016, O&L has achieved a +90% response rate for their employee engagement surveys. This is an especially impressive feat considering the considerable size of their workforce.

Add the fact that most employees work in far-flung areas of the country, often forced to answer their survey on paper, and the accomplishment is even more impressive!

Employees working in the manufacturing sector tend to answer their survey questions in a slightly less favourable way than in other industries. But at O&L, employee engagement results are just 7% below the 25 World’s Best Workplaces (a benchmark that includes renowned multinationals like Cisco, DHL Express, Hilton, Mars Inc. and Adobe).

Among O&L’s employee engagement survey results, those survey statements where they equal the World’s Best give us a glimpse into why their employees rate them so highly:

  • 85% – “I feel I make a difference here.”
  • 81% – “My work has a special purpose, this is not ‘just a job’.”
  • 83% – “When I look at what we accomplish, I feel a sense of pride.”


trophy-with-scrollTakeaway #1: Consistency is crucial.

Those HR teams who repeatedly ask employees to share their experiences, concerns and ideas for their organisation are more likely to achieve better business outcomes. Sometimes all it takes is a 10-minute pulse survey. Use a platform that gives you results in real-time so that you can easily analyse and act on the data.


Put Purpose into Practice

Companies like O&L are proving that it isn’t only small or medium-sized organisations who can deliver a great workplace culture to employees. One of the ways they do this is by understanding the power of purpose.

Among other benefits, purpose helps to keep employees engaged; fosters loyalty from one’s customer base; and often inspires better innovation that brings about more positive, transformational change.

Sven-Thieme As Sven Thieme, O&L Executive Chairman explains, "being Great Place to Work-Certified™ aligns with O&L's business purpose in that this global certification is one of our key organisational pillars. It helps us retain and further attract the best possible skills and talent by being recognised as an outstanding place to work in Africa.”

In 2020, O&L launched “Vision 2025” – a pledge to create 10,000 jobs in Namibia over 5 years. The vision easily demonstrates O&L’s commitment to uplifting the lives of their employees, as well as their wider society. This was their way of embracing their purpose: ‘Creating a Future, Enhancing Life’.

Mr Thieme continues: “Living O&L’s purpose – how we connect our individual personal purpose to that of the company to align interest, and hence performance, is crucial for our success”.

Leadership, internal communications, employee wellbeing and CSR were 4 key areas we found driving engagement at O&L. Not surprising then that the company’s purpose is embedded within their high-scoring employee survey statements:

  • 87% – “I am personally connected to the O&L Vision 2025.”
  • 81% – “I feel good about the ways we contribute to the community.”


Acting on Feedback

Wessie vd WesthuizenFor Wessie van der Westhuizen, O&L CEO, "employee feedback identifies and accelerates the speed and ease of execution of strategic and business culture strategies, and increases contribution and an all-inclusive effort from all. This is a necessary measurement to benchmark best practices in line with O&L’s breakthrough culture, vision and values.”

While analysing their survey data, senior leaders found that many employees sought assurance that the countless small tasks they work on every day were connected to the greater vision of success for the Group.

Employees also increasingly identified with a variety of social causes in Namibia, and appreciated the contribution made by the business to local charities and other organisations working to advance those causes.

Timothy-Izaks-headshot-Timothy Izaks, Human Capital Manager at Namibia Breweries Limited, an O&L subsidiary, shares how his team was able to prioritise the most pressing needs of their workforce:

“Our organisation made massive strides in leveraging technology and new ways of working to make 2020 a better year than most other organisations had,” he says

“Through various efficiency initiatives, including offering voluntary early retrenchment to employees 55 years and older, and saving costs where we could, we managed to reduce overhead costs to secure jobs. Although there was a ban on producing, distributing and selling alcohol [in Namibia] during 2020, we did not need to introduce salary cuts or retrench any of our employees.”


touchscreenTakeaway #2: Feedback means nothing without follow-through.

Managers sustain trust when their actions match their words. This is where consultants can be a great resource for HR. With their external perspective, consultants can help to extract key information from your data; discover important patterns; and link results to best practices and experiences of other organisations in the same size category or industry.


Nurturing Employee Wellbeing

Creating a workplace where employees genuinely love to work – and want to stay working for longer – is no easy feat.

For O&L, the Great Place to Work® Trust Index© employee survey is the definitive standard of what it means to be a truly great workplace. 

Great Place to Work Certification is not something companies can fabricate. It’s not anecdotal or based on managers’ claims alone. The Certified™ badge is a real, trusted stamp of approval backed by quantitative and qualitative data from real employees.

Using this data, O&L was able to sustain their great culture and nurture wellbeing throughout Covid-19.

“In 2020, we sent out regular motivational SMS communications to all employees from their senior leadership team,” says Izaks. “We sent masks, soap and care packs to our people and distributed immune boosters and flu shots free of charge to all onsite employees.

“We also had those people who could work from home do so on alternating weeks. We’ve introduced A & B teams in the production facility to minimise the risk to exposure on site. Employees who could not work from home made use of the “leave bank” – using some annual leave days that were donated by other employees who had more leave days available.”


Financial & Insurance_Takeaway #3: Investing in people pays off.

Ultimately, the way leaders treat employees on a daily basis will determine whether or not they see their employer as a worthy recipient of Certification. This makes the Certified™ badge a powerful public endorsement. It validates to your market that your organisation has created an outstanding people-oriented culture offering great working conditions, and treating people with care and respect.

Certification drives O&L executives to continuously improve their organisational culture. No wonder their survey revealed to us that 82% of the Group’s employees are fully engaged with their leaders and the organisation!

Obtaining Certification is a journey that does take some time, commitment and investment. But this worthwhile effort will, as in O&L’s case, help you to propel your people and business to a better future.



Get employees involved in boosting your company brand!

Organisations with 10+ employees will be Great Place to Work-Certified with a Trust Index employee survey score of 65% or higher.

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