Three months of hectic 12-hour days. All to meet sales targets at a financial services company. But the hard work has paid off handsomely, for all concerned. With the toplines looking up, it’s time for the charmed circle of top achievers to take off for a wellness week in Singapore.
The games India Inc plays are changing faster than you can say “bonus”. While old school financial institutions are learning new tricks to keep a smile on performing employee faces, new school tech giants are wooing old hands in a bid to create bonds of loyalty that last.
Money spent on outings, holidays and fun events is cash in the bank, one way or the other, with companies serving up a three-in-one-benefit basket — curbing attrition, boosting morale, maximising productivity.
“In our industry today, people contact between employees has really gone down. The work environment has become sales driven and very competitive,” explains an official of a foreign financial services company.
| What do employees want most' To feel valued. That’s the conclusion drawn by California-based Great Places to Work Institute that conducts a survey of companies in the US. Topping the employee feel-good factor list are:
|• Comprehensive health plans
• Stock options and a 401K (similar to a provident fund)
• Paid maternity and paternity leave
• Income protection plans, accounting for life insurance and disability coverage
• Childcare services
• Eldercare resources
• Child adoption assistance (financial and legal aid)
• Personal development training
• Health and fitness facilities
• Casual dress
• Free food!
To break the momentum of the professional race to meet targets and make the numbers add up, incentives are often taking the form of fun, rather than cash. Like at this bank, which recently sent over 30 employees to Dubai for an all-sponsored holiday.
While such luxury is purely performance-related, smaller initiatives help keep everyone happy. Parties at nightclubs, outings to a bagan bari, bashes on a launch...
“By helping employees get to know each other outside work, they become more tolerant of each others’ problems as well,” the senior manager adds.
Going by the textbook definition of an individual’s performance in an organisation, productivity depends not only on individual profiles, but also on the macro context of the workplace. According to Ranjan Das, professor of strategic management at Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta, various initiatives involving groups — organised institutionally — are aimed at developing individual competence and also at correcting organisational environment.
“These activities help in the development of social and emotional skills among individuals and facilitate the process of team building. A new culture is also created where the employees can afford to think beyond their own departments, incentives and penalties,” explains Das.
With people spending more and more time in the workplace these days, the overriding concern for HR departments is to create an environment that is not stifling. The other challenge is to provide employees a chance to enjoy leisure activities and so, cushion the pressure.
If canteens keep tummies full, gyms and games rooms keep waistlines fat-free — or at least try to.
“Employees can even go for a swim during office hours, with swimming pools coming up on campuses. These touches reduce the boredom factor and raise productivity,” adds Das. Top management, theoretically, could be attempting to create a “collegial environment”, where people enjoy certain freedoms.
Sporting events, quizzes, group dinners, dances or just a round of drinks…
In-office recreation is “quite important”, feels Jaideep Mukherjee, a Sector V-based technocrat. “It can create closeness that is otherwise lacking in an office environment… You can’t survive in the dry IT industry without it.”
But there is a difference between genuine attempts at bonding, which are in “a company’s blood”, versus forced togetherness “with a purpose”, which will never work, stresses Mukherjee. The culture, he agrees, is a spillover of habits grown in school. “If you try to measure direct benefit in the short term, it won’t work. But in the long term, it makes a big difference.” Such initiatives can also affect whether employees choose a company over its competitors. “Obviously, no one wants to work in a robotic environment.”
In Sector V, the employees themselves get actively involved organising entertainment. “We have an events management group (EMG), and it is mandatory for one fresher to be involved,” explains Swarnangsu Acharyya, senior technical staff, Interra, which tries to organise a weekend out of the city once a year.
“There were informal clubs before. But in the past year, the management, too, has become involved,” explains Vikramaditya Ghosh, assistant system engineer, TCS. So, a gym committee was formed, which first did a recce of neighbouring Sector V gyms, before handing its wish list to the HR department. “People come in early now to exercise or drop in after hours or during their lunch break,” explains the 24-year-old techie. A sports committee organises cricket, football and table tennis tournaments, too. Per quarter, there are project parties and more frequent sales dos.
An overseas client has paid up, and a bunch of techies has put a project to bed. But before they call it a day, it’s party time.
Each “vertical”, or project group, puts together its own parties as well, for which it has an allocated budget, explains Cognizant Technology Solutions (CTS) vice-president Sidhhartha Mukherjee. “It allows people to wind down. We also see to it that somebody from the management is present,” he says. Mukherjee is “certain that it has something to do with retention”, which is reflected in annual evaluations of business effectiveness. “Such policies did not come into the picture earlier. Now, with employees spending so much more time at work, offices have to get involved with their leisure.”
Industry bodies, too, are getting into the new-age team-building act. For the past two years, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has regularly been hosting retreats. This is where CII officials from across the world troop in to discuss, debate and brainstorm on various issues. “These sessions involve both work and play. Professional help from companies like the Boston Consulting Group is taken to draw up the schedule and identify the issues. These activities foster bonding among executives and also help setting up targets, which are shared,” says Amitabh Khosla, regional director, CII eastern region.
Brunch-beer-swim at Hyatt, banquet at Mainland China, weekends at Radisson…
The direct beneficiary of this is undoubtedly the hospitality industry. Mainland China admits to offering corporates “unofficial special rates”. Groups of around 50 have been entertained at the banquet hall, costing as little as Rs 25,000, while small parties of seven or eight have run up a tab of Rs 13,000 as well. So far, the IT industry has been a big patron, but so has the pharmaceutical sector.
With a regular flow of companies accounting for 10 to 15 per cent of the business without any effort, plans for organised packages can’t be far behind. At the Hyatt Regency, the Sunday brunch, beer and swim package have been met with enthusiasm, while the banquets remain the most popular destination for team-building workshops.
With few available weekend destinations, Ffort Radisson is corporate Calcutta’s favourite getaway. “Around 60 per cent of our revenue comes from corporate group outings,” explains director, sales & marketing, Maher Khatri. When a company expresses interest in booking the Raichak facilities, a package is customised to suit the group’s needs. “A lot of companies go for conferences, but many just want to help employees unwind,” he adds. Interestingly, the rush is not just on weekends. Forty per cent of corporate traffic is on the weekdays. “We have heard that some employees are not happy with leaving on the weekends as it eats into the only time they really have with their families.”
On a different pitch, the city’s series of Merchant Cup competitions generates huge interest. “We have 64 teams from almost as many companies every year,” explains Arabindo Bose of CC&FC, where the April Merchants’ Cup Football tournament is more of a “carnival” than a sporting event.
And going to work is more like going to play, some would say.
Window to the World
A “work/life balance” is the biggest workplace buzz. Here are a few loyalty-grabbing measures deployed by the best of ’em to keep employees hooked:
Google may be notorious for its Friday-morning layoffs, but its fun mantra is still worth checking out: “Work and play are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to code and pass the puck at the same time.” Googlers in California are invited to participate in weekly roller hockey games, bike rides, and walks in the wildlife preserve next door. Pop in to the lobby and play the grand piano. The Googleplex is equipped with gym and sauna. Massage therapists are also at hand. Rock climbing or gymnastics facilities are made available. There is a free-flow of free food through the day. Enter this pet-friendly office, and you are likely to find at least a few pleased pooches running amok.
A winning personal touch: A daily allowance for mothers and fathers on maternity/paternity leave to buy food from Waiters-on-Wheels, a food home-delivery service, so they can devote all of their time on parenting their new-born, not in the kitchen.
Microsoft seems to be going all out to improve soft skills and its reputation as a back-breaking employer. Or at least, once having broken the back, it is keen to make amends. MicrosoftHealth.com is a website developed exclusively for employees and family members in partnership with WebMD. They can access information, order and refill prescriptions… A 24-hour health line also provides medical advice. Confidential counselling services are at hand for some employees and their families, and referral services are available to help out with childcare, adult care, home improvement and academic decisions.
Alston & Bird gives paid leave for time spent performing community service. The law firm has a Wellness Lunch ‘n’ Learn programme and a Weight Watchers at Work scheme running at its Atlanta office. Massage therapy, caregivers support group, health club and casual Fridays are a few of the extras.
HP work ethic focuses on fundamental rights and duties. Treating others with dignity, respect and courtesy and contributing to a positive, productive work environment, free of discrimination, harassment and offensive behaviour are values that have been worked into the company culture. Starting with an Open Door Policy where all employees can raise concerns with the management.
Its LifeWorks programme provides confidential phone and web service in the US and Canada for parenting and child care, education, retirement planning, disabilities, caring for elderly dependants, and basic legal and financial matters. WorkWell, a one-hour online ergonomics program, helps reduce the frequency and severity of musculoskeletal injuries, found to be the most common type of employee workplace injury.
Starbucks employees take home a pound of coffee each week. Sometimes, it is just the small things, too.
So, if you thought your company was ‘with it’, here’s to a severe bout of Monday morning blues!