There is this story about the early days of market research (MR) in India. It seems that one of the fledgling MR outfits was asked to do a poll survey. The agency decided to station its field personnel at a prominent street corner in Calcutta and poll every tenth passerby. (This was considered as random a method as any.)
The opinion poll showed that the Congress candidate would win hands down, a rather surprising conclusion in a Left-dominated area. But one of the partners in the MR firm was herself involved in the fieldwork; they could be confident there was no fudging. The results were duly submitted to the newspaper that had commissioned the survey. The paper went to town over the dramatic findings, only to end with egg all over its face when the Left Front candidate returned with an increased majority.
A later analysis showed what had gone wrong. The street poll was conducted when a major Congress rally had just got over a couple of blocks away. Most of the people polled were returning from the rally.
“There is a lot of HR which depends on the time and the place,” says Mumbai-based HR consultant Shashi Rao. She points to the recent debate on the preference for perks over pay. (The debate has found earlier mention in these columns also.)
“When jobs are scarce, your first priority is finding a job,” she says. “In that situation, the best job is the one that pays you the most. Most people will sacrifice salary only for job security. Only when jobs are available aplenty do you start thinking about factors such as quality of life.”
The other factor one does not realise is that perks look prettier from the outside. For an insider, they soon become part of the furniture. Writing about the 2006 DQ Top 20, Bhaswati Chakravorty explains: “Interestingly, what was considered revolutionary till about two years back has been relegated to what is commonly referred to as ‘hygiene factors’ today. And these hygiene factors (read multi-cuisine cafeterias, gymnasiums, meditation sessions and so on) are necessary but are no longer sufficient conditions for satisfaction among employees. Infosys, for example, offers recreation facilities run by an employee welfare trust. On offer are gymnasiums, swimming pools, aerobics, yoga and meditation centres, etc. The recently launched Mysore campus will have a bowling alley, a multiplex and an auditorium with seating for 1,300. The multiplex will have three theatres, with 150 seats each. But, despite these hygiene factors that have improved over the years, Infosys still features far below on the employee satisfaction index, as our survey revealed yet again.”
And then there is Google, which is in a class by itself when it comes to perks. “We have never forgotten since our start-up days that great things happen more frequently within the right culture and environment,” says the company. “So we offer Googlers a generous host of benefits as part of our efforts to keep Google a motivating, healthy, and productive place.” Among the benefits on offer are free gourmet food, 24-hour gyms, fitness centres, yoga classes, inhouse doctors, swimming pools, spas, personal trainers...you name it.
Many Indian companies are also falling in line. Infosys, Wipro and Hexaware haven’t quite got there. But they will. Unfortunately perhaps, Google will have moved on by then.
All this sounds very nice. But give the last word to the naysayers. They contend that all these perks make you spend more time at work. You deliver much more than the cost of all these facilities. If your office sends people to walk your dog, wouldn’t you woof in your cubicle with delight.
FREE FOR ALL
A partial list of the benefits Google provides
• Gourmet meals
• On-site dry-cleaning
• Childcare centres
• Annual all-paid holidays
• Dog-friendly offices
• On-site doctors
• Flexible work hours
• Maternity and parental leave
• Legal and financial advisors
• Learning opportunities and tuition reimbursement