While some organisations treat ‘people first’ as a philosophy worthy only of lip service, a few are stepping up to the promise
Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk,” are the daunting words of ex-Amazon employee Bo Olson, who like many of his peers spoke recently to The New York Times about the horrifying work culture at the e-commerce giant. The exposure in the news article released recently, didn’t just take everyone by surprise but also brought to the fore the cutthroat culture in which the company allegedly encourages its workers to toil into the wee hours, tear each other’s ideas apart in meetings, and in general, kill their personal lives over it.
The article, which raised a storm on social media, forced Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos to send a memo to the staff stating that the “article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know”. What the exposé did is make many employees take cognizance of such issues, while firms questioned their own policies.
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Like two sides of a coin, there are also companies which go the extra mile for employees. In today’s times when one spends more hours in office than at home and with immense pressure to excel, these organisations are making sure they help employees find a work-life balance, while also providing a conducive work atmosphere. Netflix, for instance, announced an unlimited maternity leave policy so that its employees, without worrying about finances, can balance the needs of their families. Similarly, General Electric has followed in the footsteps of Accenture, Adobe and Gap to let go of annual performance reviews.
Closer home, e-commerce giant Flipkart offers adopting parents R50,000 as adoption allowance to use towards legal, agency or regulatory costs, or any other expenses that may arise during the process. Debraj Tripathy, MD, MediaCom acknowledges that for the agency, its people are the ‘priority number one’. “Our people, clients and partners are at the centre of everything we do,” he says.
It is a no-brainer that investing in people, their training and their well-being, naturally and unequivocally leads to better work and better business. As part of its ongoing ‘Freshness’ activities (part of its ‘fun at work’ series), MediaCom India recently invited employees to bring their children to work for a day to interact with the teams and their families, thus allowing employees a peek into the lives of their fellow media planners.
Other initiatives too are undertaken. For instance, every employee is encouraged to develop their talents and interest areas outside work. The company runs a global and local content practice called PicMe, every year. Budding photographers upload their pictures, which are then uploaded on the agency’s intranet. Winners are given gifts like photography courses and cameras. Those with cooking interests could participate in MediaCom MasterChefs, where, much like the TV show, judges declare the best cooks in the firm.
But the world of media still implies working late hours and often, even weekends – a common phenomenon in many advertising, media or digital firms. Therefore, many aren’t hesitating to go the extra mile offering various bonuses and other benefits to retain and nurture their talent. In this regard, MediaCom claims to not encourage a late night working culture and makes sure that no one works on weekends, unless it is a matter of crisis. The company also has a formal work from home policy.
Or take Viacom18, which prides itself on its differentiated, progressive people practices. “Our practices are not just for them, but also by them, and of them,” says Abhinav Chopra, chief human resources officer and EVP, Viacom18. “In the hectic world of the media and entertainment industry, where most of our businesses run on a 24×7 schedule, we take special care to ensure that employees are cared for and valued, as well as they get enough quality time with their loved ones,” asserts Chopra.
Viacom18 believes in not only mentoring professionally but personally, too. Starting with ‘dating’ allowances to discount cards, employees are given various benefits. Through the various ‘wellness’ programmes, it ensures that it provides the employees with avenues across dimensions to make sure that s/he brings the best to work.
The digital boom across the world as well as in the country has lead to mushrooming of numerous agencies and e-commerce platforms, creating an immensely competitive scenario; and with pressure to woo audience and investors alike, work isn’t limited to eight hours. The competitive pressure is so much that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced she would take just 14 days of maternity leave after the birth of her twins and that she will be “working throughout” that period. Her words invited criticism for having to mention this publicly at all, setting an example for other pregnant workers on what ought to be the right amount of time off, and the social media uproar was akin to the one generated by The NYT article for Amazon.
Not every company is following the Yahoo! example. Flipkart doesn’t. Not only are expectant women employees entitled to six months of paid maternity leave, they can avail flexible working hours for four months at full pay along with continuity on the same job, post return.
To understand and enhance employees’ value perceptions as well as to focus on innovative trends and best practices, Flipkart has launched a number of initiatives to make life easy for its employees. “We want to make sure our employees have the support to balance their career and personal life,” says a Flipkart spokesperson. Its Career Break programme enables employees to take one to six months of unpaid time away from work in order to balance their careers with other commitments, responsibilities and interests.
Or take To the New Digital. The company’s HR head Satya Sheel Sharma says, “We have crafted policies specific to work-life balance which is critical to employee productivity.” One of these policies that stand out is a non-tracking of time/number of hours an employee is in office. So instead of punch-in and punch-out timings, the focus is to appreciate and measure its people on deliverables.
Being a mentor
Apart from benefits, companies are investing in employees’ professional growth. For instance, To the New’s half-yearly international meets for practice leaders (10-15% of its employees) provide a platform to better understand the business vision and face-time with the board members.
As for MediaCom, one of the first agencies to put in place a YCo Program, a group of young employees work almost as parallel to the executive committee, and their opinion are sought on business, people and operational issues. It also has a global mobility policy where employees are encouraged to move to other countries. “Our ‘20|20
Connections’ thinking framework which uses standard processes, tools and visualisation formats makes it easier for talent to move across countries and deliver the same high quality work. More than 18 of our people from India have moved to roles abroad in the last three years, two of them as country CEOs,” highlights Tripathy.
“The learning never stops at Viacom18,” says Chopra elaborating on the learning and development initiatives at Viacom18 anchored under the umbrella of ‘Bodhi Tree’. Focus is laid on learning opportunities through programmes such as ‘Back To School’ and ‘Young Leaders’ Development Programme’. Then there is ‘Internal Career Opportunities’, a platform designed to provide employees with avenues to grow within the organisation, across verticals in a role/ function/ brand of their choice. Recently, Viacom18 was recognised for ‘Leading Practices in Quality of Work-Life’ at the World HRD Congress 2015.
With attrition in media organisations running into double digits, talent retention is a priority. MediaCom’s leadership team has on average been with the company for over many years, including its CEO Stephen Allen, who has been with the organisation for over 30 years. In India, no member of the agency’s senior leadership team has left in the last seven years.
The war for talent is no more a cliché; it is a reality one has to deal with everyday. Keeping employees engaged and motivated needs constant innovation.