No organisation can achieve engagement and long term productivity by removing stipulated working hours. It is important to have a culture of responsibility, wherein everyone knows when to step in and step out.
Jaikrishna B, President - Group HR, Amara Raja Group
It is evident that the entire world is undergoing an hour of crisis. Companies, small or large are still finding ways to grapple with the fallout of the pandemic. But amidst all this, companies have proved the importance of employees with newer HR strategies for mitigating people’s risk. Tough times demand tough efforts and like any progressive employer, Jaikrishna B of ARBL highlighted that a speedy adoption of newer and evolved HR practices have reassured employees with better and employee friendly policies. While working from home may now be the new normal, the speed at which individuals and organisations have adapted to this change is simply commendable. Financial Express Online caught up with Jaikrishna B, President – Group HR, Amara Raja Group to know his views on the current scenario in HR. Excerpts:
How has Covid shaped the existing leave policies for the employees, especially paid sick leaves?
We didn’t want the existing sick leaves getting reduced because of the pandemic. We wanted our people to be assured that we care. Hence, we introduced a special Covid-19 Leave, with no upper limit on these leaves. We also decided not to have limits for this pandemic leave because we trust our employees will use them responsibly. Adding to the benefits, the leave can be availed not only when employees get infected, but also could be used when family members under the same roof get infected.
Mental health issues substantially have increased in the past year because of job insecurity, challenges to balance personal and professional life simultaneously, and the pandemic. Did the organisation enable telehealth services, mental health counselors, insurance coverage etc. to support the workforce?
Yes! As we led the organization through the impact of COVID 19, we could anticipate early on and gauge that mental and physical health would soon become the primary concern for many individuals. This could impact productivity and wellbeing of our employees and for all you know most employees may not even express their mental health challenges.
So, we revisited our then existing ‘Employee Assistance Programme’ (EAP) and totally revamped it. The earlier EAP which was called “AR Sambodhi” (Sambodhi meaning Enlightenment in Sanskrit) was revitalized and revamped and launched as “AR Buddy”. We tied up with a reputed Online Counselling and Emotional Wellness Coach Organisation.
We had our Chairman and the entire apex leadership involved in selecting the right organisation for our diverse employees across various locations. We were keen to have an organisation that has Psychologists that can deal with maximum languages and especially someone who’s conversant with Telugu since large sections of our employees who are in the plants will be comfortable with that. It is working extremely well with our people.
In addition to dealing with Covid anxieties and related aspects, AR Buddy covers a lot of other areas which are equally critical, like:
Anxiety & stress management
Sexual Wellness etc., AR Buddy is also carrying out special counselling services to all those employees who were infected by Covid. Whether they wanted or not, AR Buddy is reaching out to them and investing time talking, counselling and supporting.
On Insurance, we also extended a special Insurance coverage for Covid hospitalisation too, in addition to the existing normal medical hospitalisation coverage.
Is the organisation comfortable with remote working even after the vaccination program in India or open to the frequently discussed hybrid working model?
We are not averse. We will have to see how the stakeholder expectations emerge in a post pandemic scenario. Covid-19 helped all of us across Industries to correct ourselves from certain mindsets that we had. For example, no roles in manufacturing industry were considered acceptable to be performed through working remotely or through Work from Home (WFH). But then this when it became a necessity, we found ways and as we speak today several manufacturing organisations have adopted it successfully. At Amara Raja, as of now, we’ve close to 75% of our office roles being performed remotely and not from the four walls of the office.
But, as the pandemic gets over with the vaccination roll out, travelling and interactions becoming far more safe, it is natural that expectations of ‘customers’ and all other stakeholders will change. We may therefore have to decode the emerging situation from time to time and possibly have, what I would call as the “flexible fusion model”, where there will be some roles, some times that will become remote working and some may not. Organisations of tomorrow need to adapt to a flexible agile approach. When the world is free of the pandemic, the expectations will be a hybrid/fusion of old and new. Accordingly, organisations must be able to make those changes within the organisation to meet the continuously evolving expectations of stakeholders.
Are we shedding the old uniform working hours from 9am -06pm, basis the past year’s productivity performance of the workforce?
Stipulated working hours will always be there and should be there. We have to define boundaries on working hours and that’s important for people. People are not Robots and we can’t have them functioning all the time and any time as we wish. In fact, as an organisation we will be keen to see people take their ‘breaks’ as required from time to time.
No organisation can achieve engagement and long term productivity by removing stipulated working hours. It is important to have a culture of responsibility, wherein everyone knows when to step in and step out, based on business requirements and it also equally means not to have extended working hours with no responsibility. Role and context defines the responsibility.
Will the organisation consider to compensate a deceased employee’s family if he/she was the breadwinner and passed away due to Covid?
I have done that at personal level even during the pre-COVID times across my career. Even in normal situation, I would have looked at the family more empathetically, if an employee of ours had a demise while in service. As a caring organisation, we always have examined such situations closely and have extended our help and do not just go by the terms and conditions of contract.
Will the organisation channelize the real-estate investment now in technology which is focused on people (Workforce) or continue to invest in real-estate as well as technology because coming back to office is important in your industry?
We have always maintained a fine balance of focus between real estate and technology. We have been going digital in our people strategy and processes much before the pandemic. The pandemic only accelerated some of our digital plans.
Governments across the world are struggling to vaccinate people and design a strong inoculation program, will the organisation consider making vaccination mandatory for employees to return to work or use other approach or leave it upon employees to decide ultimately?
We will definitely urge, communicate and advocate for a safe vaccine. But then we all know that India has announced that it will be voluntary. Our role as an organisation will be to build awareness and nudge our people to go for it which indeed will be of high importance and focus.
HUL recently announced a policy to help staff facing domestic abuse, that’s a commendable step given that the numbers have gone up for domestic violence in India. Is your organisation considering something similar or any other scenario that the pandemic shed light upon and needs a policy now?
All prodigious people oriented practices are welcome. Someone has to pioneer it and the rest of the world has to adopt the same if it does common good and is in the larger interest. But on this specific policy of domestic abuse, organisations may not have crafted and announced it as a formal policy, in many ways I think many caring organisations have always been practicing it in spirit. But under the professions of Social Work and in the Human Resources profession, you are taught about the importance of well-being, wherein it is not restricted to workplace.
The HR/People professionals must guide the organisation to look after the well-being of your human capital assets beyond the workplace and into their life as a whole.
In my career, I’ve personally been involved in issues of such nature and that is possible only if the organisation culture is so entrenched to the larger meaning of well-being of your people.
While these are practiced informally, it is good to come forward and bring in a process and policy.
In Amara Raja, we have a special intervention programme which is named as the “Quality of Life program” which is designed and anchored for employees with Spouse. After the pandemic started, we couldn’t continue this program. By this programme intervention, we get experts to discuss with the couple separately and together various aspects of life which includes focus on marital life, financial planning, parenting and various other household matters.
Thanks to pandemic, remote learning was not only possible but became a thing that motivated the workforce to be able to do more every day. Will the organisation continue to invest in remote learning? If yes, what kind of subjects are being considered and any official partnerships with the educational institutions?
Remote learning will continue and with more focus since we all now realise that it can be very impactful in several areas. We will be examining more experiential digital remote learning for our people as required, keeping in mind the skills required for the future. We haven’t tied up with educational institutions as of now, but are definitely exploring some.
Virtual rooms have made it easier to collaborate with the workforces and experts in the world, has the organisation seen a productivity and interest which can shape the L&D policy in the coming years?
Learning has to be very experiential while being remote and virtual. So I would believe the portion of e-learning that you would want to explore should be more experiential in nature without which the learning is not going to stay for long. Yes, we will be keen on such experiential learning and that will become a significant portion of our L&D policy.
AI, Big Data, and Machine are the buzz words of the year. Is the organisation considering to upskill the workforce in these subjects basis the relevance? Data is the new oil
Yes, these terms are popular and will be seen more in application in many fields. It is surely not a bubble. It is going to stay and will be a vital requirement for the future. Based on the changing world and our changing business needs, we are seriously giving importance to these skill sets, tools and technologies. DATA should be utilised in meaningful ways and not wasted.
Last year showed us that Millennials – now a major contributor in the workforce, are very concerned about the contribution to sustainability and global development. Do you think L&D policies can consider educating this chunk and over all workforce, about these subjects and how they can assist the organisation to align and achieve a certain global goal?
I would believe that this should not be just part of one’s L&D policy rather be part of your very organisation purpose. The “larger society” should always be borne in mind and such an attitude should be part of your ethos and culture. In Amara Raja it has always been so and will continue to be so. Our ‘The Amara Raja Way®’ talks about that so very dearly.