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‘Work to live your life, don’t live to work’

HR Vice President and Apeejay alumnus Bhanu Sharma talks about how companies can promote work-life balance

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A company CEO recently drew flak on social media for suggesting youngsters should give it their all during the initial years of their professional life without worrying about work-life balance. His remarks come at a time when there has been increasing deliberation on drawing a line between the professional and personal and focusing on one’s overall well-being, especially after the pandemic. Apeejay Institute of Management & Engineering Technical Campus (AIMETC) alumnus Bhanu Sharma, Global Head of HR, Administration & IT, Tega Industries, rightly says that more than a paper contract, it is a psychological contract that holds an employee and employer together. Companies, therefore, should be empathetic towards their people. Bhanu shares his experience and insights in an interview:

Post-pandemic, many people are prioritising mental health, among other things, over exhaustive work. According to you, what kind of an impact has the pandemic left on our overall work culture?

During the pandemic, I was working with an Energy Utility, where I have spent more than a decade. Energy is under the essential sector. So, all our plants were running 24×7. Prior to the pandemic, nobody had ever imagined that work from home would be possible in the manufacturing industry. We took a month to adapt to the changed scenario, we undertook initiatives to offer help in all ways possible along with the core work of producing electricity. The major impact on the work culture, was the realisation that “We are in it together”. The fact that employee and organisation are not two different entities but one was well understood. Neither can exist without the other. The adoption of technology and systems, confidence on work from anywhere, focus on family engagement and not only the employee are key sustained positive changes which are part of the new work culture.

Also Read: ‘Supportive behaviour of co-workers and family members can help one strike a healthy work-life balance’ 

As far as mental health is concerned, pre-Covid also, we had tie-ups with an organisation wherein employees could access helpline for counselling ensuring their anonymity. Regular yoga and meditation camps, Zumba, Pilates classes across our locations was a norm, competitions were also held at organisation level annually. During the pandemic, we went online and extended the service to the families of our employees as well. This was availed by many. We collaborated with a major fitness chain to organise online competitions for the employees, online newspaper and magazine portal to provide free subscriptions to employees to access major dailies and magazines, apart from other kinds of activities. We consciously designed competitions around cooking and household chores for all the employees, specifically male employees to encourage equal division of labour at home. We got our C-Suite, including myself, to post pictures of us doing household chores including dishes, cooking, mopping the floor etc. to influence our male employees shoulder responsibilities at home. Infact the centre spread of our Employee Magazine, had the collage of us doing household chores during Covid. The focus shifted to family engagement from employee engagement.

Many companies are coping with the ‘Great Resignation’ in the aftermath of the pandemic. How was your sector impacted?

There is a famous doha by Sant Kabir Das, “Dukh mei Sumiran Sab Kare, Sukh mei kare na koye; Jo Sukh mei Sumiran Kare toh Dukh kahe ka hoye”.  In the large cap manufacturing sector, while the attrition has increased for sure, we have not really seen the ‘Great Resignation’. The attrition moved from a single digit to double digits, but it was much less as compared to the 25-30 per cent plus in many other sectors. We maintained good increments even during the pandemic, and took care of the employees. In fact, we rolled out an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) towards the end of Covid. Meanwhile, the leadership continuously engaged with people. I have seen over the years, that is never the paper contract that works but it is always the psychological contract between the organisation and the employee which works.

If you build a ‘family atmosphere’, people will stay with you through thick and thin. You take care of them and they will take care of you. One bad year will not matter.

‘Quiet quitting’ has become the latest buzzword on social media and refers to those people who only do what their job description expects of them and not more, which in turn might dim their prospects. Do you think the mindset is justified? How does it impact business?

Let us look at this from two lenses: Individual and Organisation.

As far as an Individual is concerned, it is a personal choice. Everything in life has consequences. If somebody does not want to take additional responsibility and wants to stick to the job description, it is completely fine. Each person has her/his own perspective and expectations from life, and thus own engagements in and outside the workspace. One should be prepared for a slow and steady career in that case. If you want to grow fast, enjoy extra perks, you have to put in extra effort and work fast. It is simple. The problem occurs, when your colleague, batch mate grows faster professionally than you by putting in that extra bit. Are you comfortable and at peace with this? You might be growing on some other parameter, maybe outside the workspace. Your choices, anchors / priorities in life are different so your career trajectory is bound to be different. It’s okay. Again, nothing is cast in stone. You can shift gears according to the time, situation and mental space you are in anytime.

An Organisation is always designed in a way assuming that at least 40 per cent of the people will work as per what they are told to, another 40 odd per cent will work a bit more than what they are told to and then only a small percentage will innovate and go beyond the call of duty. There would be some who will not be able to do what is expected of them due to various reasons. These percentages may vary based on the stage the organisation is in and the nature of the business. But the basic construct of these four kinds of employees is integral to organisation design. One has to keep in mind that organisations have a pyramidal structure and it tapers at the top. So not everyone despite putting similar efforts can grow with the same speed as well, due to tapering opportunities.

It is not uncommon in India among organisations and the leadership to expect that employees will work extra hours beyond their regular shifts, work on off-days or avoid taking leaves. Are companies really prioritising work-life balance?

Times have changed now. Organisations are also awakening to the realisation that a healthy work-life balance for the employee is healthy. At the organisation level, we are addressing this with a three pronged approach–Policy, Capability building and Positive Influence. We have made multiple policies, one out of which is as basic as mandating each employee to take a minimum of ten days of leave in a year; we monitor it and send reminders to the managers at regular intervals. We have put in place policies which support people leaving the office on time and to facilitate this, we are focusing on micro-skilling employees, which help people finish their work faster. Managers who have better feedback scores and less attrition among their teams are rewarded.

In a nutshell, you promote work-life balance through policy on one side and on the other side, you build capability in the system via new system design, diversity recruitment, training and projects so that people can turn around the same work faster and better. The onus of the work-life balance is as much in the hands of the individual as in the hands of the organisation.

We have to make our choices and stand up for them. I also realised this much later in my career and for the past six-seven years, I have paid more attention to my health and work-life balance and have been motivating others to do so too. We can only work if we have a healthy body and mind. Hence we need to respect our body, and give it due consideration.

Many of us harbour this misconception that work-life balance is about time. It is all in the mind. If you are committed to your work and your life with same intensity, you will find ways to balance both. And once the work is done, the organisation should never look at time.

HR practices have evolved over the years. Now, there is an increasing focus on diversity and inclusivity. What other changes or trends have you seen in your experience?

Prior to manufacturing, I was working in the software industry as an engineer. A lot of HR practices depend on the industry rather than time. It also depends on the organisation size and geography. If we purely look at it from the perspective of time, there is no doubt that there is a lot of focus on diversity now. Organisations have realised that Diversity and Inclusion drive innovation, better availability, optimum processes and system designs. In conventional terms, people understand D & I to include gender, religion and age. But the work processes have evolved and technology has become an indispensable part of all processes in the organization. Therefore, technology adoption becomes a very important dimension. The inclusion of Technology at many places is a bigger challenge than age, religion, gender etc. Clearly, organisations who are technology inclusive have an edge over others.

Besides, continued education in an organisation has become very important these days. The way the world is changing, it doesn’t take more than 5-8 years for someone to be irrelevant now, if s/he doesn’t upgrade her/im. Investing in employee development is a new norm. This engagement is no longer restricted to the employees. Scholarships are being rolled out even for the children of the employees.

Medical, Accidental, Life insurance coverage, Retiral Scheme options for the employees is another area which has seen a positive change over years, which brings in a lot of security and peace of mind for the employee and families.    

The biggest change (though forced) we saw recently was work from home. Though it was the need of the hour in covid times, organizations are now open and accommodating to employees working from anywhere. In fact, many organizations, having realised the benefits of the same and are experimenting with new policies regarding work from anywhere.

In nutshell, there is a strong realisation both at the employee and the organization level that they are not two entirely separate entities. Their survival, growth and well being is not mutually exclusive of the growth and well being of the other.

Tell us about your journey at AIMETC.

We had a great time at AIMETC—it was not just about studying but many extra-curricular activities and inter-college competitions. We learned a lot and built a good network during that time. Most of our batchmates went on to achieve great success in their respective professions. In fact, we are connected even today. It was a great journey and it prepared us well not only for corporate life but life in general.

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Senior Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.

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