Ask any Human Resource expert about what are the main drivers of employee retention, and the answer will include opportunities for career advancement, competitive compensation packages and, more importantly, good work-life balance.

One of the biggest challenges an organisation faces is employee retention. To address this, organisations, including public sector enterprises, are now trying to create a good work-life balance for their employees.

According to Shilpa Khanna, Director, Human Capital Solutions, Aon Consulting Private Ltd, an organisation that permits or encourages spouses to work in the same entity leads to many benefits: more loyalty, enabling higher retention of such employees; greater trust towards employees that their personal relationships are respected and there is no discrimination on account of it; progressive, open culture; and good referrals.

And supporting the hiring of spouses, particularly during transfers, also sends a message that the employer cares about the overall well-being of the employee’s family. But the concept has its challenges too, especially when personal conflict reaches the workspace or where spouses are pitted against each other for a position. In such situations, it is difficult for the organisation to remain unbiased.

For employees also, there is a risk when there a situation of layoffs.

On January 1, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd, the country’s leading energy company, unveiled its unique bonding initiative, IOCian-2gether, a digital platform to help single employees find life partners within the IndianOil family. “The platform has been developed in-house and offers a safe and supportive environment for employees to build fulfilling relationships while pursuing excellence in their personal and professional lives,” said Rashmi Govil, ED (HRD & Employee Relations).

According to Govil, there were two significant reasons for this move. First, to make inclusivity and diversity numbers more robust. IndianOil’s employee pool is dominated by engineers, especially from the chemical and mechanical streams.

Given the limited number of women who opt for these streams in college, their presence in the global downstream landscape is limited. Many of these women employees have to move out of refineries after marriage. In most cases, where employees move out of refining locations to meet familial responsibilities, they have to give up their choices and move beyond their core expertise.

Second, when spouses work in different organisations and one of them has to shift base, the other faces the prospect of shifting as well, even at times against their professional interest.

The platform allows IndianOil employees, especially women, to connect with prospective partners without giving up on their preferred work profiles and locations, says Govil.

IndianOil is not the only PSU undertaking such initiatives. ONGC and NTPC, besides others, also have their own mechanisms. However, finding it difficult to handle family issues, some have even dropped such schemes.

Retaining talent is, no doubt, a positive fallout of this strategy. For example, those working in ONGC, which is essentially a mining company, are stationed mostly in back and beyond areas.

According to an ONGCian, the first question asked when a marriage alliance is being considered is where the individual works, followed by where he/she is located. There have been examples where things have not worked out because of the location of assignment.

Staying connected

ONGC’s management portal enables employees to connect with one another regarding car pool, accommodation, matrimonial, etc. The portal, first introduced in 2015, has helped many ONGCians find houses, vehicles and also get their children and relatives married. This is considered the OLX of ONGC. This portal has become the benchmark for other public enterprises.

NTPC, for example has Parinay portal, which was launched in 2012 as an exclusive internal matrimonial networking site.

“The idea has been to facilitate employees, especially new entrants to find spouses for themselves, their siblings or children who are at marriageable age,” according to the portal.

The portal lists details of prospective brides and grooms among NTPC employees or their relatives. The portal allows to search and filter over the profiles based on key details posted.

“Since its inception, more than 1,000 have benefited and it still gets five new postings on average every month. While each marriage alliance has its different set of calls, having such a platform has helped people to connect with each other with a better level of understanding about one’s job profile, location and expectations,” said an executive.

In fact, NTPC is planning to come out with a spruced up version of Parinay soon, and is expected to have features like profile pictures as well.

While all this sounds interesting, personal conflicts entering into the workspace poses a challenge. How do they manage that? While organisations like IndianOil, ONGC and NTPC have multiple departments, thus ensuring that spouses are not working in same departments and work-life balance is maintained, the concept may not work for smaller entities.

According to Khanna, “When two high performing individuals in the organisation decide to get married, losing one on account of a policy against hiring spouses, is actually a big loss for the organisation. Having said that, organisations do need to be mindful of not creating conflict of interest by ensuring that spouses do not have a direct reporting relationships and are preferably not working in the same team.”

From an employee’s perspective, while there are advantages of being more supportive of each other, understanding the work nuances better, there is the risk of putting all eggs in one basket, particularly in today’s scenario of layoffs. There are stories of both partners being laid off or one being laid off and another being retained, which can be challenging for the couple to manage, she said.

Clearly, while retaining employees is one aspect, having a fool-proof policy to ensure there are lesser elements of risk is a big HR task.

The hiring of spouses becomes challenging when personal conflict reaches the workspace or where spouses are pitted against each other for a position