India File

Not just charity

| Updated on January 22, 2018 Published on November 23, 2015

Good company Tilaka, who suffers from polio, finds comfort in the camaraderie of her colleagues, who are talking in sign language here BIJOY GHOSH

For Lemon Tree Hotels, employing the disabled makes for a business case

Shubham had always wanted to work in the private sector. Though his father had asked him to apply for a government job, the youngster didn’t. The MBA graduate had a sure shot at the job, which was reserved for the disabled. But Shubham, who is visually impaired, didn’t budge.

The patience paid off in 2013, when his brother was staying in Lemon Tree’s Gurgaon property and read about the company’s inclusion policy. “I mailed my resume to Nikhil Sharma, the then COO, and was called for an interview,” says Shubham, who, not surprisingly for those who knew the talented youngster, landed a job. Shubham is currently a Sales Executive at Lemon Tree Premier hotel in Delhi Airport.

The 30-year-old is one of the 400 Lemon Tree’s EwD (employees with disability); about 13 per cent of the 3,000 staff. “Our 2020 vision is to have 25 per cent of the total staff (predicted to grow to 8,000) from the EwD category,” says Aradhana Lal, Vice President, Sustainability Initiatives, Lemon Tree Hotels. A marketing and sales veteran, Lal was asked by her boss, Lemon Tree founder Patu Keswani, to lead the inclusion mandate.

The start

Though the first initiative in 2007 wasn’t successful, (the two EwDs, employed in two different Gurgaon properties, left within a week), the experience helped. Now the EwDs are employed together, giving them a sense of camaraderie. The first few EwDs were inducted in back-end roles such as housekeeping where interaction with guests is minimal. With experience and development of operating standards, the special employees now also work in guest-contact areas.

The special resource pool includes nine employees suffering from Down’s syndrome. Another five are in the middle of their 6-month traineeship. Usually, after the training, the employee’s skills are tested and then she is employed. If she doesn’t clear the test, the training is extended.

In the company’s property on Chennai’s Mount Road, Prabhu is the most popular employee with at least 10 positive comments on the guest book every month. He also finds mention on travel portal “Though a speech and hearing impaired, Prabhu has a great memory. He remembers guests and their preferences,” says Rajesh Tavalla, Hotel General Manager. The hotel has 19 EwD employees. “The biggest difference here is that there are others with challenges, and we understand each other,” says Tilaka, Assistant Manager, Stores. With her mobility impaired by polio, Tilaka had left the previous job; she was the only EwD there, and because of the employer’s apathy.

For the likes of Prabhu it also helps that his boss, and the rest of the senior team in the hotel, know sign language. It is a model that is followed across Lemon Tree’s properties. “We work with sign language experts to train employees,” says Lal. The inclusion report card is an important part of the agenda when the senior team of the hotel, including the regional and functional heads, meets for performance reviews.

The systems will be tested as the team opens a new property in Gurgaon, in 2016. The 110-room hotel will have an equal number of employees, all EwDs. The hotel is the first of its kind in the country, and possibly the world. The company started preparations in 2013, and is working with NGO partners to recruit and train the EwDs.

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Published on November 23, 2015
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