New Manager

In pursuit of happiness

Sangeetha Chengappa | Updated on July 29, 2014

Organisations strive to delight employees with novel HR initiatives, says Sangeetha Chengappa

A typical day at Happiest Minds, a global IT services firm, begins with its employees expressing their gratitude for something or someone they are thankful for having in their lives. Going by the truth that happy employees make for happy customers, the fledgling IT firm has created the role of a Happiness Evangelist, whose job is to understand the happiness quotient of the company, set a standard for benchmarking it and set the direction to increase it with new practices.

Don’t worry, be happy

“We are blessed to be a part of the IT industry and belong to the top two per cent of the country’s population that receive good salaries, working conditions and multiple benefits. However, we still tend to complain a lot. If you start the day complaining, the rest of the day will carry on in that vein. Therefore, before the start of any strategy meeting or management conclave, we begin with a gratitude affirmation for the day,” says Raja Shanmugam, co-founder and chief people officer, Happiest Minds.

“It could be expressing our gratitude for waking up healthy that day, to being thankful for reaching office on time, or being thankful to our spouse for making hot idli-sambar for breakfast,” he elaborates. The mood of the company is measured every month through a heat map where unhappiness is marked red, neutral is yellow and happy is green, leading up to an annual survey. The most recent survey reveals, 85 per cent of its 1,200 employees are happy, three per cent are unhappy and 12 per cent are neutral. Many organisations such as VuClip, GE and Tesco HSC are coming up with novel ways to keep their employees not just satisfied but delighted and continually engaged. The idea is to keep employees content and ensure that they don’t find any reason to quit.

At VuClip, a mobile video and media firm, co-founder and CEO, Nickhil Jakatdar strongly believes that ideas should rule, not hierarchy. As a result, employees generated 120 innovative ideas over the last 12 months, of which 30 per cent were implemented. “I encourage my people to ideate beyond the scope of their work, discuss and debate it with their teams in fortnightly meetings and take ownership to roll out their ideas. For this, they can reach out to anyone from the leadership team without bothering about hierarchy. Hierarchy at VuClip is only meant to enable performance reviews,” he said.

Jakatdar shares the presentation he makes at Board meetings held once in six weeks with every employee of the company, including the financials of the company. “I want all of my 180 employees to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth and not during their water cooler conversations. Once your team knows about the company’s goals and how they are being tweaked and updated periodically, they will feel more involved and better engaged. I trust them to keep confidential the information that I share, ” he says. He believes that if employees are given visibility and transparency they will be happy.

To meet the high expectations of its 5,300 technologists, 60 per cent of whom are advanced degree holders with PhDs and Masters, Aarif Aziz, head of HR at GE John F Welch Technology Centre, has rolled out a flexible benefits programme this April. “We offered uniform benefits to all our employees until recently. However, to deal with the needs of a multi-generational work force where employee age ranges from 22 years to 58 years, where typically freshers want more vacations rather than medical insurance coverage; we conceptualised this programme and launched it as a pilot for all GE employees last year and implemented it this April. This provides them flexibility to choose benefits based on their age and lifestyle,” says Aziz. GE employees can mix and match their benefits, scale up or scale down benefits such as health insurance, life insurance, annual leave, or personal accident insurance.

Woman power

In an environment where women form a miniscule percentage of top leadership in most organisations, Tesco HSC, the technology arm of the global retailer set up a unique programme to awaken the managerial/entrepreneurial spirit among its women employees. “Thirty-eight per cent of our 6,800 employees are women, however, only 12-15 per cent of them are managers, which is grossly inadequate for a retail firm like ours. We need to have more women in decision-making positions and are enabling them to progress up the corporate ladder by helping them hone their leadership skills and guiding them on how to build their personal brand,” explains Anju Sethi, Head, Learning and Development, Tesco HSC.

Twenty women were selected to be a part of the ‘women in leadership development progamme’ and were tasked with designing a venture around on-campus organisational services that could be availed of by employees. Two compelling ideas, Zonado and Talent Connect, were funded by Tesco to get them up and running as independent companies. While the former customisesteam-building exercises for which a consulting fee is charged, the latter is a site where employees can buy and sell food, products and services such as cupcakes, gift items or yoga. Interestingly, 14 of the 20 women who were part of the programme were promoted to take on broader roles. “With these initiatives we are looking to increase the percentage of women managers to 25 per cent,” says Sethi.

While earlier it was normal for employees to stay with a company for 5-6 years before moving on to greener pastures, the norm today is to move on after just 12-18 months.

As organisations try to outdo each other with novel HR initiatives to keep their employees delighted and engaged, the proof of sure-fire success of those initiatives would be if employees stayed on for a minimum of five years, say industry executives.

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Published on July 29, 2014
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