Friday, October 24, 2008

Death of nine to five

The way we will make our employees work in the future will radically change; and those companies that understand this and adapt the fastest will survive. If your best employees have to be retained and motivated, then perish the thought of the 9-to-5 worker!

A survey done in UK recently revealed some interesting facts. When asked where they would prefer to work, some 15% of the respondents said they preferred to work from their garden – especially when it’s sunny!! That’s an interesting dimension. Today, the definition of work, of work place, of work culture, has changed. Not just this, today’s workforce has started to think differently, especially the younger lot. Their opinions about work, and work life are radically different from the older lot. According to an online survey conducted by Nielson, maintaining work-life balance is the biggest concern for 20 percent of Indians. Our economy is doing good as compared to the past, hence a plethora of opportunities have opened up for Indians. They have more choices today, and salaries are better as well. However, all this doesn’t come free; it demands long hours, which seem to be taking their toll. Like every emerging market, Indians too are faced with the work-life balance dilemma. Being emotional people, we worry about the happiness of our parents at home, unlike Americans who worry more about their post-retirement plans, the state of the economy, or Europeans who worry more about global warming. So our demands from the workplace are changing too; and as a result, companies are changing also to accommodate the changing preferences.

Flexi-time, flexi-location:

In Fortune magazine’s survey of the ‘100 Best US Companies’, 79 allowed their employees to work from home at least 20 percent of their time. Various new concepts have emerged like ‘teleworking’, flexi-working, part-time working – each meaning different things. Teleworking means working from an alternative work place – either home or a satellite office i.e. an office away from actual work place. So some days they work from the main, central office; and on other days, from an alternate one. Literally, teleworking means “working at a distance.” Flexi-working is having flexible timings, while part-time – as the word says – means working part of the day. These are the new trends catching up.

These trends are fast catching up in India too as our working population gets conscious about lifestyles and family time etc. Today, Cognizant Technology Solution is encouraging its employees to work from home at least one day in a week. In the future i.e. by the year 2020, they aim to make 20 percent of their workforce work from home. Cisco, a computer networking company, says that out of a total of 60,000 employees, about 12,000 telework. Wipro too wants a third of its employees to work from home in the future. In fact, it’s Godrej in India that pioneered the concept of ‘flexi-time’ years ago. They felt it was good for their female employees to cope better with work and stress. Some feel this even results in increased productivity. What’s interesting is that there’s much more to it than just making employees happy.

Flexi-time to improve balance sheets:

Be it flexi-time or teleworking, these have become tools to help companies spruce-up their balance sheets. They are not just keeping employees happy but helping the company reduce costs as well.

The Department of Telecommunication announced recently the concept of “Home Agents”. Through this system, BPO employees can log into their call centre systems and start operating from anywhere. These work-from-anywhere BPO agents will not only make their lives easier but will save the company huge costs. The company would now be able to save on electricity costs, transportation costs, and employee seating costs too. Not just this, with space requirement reducing, companies would save on real-estate costs too – which is a big saving. So, with this, operational costs and fixed costs both get reduced.

Encouraged by these facts, Governor John Baldacci of Maine has introduced flexible schedules, telecommuting and a four-day work week for his government employees. His mission – to help each employee save on fuel costs and in turn help the state cut its overall energy usage. That is a big bonus – happy employees and happy employer.

With the sub-prime crisis of the US and a slowing of the world economy, companies today need to have a firm hand in dealing with costs. Traditionally, the ways to deal with a slowdown were – decrease in increments, decrease in hiring of new employees, making deadlines more strict and so on. However, today employers are realising these may not be the best ways to reduce costs. The Silicon Valley bust in US gave birth to the concepts of flexi-time and working from home, which have proved to be efficient methods of reducing costs.

Intelligent organisations are slowly but surely adopting unique ways of working and changing their organisations. Workforce planning is today the most integral part of any business plan. Plan to cut down costs slowly and systematically before one day suddenly you realise that a large scale lay-off is the only way to save the company.

Helping you save the best

Employees are your greatest asset and if you have to let them go because of an economic slowdown and escalating costs, that’s the saddest thing. According to yet another study, average salary projections for 2009 are lower than the current year. How do you keep your best people? Not just retaining them, how do you keep them motivated and happy?

This is your chance to help them strike a lovely work/life balance. Flexi hours and teleworking are ideas that have been tried and tested and are proven to work. Contrary to popular belief, they increase productivity & the happiness quotient of employees.

Moreover, with technological advancements and the growth of wireless technologies, it has become all the more easier to implement these new ideas. When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone, he probably did not realise then that this fashionable gadget would help the world fight its biggest economic slowdown due to subprime crisis. Yes, wi-fis, iPhones, affordable laptops et al are giving people the flexibility of working from anywhere. The way we will work in the future is going to be very different and the company that adapts itself the fastest will survive. The employees of the future will live differently and work differently. Remember, the future will have no place for the traditional ways of working. It’s time we realise this and accept the death of the nine-to-five workday.

Friday, October 10, 2008


People are the most precious asset of a company and are constantly stalked and hunted out by the competitors. So, how do you stop this poaching?

The biggest excitement for young recruits at Ernst & Young is probably their annual trip to the Walt Disney World and not their bonuses. In fact, in the past three years, E&Y’s average salary hasn’t increased substantially – yet, when it comes to voting for the ‘Best Places to Launch a Career’, the firm scored the highest points.

When Marriott International went on its recruiting spree, it did not need to show big bucks to attract the best talent from the campuses. It was the job profile, which did wonders. The best student from University of Delaware joined Marriott in spite of being offered higher packages from other firms, because here she was promised a chance to help run the hotel. In fact, rejecting higher salaries in favour of offers with better benefits and perks is nothing new.

The toughest job for an HR professional is not just getting the best talent, but also retaining it. Southwest Airlines seems to be one company that is doing this the best. It receives a minimum of 1,00,000 job applications every year and according to its Director of Public Relations, Ed Stewart, “People leaving is virtually non-existent.” Not surprising then, that Southwest is ranked 2nd in Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For (The first being Container Store, a small company employing only 1200 people). As someone correctly said, “My most valuable assets go home everyday.” It’s not your world class infrastructure or state-of-the-art facilities, but people who are the most precious to an organisation; and it’s these great workers, these trophies that are constantly stalked & hunted by the competitors. So, how do you stop this poaching?

A man does not live by bread alone

Gone are the days when a large bonus at the end of the year kept one motivated to work year long. It’s the era of year-round perks; just good salaries is not enough.

So Google gives free breakfast, lunch and dinner to its employees. Free M&M’s are available in dispensers around the building; you could grab a handful as you walk around. Southwest found giving free airfare worked best for it as employees felt they could connect better with their families. As a result, people love to work in these places.

Perks contribute to loyalty and employee retention. However, giving perks is not easy – it requires a deep understanding of your employees. Perks actually reflect the true sincerity of the top management.

Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam (BRPNN) has turned around its image totally. Today it has a state-of-art gymnasium, gives paid vacations to foreign countries to its employees, organises motivational lecturers. The sense of belonging among its employees has increased like never before. Thanks to its dynamic chairman Pratyaya Amrit, today, this once ailing government company is throbbing with life and its people & the state are benefiting from its makeover.

It’s not just work, but building camaraderie that’s more important toady. If Google has put up in-house games, then Rodas and Ecohotel in India too organise sports competitions for their employees. Satyam has announced the launch of a few months back. It’s a portal designed to showcase the creative talent of its employees. Fun@Work is the new initiative and helps workers de-stress and work better. Bob Nelson, the author of ‘1001 Ways to Reward Employees’, says showering employees with cash never works, but it’s the little things that count. A pat on the back, a surprise. One employee recalls how her boss hired a chauffeured limousine to drive her to an elegant restaurant – a way to thank her for completing her project on time. She may not remember the cash benefits but this little gesture that hardly cost anything was unforgettable.

A nine to five job, even if high paying, can get boring and that’s when perks can ‘perk’ one up. The owner of K.T. Kitchen, a California based maker of frozen pizza, found an inexpensive but fun filled way to thank her overworked staff for wining a multi-million dollar grocery account – she booked a nearby go-kart track and everyone went go-karting.

Mind Tree Consulting has a ‘Baby’s Day Out,’ where once a week, women employees get to bring their children and maids along with them to office. Perks work better than cash incentives, because they give employees an experience to recount, to savour.

The psychology of perks

Google is the most admired company of today’s times. Its “perk-crazy” founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page have done what it takes to create a lovely stress-free atmosphere for their employees. Out here, it’s ok to get your dog to work, it’s ok to go to the Lego room and de-stress by building blocks. Yet, it’s reported that employees cried at Google this summer. According to the New York Times, Google Inc. decided to upgrade its infant care and raised the prices from $1,425 a month to $2,500. It was a ‘rare’ fumble made by Google, a company most admired and known for charming the press and people alike.

A ‘perk’ has its advantages sure. Like a movie-day once a month, a sky-diving trip, a concierge service that shall pick up your dry cleaning, take your pet to the vet and even get your car fixed – are all wonderful, but once you have a perk, to take it away is like a break of promise. It can lead to anger and lower levels of motivation among employees. The management needs to explain clearly and logically why this was done, for the retaliation is more psychological, with workers feeling low and not giving their utmost. If the benefits are huge, so are the negatives that come with its withdrawal. Perks need to be introduced intelligently and after studying the work environment and culture. When RBZ saw most of its employees leaving the company to join internet companies, it started offering two months paid leave to every worker who completed six years in the organization. Its attrition reduced to fewer than 5%. Motivated by the huge benefit of perks and their power to increase productivity, a company decided to give its staff 30 minutes off after lunch so they could go for walks. No one was impressed! Now the ‘business of perks’ is in itself a big business with people making a living out of advising clients how to manage perks. Companies like, OC Tanner, Loyaltyworks tell business houses how to make their employees feel special and how to design the right perks. After all, good salary is mundane; it’s the perks and special incentives that make the employees feel special; and once given, no one wants to give them up. In an interesting survey done by MSN Environment, 80% employees wanted their business to improve its energy efficiency; yet, none was willing to give up their perks such as free taxi-rides to contribute to the cause.

Companies are today working harder to find innovative ways to attract, retain and motivate their employees. From car allowances, to group term life insurance, to free neck-massages on your desk, to psychiatric counseling to help people fight stress, to discount coupons at select stores, they are doing it all. Just a word of caution though… Remember, a perk, however good, can never be a replacement for human interaction. Probably the best perk is that timely pat on the back or just a simple note, ‘You did a good job’. Treat your employees like family and like family they will love you back The definition of work has changed today, and a good employer is one who understands the art of caring.

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