From special awards to flexible work timings: What employers are doing for their returning workforce

In August this year, The 7th Fold boutique HR and well-being firm conducted a study of around 509 participants, across industries in India to understand aspects of employee well-being after the onset of coronavirus in India. The participants of the well-being survey, which were 76% male and 33% female, reported a number of changes in physical and mental well being. Some 35% employees with an annual salary of 21 to 30 lakhs reported burnout. In addition, 47% of employees going to their workplace, as part of essential or other services, were anxious about their own and their families’ physical health. Thirty-five percent of people working from home were worried about their own and their families’ mental health. As more and more people start going to office, or mixing ‘work from home’ (WFH) with ‘working from office’, employers in India are trying to rise up to the challenge of looking after their employees.

How are employers from industry to industry helping their staff, monetarily and otherwise, so that they have a greater sense of security in the new normal? Bosses are implementing different strategies to make their staff more comfortable. Especially those that have returned to the office space. From circulating mailers and newsletters on COVID dos and don’ts, and measures for self care, to providing private transport to those coming to work, and medical insurance in case crisis strikes, some employers have tried to put the focus back on the well-being of their staff. Their foot soldiers in a sense.

Says Hamsaz Wadhwani, Chief Executive of The 7th Fold, and the author of the study, “The 7th Fold Employee Wellbeing Survey 2020 shows that many of our participants (those who are travelling to the office these days) expect their organisations to provide them with transport facilities to work. Public transport today is often inconvenient and unsafe. The survey suggests that those employees who were offered transport to their workplace had much better mental well-being than others. From the survey (conducted in August) we deduced that 24% employers were making travel arrangements for their people. (Although that figure may have changed now). As far as the office space is concerned, around 60% employers were ensuring social distancing and other safety measures at the workplace.” Wadhwani also adds that around 18% companies were providing COVID insurance coverage to their employees and their families, which amounted to a lakh or more, whether they were working from home or office.

Zubin Dubash, COO, Digital at Shemaroo, our friendly next door movie lending library turned OTT service provider, had recognized very early on in the pandemic that the mental health and sense of well-being of his employees came first. Therefore, he personally instituted a series of initiatives such as Shemaroo’s Digital Mavericks Awards (DMA Awards) to honour well-performing employees in the company, mixing everything with dashes of humour and entertainment in big quantities. Employees host the awards and are also the recipients of the awards, and this contributes to them feeling more involved with the newly conceptualised monthly award show during COVID-19.

“Just around the first six weeks of the lockdown, the team was putting in far more hours than before. We wanted the team to be engaged, connected and motivated. So I started an online Rewards and Recognition program — Digital Mavericks Awards — to create momentum in the work atmosphere. It’s a grand celebration of great performances of the month from the team along with online games and entertainment. Currently in its eight month, the DMA has helped immensely in creating motivation and recognition in a challenging remote working set up,” shares Dubash.

Today, Dubash is even more open to having personal one-on-one conversations with his 100 odd employees, a few at a time, as he says it goes a long way in boosting morale, and making them feel good under the current circumstances of a pandemic. “I make it a point to reach out to my team and keep an open channel of communication. Like a remote open-door policy. These chats with them work wonders.”

The company also took it upon itself to protect and create a safe environment for staff that began work in the month of July. “We took care of the employees who had to be at the office during the lockdown for mission-critical work. With a stringent hygiene policy and other facilities, we made the safety and comfort of all our employees our top-most priority.”

At other firms like the urban co-living space provider Isthara, almost 80% of the work staff has returned to the office. While also putting in place a mixed model for some teams, where they alternate between home and office, some other actions taken by the company to ensure employee safety include cutting down all non-essential physical contact or meetings between staff, and moving daily briefings to Zoom and Hangouts — even while the team sits at the office. Meetings with vendors have also been moved online. Face-to-face meetings are reserved for essential conversations with social distancing and other etiquettes followed firmly.

Krishna Kumar Vijaiyan, the firm’s CEO and Co-Founder speaks about the company’s transition from a more time-tabled working module before the epidemic to the current phase where hours for employees are more flexible. “Flexible working hours, flexible meeting schedules, the option to WFH if needed, and free meals at the office are a few changes we have made. A company vertical does not have the entire team working every day, and team members take turns to come to office so that the workplace has an under capacity workforce operating from the office.”

From entertainment houses to hospitality, after governments across the country allowed the opening up restaurants and hotels, employers are trying what they can to enforce basic protocols for returning staff, whom they believe they owe a debt of safety as they come back to work.

In the hospitality sector, where interactions with walk-in customers and booked guests are a must, hotels like Sahara Star have been particular about building an even stronger hygiene culture within their organization. The Sahara Star in Mumbai, which opened its doors to guests on November 16, has released a brochure called ‘Safe Me Safe We’ that talks about the interrelatedness of safety for everyone.

The campaign was started especially for its employees and tries to emphasize the importance of safety for staff, and thereby guests. It lists a series of steps each staff member can take to keep themselves protected in the new working normal. The campaign tries to create awareness of the importance of sanitising hands after touching surfaces such as photocopiers, refrigerators and water dispensers, using arms and elbows to open doors, and how staff should continue with hygiene practices when they reach home.

“We have advised the team to comply with all temperature checks at all entry points. The office shifts have been staggered to allow socially distanced workplaces. We are even recording attendance in a contactless manner with an application rather than a fingerprint scanner. A PPE suit has been provided to housekeeping associates cleaning guest rooms,” informs Salil Fadnis, Sahara Star’s Hotel Manager.

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