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India's Best Employers: Tata AIA: Ensuring work-life balance

Tata AIA continues to build on its strengths even as it stays true to its core—its employees

Manu Balachandran
Published: Mar 25, 2021 02:09:50 PM IST
Updated: Mar 26, 2021 09:27:56 AM IST

India's Best Employers: Tata AIA: Ensuring work-life balanceDuring the pandemic, Naveen Tahilyani, CEO and MD, Tata AIA, enrolled all their employees on Cure.Fit
Image: Edric George for Forbes India

It’s often difficult to marry the high-growth aspirations of an organisation with employee happiness and satisfaction. More often than not, a growing company demands more of its employees.

But it’s something Tata AIA Life Insurance, India’s fifth-largest insurer, seems to have managed to figure out. Since 2015, when the company decided to reboot its business and focus on expanding it within the country, Tata AIA has also been simultaneously working towards improving employee satisfaction and happiness.

Six years later, the company boasts a remarkable employee engagement index of 87 percent, almost 16 percent higher than the industry standard, according to consultancy firm Kincentric. “The recognition is only an outcome of the phenomenal work that we have been doing for the past few years,” says Naveen Tahilyani, CEO and managing director. “We are a high-performance, high-reward company, with a focus on work-life balance.”

That’s precisely why—as homes became workplaces in the last year—Tahilyani personally took an initiative to enrol all of the company’s 7,010 employees on Cure.Fit, an online health and wellness platform, to improve their physical and mental well-being. “It’s often a challenge to ensure work-life balance, especially since we are among the fastest-growing life insurance companies,” Tahiliyani says. “We have been growing at breakneck speed and in the past five years have grown from 1,800 employees to over 7,000 employees. No other insurance company can claim the level of employee engagement as ours.”

Much of that focus on employee well-being came around 2015 when the company itself took a serious rethink on its India business. “In 2015, we were 17th out of 23 insurance companies,” he adds. “We started a transformational effort, especially since the company has two mighty shareholders, and included new strategy, a new business model, new customers and a focus on retail protection.”

India's Best Employers: Tata AIA: Ensuring work-life balance
That’s when Tahilyani and his team realised that none of the strategic plans would fructify if it couldn’t motivate and excite the workforce. “What differentiates us is that we execute well. We are a performance-oriented culture,” he says. “We were not like this in 2015-16. We reward people disproportionately for achievements, whether through compensation or a larger role. We have been able to establish that sky is the limit. We focus on building the capabilities to achieve their full potential.”

Through the pandemic, the company also spent heavily on investing in learning platforms for its employees and has also made it a practice that the senior management engages with all the employees every quarter. “Work-life balance is a challenge,” Tahiliyani says. “We have been growing by a distance. There are two sides to such breakneck growth. There is a tremendous opportunity. This kind of growth doesn’t come without hard work. Our employees do work very hard and we find a way to make them aware of work-life balance.”

During the past year, in the pandemic, the company also ensured that their employees were well looked after. Through webinars across areas such as mental and emotional health, stress management, work-life balance and common gastric problems, it made sure that employees remained in the pink of health. Besides, the company also held virtual family events for employees.

“Their well-being and health are paramount and we left no stone unturned to ensure that we engage with them and their families in this time of global crisis,” says Kristyl Bhesania, executive vice president and head of human resources at Tata AIA. “Our aim has been to show care and infuse positivity to keep them upbeat and connected. Our efforts paid off as employee productivity was barely impacted in the transition to the remote mode of working.”

India's Best Employers: Tata AIA: Ensuring work-life balanceKristyl Bhesania, executive vice president and head of human resources at Tata AIA

According to Kincentric, the company’s attrition rate stood at about 25 percent. “Today, our overall attrition is one of the lowest in the industry, and we have been able to retain our top talent successfully,” adds Bhesania. “It is a combination of professional growth opportunities as well as a caring and nurturing environment that keeps our people loyal to the organisation.”

“Across the industry, their talent has been highly appreciated, and employees have been independent in their functioning,” says R Suresh, managing director of Mumbai-based consultancy firm Insist Consulting. “There are no heavy-handed measures to control independent decision-making and they have been able to align the goals of the employees well with the organisational ones quite successfully.”

The company also has a rather robust performance management process, wherein the organisational objectives are communicated top-down and are aligned seamlessly to one common goal at a company level. “Frontline sales goals are reviewed more frequently and non-sales on a bi-annual basis. The talent management team tracks and actualises employee aspirations with individual and career development plans that are reviewed periodically,” adds Bhesania.  
Over the next few years, the Mumbai-headquartered company reckons that its employees will be free to work from anywhere, and plans are being worked upon. In addition, the company also expects vertical silos to disappear, with more cross-functional activities.

“We have just stayed focussed on the business, and people who are core to us,” says Tahilyani. “Over the last six months, we have taken the opportunity to redesign our business for the next five years. That means some 60-plus projects. Those projects are cross-functional and we have realised that functional silos and boundaries have disappeared. The big advantage I am seeing is that vertical silos have also disappeared.”

Even then, Tahilyani and his team don’t want to stop improving. “There is always an opportunity for improvement,” he says. “Our operating mantra has been to build on the strengths and stay true to the core. And people are our core.”

(This story appears in the 26 March, 2021 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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