Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Employee well-being: From perk to best practice

The pandemic has evolved the HR lexicon to include empathy, compassion, human connection and care; the challenge of course is to ensure that this new engagement permeates through the entire organisation. And those organisations that succeeded make it to the annual Forbes India-Kincentric Best Employers in India study

Brian Carvalho
Published: Feb 28, 2022 11:39:34 AM IST
Updated: Feb 28, 2022 03:32:01 PM IST

Employee well-being: From perk to best practice

The pandemic has changed, among other things, the HR lexicon. Along with the usual buzzwords like retention, attrition, on-boarding and behavioural competency, what you will also hear in hallowed HR townhalls these days are terms like empathy, compassion, human connection and care. 

The challenge, of course, is to ensure that the need for such a different kind of engagement permeates through the entire organisation, starting from the C-suite. And it’s those corporations that succeeded in stepping on the gas in employee engagement that made it to the winners’ list of the annual Forbes India-Kincentric Best Employers in India study.

As Kincentric’s Anita Sharma and Shreya Saini point out (see page 28): “The pandemic was a crisis like no other and Best Employers focussed on the opportunities to re-engage with their workforce and create excitement about the future. They used the disruption to create a compelling narrative of agility, innovation, leadership, culture and wellness to dialogue with their employees.” The study points out that while global employee engagement levels dropped in 2021, not only does India have overall better engagement scores, India’s Best Employers have an even higher average.

Sustained engagement is the starting point for increasing productivity, as those working from home are motivated to exceed what is expected from them.  The flexibility to balance out life and work achieves the twin goals—at least among the Best Employers—of stepping up productivity and employee satisfaction. This in turn brings in allied benefits for the organisation, of increased agility in decision-making, innovation, collaboration, and an enhanced customer (and employee) experience.

Let’s illustrate that with how a few of the Best Employers achieved much of this. At Whirlpool India, for instance, empathy and agility meant putting in place no-questions-asked leave rules, and staff were encouraged not to meet beyond 6.30 pm. Nippon Life India Asset Management has added ‘employee well-being’ as a business responsibility, in addition to ethics, transparency and accountability, and sustainability. At Schneider Electric, the idea of a conventional head office has been turned on its head and the aim is that “anybody in any location should have the same chance of success”—just as a CEO works out of Hong Kong and a global CHRO out of Shanghai. And Allstate India has added a new HR function of wellness and well-being to the routine ones of compensation and salary increases.  

From consumer behaviour to the digital transformation of sectors like health, education and financial services, the pandemic has proved transformational. The big question is how much of this change is here to stay. Will, for instance, video-conferencing turn out to be a pandemic-induced fad once we get back to the real world? Will consumers once again begin flooding malls and restaurants, giving ecommerce and food delivery the go-by? The consensus today is that while the digital platforms will see a dip from pandemic-level peaks, they’ve become an integral part of our lives and can’t be wished away.

From the human resource point of view, too, the heightened levels of engagement, compassion and care may taper off, but they won’t fade away. And that’s because employee preferences have evolved during the pandemic. What may have been considered a perk pre-Covid-19—like mental and emotional wellness initiatives—will now have to be embedded as best practices for the long haul. Work-life balance and all that comes with it are what will matter for employer brands when attracting and retaining talent. India’s Best Employers excelled on these fronts last year. They will have to keep at it. For more on how they did it in 2021, turn to page 32.