Karaoke evenings, marathon runs, unlimited vacations and on-site mani-pedis are just some of the ways companies use to keep both the attrition rate and the stress factor low. By Jackie Pinto
Richard Branson did it again. The maverick entrepreneur announced his company’s new vacation policy declaring that his staff could ‘take off whenever they want, for as long as they want’, without asking for approval, the assumption being that the absence would not damage the firm. As audacious as it may seem at first glance , Branson’s “no policy” for holidays only applies to his 170 staff at Virgin’s parent company in the UK and US. At least for now. Although he went on to say, “Assuming it goes as well as expected, we will encourage all our subsidiaries to follow suit, which will be incredibly exciting to watch.” The tycoon was inspired by his daughter, who brought online TV firm Netflix’s holiday plan to his attention. A plan which enabled Netflix’s salaried employees to take time off any time, for as long as they want – provided their work was covered. Branson later blogged in his characteristic style, “It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off.”
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The no-limit vacation policy created a minor ripple across the corporate world especially when most organisations treat vacations in the same reluctant manner that parents dole out candy to their children, which does not add up to increased productivity say forward thinking employers like Dave Banerjee, CEO of FishEye Creative Solutions, an advertising and innovation firm in the city. “Rules and stipulations are innovation killers. People do their best work when they’re unencumbered,” he says, explaining that his firm adopts an ultra flexible, freedom-intensive approach to holiday time and work culture. “We basically believe that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important than the number of hours they put in,” he says. But unlimited vacation policies clearly won’t work for every business, and it’s very likely that ‘the firms that offer unlimited vacations do so because they’re confident their employees won’t choose to take much time off,’ says Rupali Edekar, regional talent director, Asia Pacific, Brand Union, with 24 offices worldwide. That said she also feels that with people having less time for family and activities outside of the workplace, companies are looking for creative ways to compensate.
Independent Delhi-based corporate head-hunter, Sangeeta Kapoor stresses that maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle became especially difficult during the recession when employees were expected to do more work with less compensation. And even as things improved, the challenges persisted, Banerjee agrees. At FishEye the fridge is always stocked with beer, four dogs meander in and out of the space which looks like a large family home with outdoor work tables, comfy couches and an open kitchen with a pool table in the reception area. “Every few months we take off on a road trip somewhere. Work is always like a big ongoing party but the team is always aware that somebody has to pay the bills to keep the party rocking. So they give it their creative best. That’s why no one ever leaves us once they join.”
We don’t need to introduce Google as a great place to work at. While officials were unavailable for comment, we’ve learnt that their new facility in Gurgaon has upped the ante. Staff will walk into a reception area inspired by the Taj Mahal and an office that boasts of a railway coach for informal meetings, a mini golf course, a cricket pitch, their famous napping pods and micro kitchens (Google believes employees should never be more than 150 feet away from food), swings, and a gym with massage and sauna rooms. With options like working out of anywhere in the office (bye-bye cubicles) and getting the freedom to take 20 per cent off work time to spend on their individual ideas and interests, Googlers love going into work every day.
Though Yahoo may not have as vast an arsenal of fun things, Aditya Bharadwaj, a consultant, says he loves their well-stocked library. “We’d just sprawl on the couches and bean bags, reading comics, when things got a bit much,” he confesses. He also points to their game room with foosball, table tennis and pool tables, and a whole host of indoor games, that let people recharge. Another considerate gesture: a refrigerator stocked with snacks and fresh fruits, to promote healthy eating.
A healthy set-up
Kiran Aidhi, HR head, Virtusa a global IT services firm that made it to the List of Best Places to Work by The Albany Business Review tells us, “Employees are encouraged to make best use of our in-house gymnasium and music room. Also everyone with a passion for clicking on-the-go, joins our active photography club, uploading selfies on Instagram. Besides our regular health camps and parenting classes we also have Zumba classes – to bust stress further. ” While at HCL Technologies, Srimathi Shivashankar, AVP Diversity & Sustainability, talks about the recent launch of their umbrella campaign, Mobius. An integrated wellness and wellbeing solution that can be accessed at work literally at the click of a button, it covers online OPD devices and specialist consults, doctor-on-chat, diet and nutrition counselling. Still in wellness mode she adds, “We have 25 full-fledged gyms across India and another five coming up soon. Besides yoga, Zumba and aerobic classes, our latest is an innovative activity called Deskercise. Employees are treated to a 20-minute break from their work day and two cheery volunteers make them leave their seats, find a partner and engage in a series of fun exercises.”
Channelling their inner rockstars are 3-M employees who like to grab mics and give it their all at karaoke or specially organised Antakshari evenings. All part of the 3M club activities manned by volunteers.
The fun creators
Helping companies turn the nine-to-six schedule into something people look forward to is the aim of Mumbai-based employee engagement company, Never Grow Up. “The inspiration came from listening to friends talk about work-life issues and realising that, no matter the industry, there was a gap,” says Asif Upadhye, who co-founded the company with his wife Shazia four years ago. The eight-member team today works with clients in retail, IT, telecom and others, to bring a fresh and fun perspective to the work culture. “Research shows that happy employees result in a more productive workforce, which in turn means a positive impact on attrition rates and the bottom line,” explains the 34-year-old, who does everything from consulting clients on building workplace culture to creating customised ‘gamification led’ interventions. “Requirements change—from introducing yoga and salsa classes to creating office decor that changes every day—but we make sure we deliver what fits each company’s needs,” signs off Upadhye, who ensures his team is always having fun with activities like golgappa eating competitions. Details: willnevergrowup.com
The big picture
In stark contrast, e-commerce giant Amazon enjoys a reputation for being frugal – senior executives fly economy and colour printers are frowned upon along with big celebratory office bashes. But Bangalore-based Amazonians love that their perks come in the form of healthy stock options, an adversarial work culture that hones your skills and reasonably flexi hours.
On the other hand, Sunita Cherian, VP, HR and Head – Diversity, Wipro Limited says that their focus ‘is to weave wellness into everyday lives- through in-house gyms, sports arenas, on-campus doctors, pharmacies and basic nursing care’. “We factor in extended maternity and adoption leave, tie up with day care centres in all locations, allow flexi-time and the freedom to work from any office or home on a need basis, half- day working policies.” They also have parent-to-be and new mom clubs, senior leader wellness consults while ‘Mitr’ their employee assistance programme can enable a lot of situations, like getting married, planning for a baby or managing stress.
Edekar’s Brand Union has initiatives customised to suit the local culture in each country. “Our staff in Jarkarta begin their day with a yoga session. In Shanghai we have regular mani-pedis and mini spa breaks during the day where one can destress with a relaxing shoulder and back rub. Well-priced gym memberships are given out to fitness buffs and our Singapore team is very big on marathons. We are planning to introduce similar initiatives in India soon.”
Carlton Braganza who customises internet radio facilities for companies feels it is a great tool to keep listeners in the loop and for HR to reach out to employees with new polices and programmes interwoven into a playlist that will keep everyone concerned engaged. “Internet radio stations can reach people 24 hours a day around the world while they work, shop, chat, email or surf online. It’s the future, although many companies who would greatly benefit by this level of engagement get caught up in red tape and lose the plot,” he says.
Inputs: Surya Praphulla Kumar | Pics : Nagesh Polali