During these testing times, communication has become an important tool to keep employees in the loop. Here’s a look at how HR departments, through various communication channels are reaching out to their employees --
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Organizations across Indian Inc. have been using various methods of communication, including periodic employee meetings, internal newsletters, bulletin boards, organizational emails, pep talks etc.
Though these have been quite successful, with the changing scenario of India Inc. and the current economic situation, many firms are now re-thinking their strategies. The reason, they say, is to make sure that their employees are well informed about the happenings within the organization.
“During a crisis situation, speculations will be at peak. And building and practicing consistent and transparent communication protocol is an absolute must. Leadership teams, at all levels, must work towards clarifying all doubts with facts and figures, thus avoiding potential negative vibes to grow within the office premise,” explains Pankaj Agarwal, meaning director and group CEO, Mindteck (India) Ltd. He further adds that their organization has instructed all the senior executives to spend quality time with their teams and maintain healthy communication, as it helps in clarifying and clearing the employees’ doubts.
Though most organizations have an open forum during good times, experts point out that it is more important to have an open channel during trying times also. The reason, they explain is because it helps the employees in making informed decisions, as it is important that he/she is equipped with the right information to make judgments on the veracity of the situation.
It is a well-acknowledged fact that employees prefer honest communication. However, it is necessary for employers not only to respect this wish but also to follow up on it. Shailesh H Mehta, e-Learning evangelist and founder CEO, Gurukul Online Learning Solutions is of the opinion that if an organization is transparent with its employees, the suggestions to tackle a difficult situation would come from the employees themselves and this would help the organization in handling the situation in a better way. Communication is the best tool to handle low morale among employees. Downturns tend to make people stressed out and pessimistic. And it is for the organizations to bring in positivism through effective communication and assure the employees that they will be taken care of.
· “At Cognizant, the management makes sure that every associate is empowered to know about the happenings in the organization and express their opinions and grievances. Our CEO, CFO, CIO and CKO maintain active blogs and it serves as an excellent mechanism for collecting feedback, expanding networks, across our global employee base. Through this, we have made the entire management decision-making process a lot more transparent,” informs R Ram Kumar, Vice President, Corporate Marketing, Research and Communications, Cognizant.
· E Rev Max Technologies, a US based company specializing in online revenue maximization and online distribution management system has an ‘Ombudsman Policy’ in place to ensure openness, transparency and accountability within the firm. “It enables the employee to raise concerns internally and at a higher level, to disclose information which he/she believes shows malpractice, impropriety, abuse or wrongdoing, without any fear of reprisal,” says Jagat M Sarkar, Head – HR, E Rev Max Technologies.
· Infosys Technologies reaches out to its employees through their corporate intranet – ‘Sparsh’. The content published on Sparsh covers the depth and breadth of what is happening in the company. News, events, achievers, key initiatives, policies, awards, accolades, messages from top leadership, wikis, e-newsletters from the various units, locations, teams, leisure activities, hobby clubs, travel, art, blogs etc. are published on the site and it gets updated twice daily.
Organizations, in a quest to maximize productivity with the help of minimal resources are identifying and retaining employees with “multi-tasking” abilities. Are you ready to don different hats at different hours of the day?
Superman’s most impressive feat was perhaps his balancing act. Besides being a hero, he was also a newspaper reporter. Tennis ace Venus Williams is also both an entrepreneur and a dress designer. And unlike Superman, she is real! And an efficient multi-tasker!
During testing times like these, companies are forced to enhance their performance levels and seek quality from its employees and if you are an excellent multi-tasker, you definitely have an edge over the rest, point out experts.
According to Sandeep Pathak, CEO, Bates 141, the term, “multi-tasking”, most of the times, has an incorrect connotation. If multi-tasking is the ability to do more than one task competently in order to foster better results, then it should be referred to as ‘multi-competency’, he adds. A shining example of this is the Indian cricket team. Pathak explains, “The reason why we’re almost the No.1 ODI team and the champions in 20-20 is testimony to this. It’s a coming together of individuals who can do 2-3 things and most importantly, do it well. So our captain is not just a ‘captain’, but also a good motivator/leader, a fine wicket keeper and a destructive batsman. The list can go on and on. Yuvraj, the Pathan Bros and Sehwag are not only good batsman but also excellent fielders and bowlers. And even our very own champ Sachin knows that he needs to make a contribution, either with all or one of his competencies”.
“Multi-tasking is valued to evade a crisis situation. The management favours multi-tasking because it increases the output, with fewer employees. Instead of resorting to layoffs, multi-tasking would help employees retain their jobs in tougher times as they would have the know-how to move to other streams wherein manpower is required. But organizations need to train employees in-house or through external trainings. A certificate at the end of the training would also help”, says Vishal Chhiber, HR head, Kelly Services India.
Multi-tasking leads to different job responsibilities thereby increasing an employee’s knowledge based and skill. “Considering today’s job market, multi-taskers can adapt to another role in the organization and maintain cost efficiency. However, employees should not be overtaxed as a tired mind and body cannot germinate fresh ideas”, says Thiagarajan, MD, Paramount Airways. He adds that, at Paramount, multi-tasking is adopted in security, ground handling and in-flight services. “Security personnel also handle assignments in ticketing check-in counters, boarding gates, besides their core functions. Ground handling personnel also look after passenger convenience. Our cabin crews are trained to handle catering assignments as well. This allows our employees to grow within the organization and employees who had started their careers as cabin crews have now moved to managerial positions in in-flight services”, says Thiagarajan.
Multi-tasking is not suited for everyone. But if optimizing productivity and decreasing costs are your main goals, then you will be able to juggle complex tasks tactfully.
Malathi Rai, head HR, Lion Bridge India suggests ways through which organizations can encourage multi-tasking at the workplace:
1) Identify additional responsibilities that employees can shoulder. 2) Ensure these are broadly aligned to their area of work; don’t give them something that they cannot find value in or identify. 3) Train them to take on more responsibilities and equip them to bridge gaps in knowledge and/or skill. 4) Motivate them to stretch the boundaries of their capabilities.
Pride over prejudice
For a lay-off victim, explaining the reasons for his/her lay-off to a potential employee can be embarrassing. But an honest approach towards this sensitive issue can make all the difference
As a lay-off victim, if you are among the many seeking a job opportunity, it’s normal to feel a little awkward approaching prospective employer. Also, facing them during job interviews might give you the creeps, for you may feel that they are prejudiced. However, experts say that it’s only a misconception. A W George, business head, Hero Mind mine Institute says, “Today, organizations are ready to accept an employee who is laid off without questioning his/her competency”. George believes that during an interview, there is absolutely no need to hide anything. However one must be very careful while explaining the reasons for the lay-off to his/her prospective employer. “You can state it upfront without any reluctance. You could openly discuss the financial difficulties your ex-employer was going through that forced him/her to lay you off. If you were the only person laid off from the previous company, then, try to be more generic and subtly try to put forth points in your de-fence. This way, you are still telling the truth, but also letting the employer draw his/her own conclusions from your statement,” suggests Dr. Yasho V Verma, director HR&MS, LG Electronics India Ltd.
Industry experts opine that one must not take a lay-off personally and must not hold any grudge or disparage towards the former employer, during interview. “One must be always careful and be sure that you are not slandering your ex-boss. No matter what, be honest and the prospective employer will respect you for it,” adds Verma. Here are a few ways you can handle the situation: Say it upfront: Never hide the fact that you are a lay-off victim. If your prospective employer finds out, sooner or later of your hidden “secret”, it might just jeopardize your career. It’s better to speak the truth than bear the negative repercussions of your actions in the future. Be confident: Discuss ways in which you can add value to your current job profile. While also maintaining an optimistic approach, inform your interviewer of the various successful projects you were involved with in the previous organization and the career landmarks achieved. Do not bad mouth: Never try tarnishing the reputation of the previous employer when asked to explain reasons of getting laid-off. Never display any feeling of anger or personal grudge towards the previous employer; it will only reflect badly on you. Being honest and truthful is the only way through which you can gain the trust of your prospective employer.
Seven steps to shrug off gloom
Follow these rules to land a job in tough times
WITH THE ECONOMY ailing, stock markets in free fall and job cuts making headlines day after day, it’s easy to give in to the doom and gloom. Especially if you’re looking for employment. And yet, people are still buying goods and factories are still churning out products. Even companies lying off employees in some areas are still hiring in others. There may be fewer jobs out there, but they haven’t disappeared entirely. So how do you find a job when times are hard? Here are strategies to find work when the economy’s stuck on life support.
When the competition’s fierce, you have to stand out. List your top skills and the achievements you’re most proud of, and play them up in interviews. Now’s not the time to be shy. Pay special attention to soft skills that can be transferred to a wide variety of positions, like communication, teamwork and leadership. If your resume is looking a little sparse, volunteer or work part-time to give it a shot in the arm.
Like it or not, you’ve got to sell yourself to prospective employers. Start with a flawless resume and compelling cover letters. Then dress for success, rehearse your sales pitch and practice your interview techniques to make sure you communicate clearly and effectively. Develop a marketing plan that utilizes all available resources to find job leads, including research, job fairs, recruiters and personal referrals, and lets you effectively represent yourself to prospective employers. Set realistic goals and determine your time frame.
When times are tough, younger jobseekers may choose to go back to school or prolong their studies. Others may put off or abandon their job search all together. For you, this is an excellent opportunity to get in there early. By looking for employment while others are sidelined, you cut your competition in half. If you’re a student, take advantage of campus career centers and job fairs as early as possible.
Work all your contacts, not just for job leads but also for introduction to employees at companies that interest you and people who can provide vital information on trends affecting your field. Get the word out that you’re looking for work. Talk to professional associations, fellow jobseekers, past employers and school career placement. Don’t be shy to ask your friends for favours, and don’t forget online networks like Linked In and Face book.
Concentrate your job search on organizations most likely to be hiring. Read the business section of local newspapers to learn which companies are expanding or what new projects are getting under way. You can also find out which industries are still experiencing job growth by using websites. Good bets include small to medium-sized businesses of 200 to 300 people, which experts say account for most hiring across the country, along with “recession-proof” industries like healthcare, education, environmental sciences, security and government.
We all go into the job market with visions of scoring a cushy dream job with full benefits and a company car. Well, best put that dream on hold a little longer. As a new recruit, you may have to reduce your expectations and settle for an entry-level position, a lower salary or fewer benefits. You might also have to consider moving – literally – to a hotter job market. To really put the odds in your favour, you may even have to shift career tracks – at least in the short term.
Looking for a job is an emotionally charged process. Be careful not to make a rash decision and understand that finding a job may take a lot of time and work. Tackle each step as it comes, and keep your sight firmly on your goal. In time, you will get there.
A scourge worse than absenteeism
When a flu bug is flying around at home, it’s best not to take it to office
Absence, they claim, makes the heart grow fonder. You can’t say that in a corporate environment, where absenteeism has long been a scourge. Today, however, an even bigger problem has arrived on the scene. It’s called presenteeism.
Although presenteeism as a concept has been around for some time now, it is relatively unknown outside HR circles. Wikipedia defines it as “the opposite of absenteeism. In contrast to absenteeism, when employees are absent from work, presenteeism discusses the problems faced when employees come to work in spite of illness, which can have similar negative repercussions on business performance. It can also refer to the expectation of employers for their employees to be present at work regardless of whether any work is available or accomplished”.
According to a report by the Society or Human Resource Management (SHRM), released in mid-2008, absenteeism costs the US economy $118 billion annually. Presenteeism has now overtaken it with a tab of $180 billion. The SHRM report draws on the findings of Cornell University. A Cornell team found that workers slow down on the job because of a variety of ailments (see box). This could result in a major fall in productivity.
What’s worse, while absenteeism keeps a person at home and may actually egg on his colleagues to work harder to fill the gap, presenteeism affects coworkers too. Headaches can be “infectious” and this is not to talk of ailments like conjunctivitis. Many people seem to feel a pair of dark glasses is protection enough. Yes, for them it possibly is. But in an office or shop floor environment, such dark glasses proliferate like rabbits. Soon, the whole place is down with Jai Bangla.
Presenteeism is a direct contributor to absenteeism. After the first thoughtless disease-carrying agent does the damage, others who are worse affected may be forced to report sick. It is, of course, impossible to document the costs of spreading illnesses to a larger audience through commuting.
Presenteeism is not just the handiwork of a few “brave hearts” that want to prove their loyalty to the company or their hardiness, (Or should that read foolhardiness)? A 2007 Decima Research poll in Canada found that 79% of the sample reported going to work sick in the past year. Earlier, in 2006, researchers from Harvard found that a 20% of these polled said that their boss would insist that they report for work, despite being sick and contagious. The reason is probably that an illness is often regarded as a fake excuse for taking a day off.
This is a problem that will only grow in the current environment. With the economic slowdown, employees have become even more fearful of retaining their jobs. In India, in sectors like information technology and business process outsourcing where layoffs seem acceptable, few are taking chances. The trend towards telecommuting – thought it makes even more sense in these cost-saving times – is in danger of being reversed, albeit temporarily. People are losing confidence in their being able to negative these treacherous shoals through their skills alone; they feel they must get involved in office politics and osmosis.
There are pressures from the boss too. His survival may depend on the size of his fiefdom. If he can show a dozen “hardworking” employees to his own boss, he is more valued than his peer who has half his reportees at home. It could easily be alleged that they are goofing off. Face time is making a rapid comeback.
But presentees (in its new era meaning) and companies need to re-think their priorities. When a flu bug is flying around at home, don’t take it to office. Your colleagues will be taking home more than just work and they won’t thank you for it.
Rumour has it…
Though the ongoing slowdown has seen a rise in rumours doing the rounds on the corporate floor, HR managers tell us how organizations can help employees differentiate fact from fiction
As kids, we have all played the game of Chinese whisper. And though we stopped playing once as we grew up, this particular game is still very much active in our lives. The only difference is that it has now moved on from the playgrounds to the corporate corridors of India Inc.
It is no hidden secret that eavesdropping has been existent in the workplace for ages. However, experts say that during trying times, like the current slowdown, there is a considerable increase in eavesdropping among employees, as fears of lay-offs and corporate restructuring have made employees more attentive to what’s going on around them. And experts point out that this has led to rumours being spread at the workplace.
So how does one differentiate between what’s true and what’s not? How do employees ‘protect’ themselves from the gruesome world of rumours at the workplace that hamper their productivity and make them feel insecure? Rachin Gupta, manager at AbsolutData Research & Analytics expresses, “Though you can’t avoid the daily headlines of economic recession and job cuts, you can certainly stop them from having an impact on you and your job. Rumours, generally, create a negative atmosphere of distrust and suspicion. The best way to remain out of this atmosphere is to be more energetic, creative and thoughtful”.
Shireen, a team lead in a BPO, was quite disturbed by the rumours and unrest in her office and realized that she would not allow herself to be de-motivated by them. “To escape from the rough terrain of the situation, I resorted to fifteen minutes of meditation. Also, at times like these, we realized that skill up gradation would not only help in enhancing performance but also help the team to be motivated to work”, she says.
G N Praveena, COO, Malola feels that to handle rumours, the basic requirement an employee needs to have is to understand the situation at the workplace and to be well-versed with the facts. “Employees need to be well-versed with the facts. The better the knowledge of facts, lesser will be the instances of such rumours being spread”.
Ray no heed
While rumours will be persistently present in the workplace, experts say that the most important thing that any employee can do is not to pay any attention to it. Like Manas Mehrotra, an assistant manager-licensing and sales at DQ Entertainment International feels that an employee pays heed to such office rumours or may feel threatened of a job loss only when his or her performance is under scrutiny.
So what do you do at times like these? Hateem Adenwala – senior vice president-HR, DQ Entertainment, explains, “As recession news dominate the headlines, it’s quite natural to feel uneasy about the job stability and security. Apart from staying motivated and thinking optimistic, what seems to be of paramount importance is to improve one’s job skills and be prepared to take on additional business-critical duties. It means duties that are valuable to the business, even if they are beyond the scope of your job description”.
“My advice to people at such times is to control their emotions and try to detach themselves from what’s happening all around. Participating in such rumours will only impact one’s performance and make his/her personal as well as company’s situation worse. In such cases, all efforts should go towards creating a positive work environment that help increase productivity, provide better customer value and tide over the challenging phase”, suggests Krishna Kumar CEO, Zyoin.com.
Curb the menace
Moreover, companies are now taking measures to curtail this problem. Though to some employees, surreptitious listening is a way of survival, at the same time, organizations have to make sure that this does not get in the way of the growth and vision of the organization.
Rajita Singh, head HR, Broad ridge Financial Solutions India Pvt Ltd explains, “We have been through different phases of existence and the present is one such defining moment for all of us, as to what the future holds, how things will be, etc. Having said that, the short term impact cannot be ignored either, which in many organizations is through the ‘grapevine’ on how the market is, job security, long term, cost cutting, etc. Organizations need to be well connected/knit internally, as this helps us to sustain and improve our work culture. Also, this is the perfect opportunity to hone skills, re-discover self and work to ensure that we are geared for the future, as every downturn has an upswing”.
Sudeshna Datta-EVP & Co-founder, AbsolutData Research & Analytics adds, “At AbsolutData, the senior management is proactive in developing and maintaining a culture of seamless and clear communication on all sensitive issues. We believe that timely dissemination of key information from the right source will prevent rumours from floating around. This has helped us greatly curb unhealthy gossip and negativity on the office floor”.
Hence, the crux of the matter is, if you hear rumours and give in to them, there is nothing that can save you from insecurity and confusion. Rather, why not make use of the news; differentiate the facts from the farce and work towards a healthy environment at work.
SLEEPING ON THE JOB
The concept of taking power naps while in office is gaining acceptance in most places
If you are sleeping around on the job, you are sure to attract the attention of your bosses and the HR department, sooner or later. If you are simply sleeping on the job, however, you’ll probably get away with a mild reprimand.
Yet the latter happens far more frequently and can be much more damaging. According to a survey in the UK, lack of proper sleep at night is costing the economy millions of pounds. The Crampex findings (see box) say that only 21% of the population gets the recommended eight hours. In the US, according to a National Sleep Foundation survey, people sleep for six hours and 40 minutes during weeknights, though they should ideally have 40 minutes more. (Sleep needs in the US seem to differ from those in the UK).
In India, two pilots were recently in the news for allegedly having fallen asleep at the controls. That may have been a bit of an exaggeration – at least the airline claims so. But falling asleep in more mundane job is par for the course. Curiously, medical evidence says that the older you grow, you need less sleep. At the same time, however, older workers appear to be more in need of naps during the day.
The Crampex survey in the UK says that people sometimes have to skip work because of their inability to sleep at nights. Among other statistics, two-thirds of the sample admitted they were regularly kept awake by stress and worry, with money being the most common source of anxiety, followed by work and family issues. Even when asleep, people can’t seem to get away from their work with 52% regularly dreaming about their job.
Sleep psychologists have found that one thing that helps in the workplace is taking a break in the middle of an eight-hour day. In Japan, for instance, workers in some factories are given eyeshades and asked to sleep for half an hour in the middle of their shift. They wake up raring to go. But everybody knows that the Japanese would work 16 hours a day, if asked to by his or her bosses. So that doesn’t help.
In India, they used to be much more reasonable about things. As Noel Coward said: “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. / The Japanese don’t care to, the Chinese wouldn’t dare to, / Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one, / But Englishmen detest a siesta… In Bengal, to move at all, is seldom if ever done, / But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”. Thanks to westernization, however, even in Bengal, they are having second thoughts about their siestas.
West Asia is still holding out. In places like Muscat, bankers flock to office in the morning and then return home for lunch and a snooze. They would be doing it in Dubai too. But thanks to the collapse of the economy, most bankers have run back to India.
What is becoming acceptable all over the world is the “power nap”. Writes stress management expert Elizabeth Scott in about.com: “Research shows that you can make yourself more alert, reduce stress and improve cognitive functioning with a nap. Mid-day sleep, or a ‘power nap’, means more patience, less stress, better reaction time, increased learning, more efficiency and better healthy”.
At work you are doing something all the time, says a management consultant. How much better would it be to sleep for 30 minutes, the time you lake to have a couple of cigarette breaks. Managements, however, are bound to look askance at such sleeping on the job.
In the UK, they have gone a step further. The Sleep Council recommends that companies study the sleep patterns and body clocks of their workers and orient their duty hours accordingly. Another organization, the Better Sleep Council, a body promoted by mattress manufacturers, says that the popular fixes for workplace sleep deprivation are: drinking coffee (33%), going outside for fresh air (18%) and taking a nap (17%).
In India, “sleep disorders remain under-diagnosed”, says the Indian Society for Sleep Research. The society has Kumbhakarna as its mascot. That’s perhaps inappropriate. Ravana’s brother had a surfeit of sleep, not a lack of it.
With most organizations facing the brunt of the global economic slump, employees are getting concerned about their job security. With this growing insecurity, employee productivity also seems to be hampered. Hence, it is vital for organizations to keep their employees informed and make them aware of the various management decisions taken at times like these. We gauge India Inc’s comments on this issue
ARUN SEHGAL, HR head, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare:
“Yes, any decision which affects the employee needs to be communicated to the employee with the rationale. Every employee has the right to know and we have the obligation to inform him or her. Needless to say, layoffs certainly has a more significant impact on the employee than any other decision”.
DR. Y.V. VERMA, director, HR & MS, LEGEIL:
Yes, employees should be aware of what kind of decisions the management is taking at times like these, especially when it is about laying off people. The biggest fear at this point of time is uncertainty and insecurity among employees. Open communication from management gives clarity and transparency. The way of communication is important too as it helps us to make the employees realize that it is because of the present business conditions and situations that they should not doubt their competency or potentials. It is also important to counsel the outgoing employees and guide them to enhance their future prospects.
ANURAAG MAINI, Sr. vice president – human resources, DLF Pramerica Life Insurance Co. Ltd:
“We believe that management decisions need to be shared with employees so that accurate information reaches employees directly from the management instead of rumours getting propagated. We follow an open and transparent communication process whether information is being shared top-down or bottom-up. At all times it is essential to take employees into confidence so that they may understand business priorities and contribute to building a successful company”.
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