Special Report Compensation and benefits

south asia

Keeping employees happy

Companies in India are plying staff with benefits such as steam baths and Jacuzzis, and family social events in a bid to retain talent, writes Helen Rowe

The Indian company Infosys appears to have solved the attraction and retention problem. No-one seems to want to leave the technology firm where staff benefit from everything from stock options to policies aimed at keeping their family life running smoothly. Apparently staff – known as Infoscions – do gripe from time to time, but mostly about the amount of tax they pay.

Named earlier this year as India’s best employer by HR consultants Hewitt Associates, the company is widely admired and its policies emulated by competitors. Like other leading South Asian companies, Infosys knows attracting talent – and keeping employees happy where they are – is vital given the particular challenges firms in the region face.

The main problem for HR practitioners in South Asia is that the skills of the most sought-after employees are so easily transferable across borders. Staff with crucial skills can find employment almost anywhere in the world, particularly in the US. Indeed, they continue to be in great demand internationally and command high salaries.

South Asian-based firms have to provide this group of employees, most notably IT specialists, with good reason to stay. Infosys has largely achieved that aim with an ambitious range of policies that leaves virtually no staff need unmet. In particular, in a region where the extended family unit is still strong, there is heavy emphasis on policies that benefit the family members of employees.

According to Infosys’ head of HR, Hema Ravichandar, those who do leave do so largely for unavoidable family reasons or to return to higher education. Many of those later return to the company.

“The biggest challenge has been to recruit, empower and retain the best and brightest talent,” says Ravichandar. “To do this we’ve designed a comprehensive compensation and benefits package. We provide loans to employees at all levels from the day they join to address their needs – whether it is for housing, or to buy a car or personal computer.

“Also, on joining, every employee is granted stock options, and there’s medical insurance cover for employees and their families that does not curtail expenses under any of the heads that a normal insurance policy would.”

With its “campus”, as it is known, in Bangalore, Infosys has also aimed high. Its aim, according to Ravichandar, is holistic, to enrich employees “intellectually, physically, emotionally and materially”.

The site boasts food courts, gyms, saunas, steam baths, tennis courts, an outdoor Jacuzzi and a 5,000 sq ft swimming pool, to name just a few of the facilities. Social events include employees’ families, and children explore their parents’ workplace through the firm’s “Petit Infoscion” days.

Madhavi Misra, a consultant with Hewitt, says the attractive working environment at Infosys is an example of the way companies operating in south Asia have raised their game over the past 10 years to prevent staff being lured to Europe and the US.

“What has happened in South Asia is that the mobility of the top talent has forced companies to increasingly adopt global practices,” says Misra. “This has led to top companies such as Infosys setting global standards that have been followed by others. It is about addressing employees’ needs and HR keeping its ear to the ground in terms of any changes in those needs and requirements to keep the policies effective. That is the way it is going to continue.”

Misra says policies that provide benefits to employees’ families are particularly effective in South Asia, a region in which even Bollywood stars are heard talking constantly about “honouring” their parents. In contrast to many regions, family has never been anything other than central to the lives of the vast majority of the population.

Other leading companies have also tried to focus on enriching the family life of their staff as an attraction and retention tool. At Procter & Gamble’s Indian operation, the company will meet the cost of any retraining expenses for the spouses of relocated staff to help them gain new employment. After the extent of late working became a concern several years ago, a taskforce was also created. The result was a host of flexible working options from compressed work weeks to job shares.

At Hewlett-Packard, there’s an annual family ball and a day off once a year to mark a special occasion of the individual employee’s choice. On this day, each member of staff has the option of taking their family out for a meal paid for by HP.

Other initiatives include bank ICICI’s Saturday morning kids’ club, as well as scholarships and a monthly “learning” excursion for employee’s children, while Hindustan Lever helps children gain places at good schools and provides holiday homes at a nominal cost.

Hewitt’s Madhavi Misra says the success of these family-focused policies means they will increasingly become the norm for skilled staff in the region. Given the surplus of unskilled manpower, however, it is unlikely that smaller employers will feel compelled to go down the same road for many years, if ever.

“The approach in relation to the families of staff is almost overwhelming,” adds Misra. “Policies are very much aimed at integrating the family and involving them in the company too. There’s a level of involvement that probably wouldn’t be tolerated by staff in other countries where they might prefer to keep more of a distance between their home and work lives, but these are countries without the particular cultural background and family focus that applies in South Asia.”

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