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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Perk that works: Employees list flexible work as preferred benefit

NEW DELHI: Companies can keep their employees happy even in times of economic gloom. In a recent survey, employees listed flexible work arrangements along with additional fixed pay and higher incentives as the top three preferred benefits. One in three employees ranked flexi work arrangements as a top pull in a new job.

The survey by Aon Hewitt, 'Employee Preference Study 2013', covered 7,000 employees in different organisations across the country. "For decades, the communication to employees on rewards has focussed on cash compensation, in fact even worse, on just take-home pay. We need to recognise that the drivers for attraction, engagement and retention are different," said Sandeep Chaudhary, Partner, Talent & Rewards, Aon Hewitt.

There is a need to find innovative ways to engage employees beyond fuelling the wage spiral, particularly given the outlook on our economy, he added. The preference for flexi work arrangements is not specific to women or GenY. Among employees across generations, levels and gender, flexible work arrangement is one of the most sought-after benefits, the study showed.

Several companies, including P&G, Mahindra & Mahindra, Citi, PwC, HSBC and IBM, are already using flexible work arrangements as a tool for retention and motivation. "Based on employee feedback, it is clear that there is increasing demand for flexi work arrangements," said Rajeev Dubey, president of Group HR at Mahindra & Mahindra.

At Citi India, which offers flexible work arrangements through the programme 'Citi Work Strategies' (CWS), employees have responded enthusiastically. "Since its launch in 2012, the demand for CWS has increased. The India franchise is amongst the top 10 countries within the Citi global network to extensively use flexible work arrangements," said Anuranjita Kumar, country human resources officer, Citi India.
"If organisations move away from treating flexible work arrangements as a discretionary benefit offered to a few employees to deploying it as a deliberate workforce strategy, they can gain significant competitive advantage through cost savings, higher levels of productivity, access to a diverse talent pool, higher retention and, over a longer period of time, organisation sustainability and business continuity," said Shilpa Khanna, director, Aon Hewitt, referring to the demand for flexible work arrangements.

In the survey, one in three employees sought flexible work arrangement as one of the top two rewards for high performance.

More demand from men

At organisations like Citi, the demand for flexible work arrangements from men is on the rise as they take up more household responsibilities, particularly in double-income families. "Citi does not distinguish the usage of policies for any of its employees," said Kumar.

Girish Kalyanaraman, a 31-year-old brand manager with P&G India in Mumbai, believes flexi work arrangement is the "best thing ever". "I love the flexibility to work from home one day a week. Personally, as a new dad, it gives me more time to spend with my family," said Kalyanaraman, who lives with his musician wife and seven-month-old boy. "What it also does additionally is it gives me a chance to reflect on the key priorities at work and refocus my energies towards them."

According to Kalpana Veeraraghavan, manager, workforce diversity, at IBM India-South Asia, though both men and women are equally committed to a work-life balance, women tend to benefit more when it comes to flexible work arrangements.

For women, who have traditionally more responsibilities towards home and family, this flexibility helps them remove the creases from their both their personal and professional lives. Though traditional gender roles are blurring in personal life today, women prefer giving commuting a miss, as it gives them more time with their families, especially for younger mothers.

Flexi work and women

Women professionals like Muskkan Kukreja, assistant manager with the financial servicesteam at PwC in Mumbai, and Rupika Raman, head of development marketing for Garnier at L'Oreal India, see flexi work as key to saving their long cherished careers built over the years.

PwC launched a flexible work policy in January this year, and Kukreja applied for it in June to take care of her year-old daughter. The policy allows her to work from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm five days a week. The work arrangement is reviewed after three months, and if found satisfactory, employees have the option of applying again. Kukreja's application for an extension of this arrangement to November has been approved. "A flexible work arrangement is a boon for working mothers who have worked hard on building their careers," she said.

Raman, too, had sought a flexible work arrangement in February last year to look after her baby, after the absence of a nanny and her mother's ailment forced her to consider a break from work.

After a few brainstorming sessions with the HR department and her managers, a tailor-made plan was created that suited both parties. Raman was appointed marketing manager for special, long-term L'Oreal projects that involved liaising with international teams and labs and working on consumer insights.

The role allowed her a three-day week with operations from home. She was only expected to come to office for key meetings. "I was very clear about coming back to normal work schedules by January this year, and the entire career path was designed to bring me back. It was a critical role for the organisation," she said.

At HSBC, the demand for flexible work options is from both men and women. "In our experience, we see more women opting for part-time arrangements to manage concerns like childcare. However, for staggered hours and telecommuting, we see an equal uptake for both men and women," said Vikram Tandon, head of HR at HSBC India.

More room for Gen Y

A PwC NextGen study on millennials strongly underlined the fact that employees cherish a flexible work culture and require policies that promote greater work-life balance. "We aim to provide the best workplace experience for our employees and the flexible work options are just another step in that direction," said Mark Driscoll, human capital leader at PwC India.

PwC has put in place a programme called 'Flexible Fridays', in which employees can take up to three Fridays off in a financial year, provided they finish their full normal workweek hours—40 and above—in any given week, in four days. "It is working a compressed week to take advantage of a longer weekend and helps our employees manage their hectic family, social, and work life," said Driscoll.

The firm has also introduced a new sabbatical option that enables employees to take up to a year's leave at any point of time, and also a 'Go-Do-It' programme that gives time off during office hours to complete personal responsibilities. There is a telecommuting option, too, where employees working in their local office most of the time, may routinely work one day every week from home.

Mohit James, director HR at L'Oreal India, said, "While the demand for flexibility is on an upswing, the younger generation seeks it more, as they like to multi-task and live life more on their terms."

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