Just when we had started thinking that The Great Office Reopening will finally happen in the new year, omicron has chained us back to the Zoom screen. The same conversations —“I can’t do this work-life balance struggle once again”, “will we ever again switch off from the video meeting marathon?”—are slowly showing up in DMs again. Is there something managers can do to ensure that starting 2022, employees actually want to return to work every day with a smile?
Chandrasekhar Sripada, the Indian School of Business’ practice professor (organisational behaviour), believes so. While he says there’s no one-size-fits-all prescription for happiness, there are five things companies can do to create a happy office, physical or remote. First, competitive compensation. Second, autonomy and flexibility. Third, opportunities to learn and grow. Fourth, promising “exit” options (the promise of a good next job). Fifth, an empathetic manager.
Deepika Dubey can’t stress enough the importance of an empathetic manager. One of her supervisors gave her the much-needed push to look for a new job that lets her spend more time at home. She finally found one at a Mysuru-based IT firm.
“Earlier also I was performing a similar role but I was away from my family,” says Dubey, who is now working as a solutions lead from her home in Uttar Pradesh. “Most of my time then went into either commuting between office and home or handling late-night calls. With this new office, I can work from home, help out my mother and just be there for them.”
Besides remote working, what she calls a “blessing”, Dubey likes that there’s no concept of micromanaging. “I like the part that I am responsible for my tasks in this job. It increases my efficiency, and there’s no unnecessary mental pressure.”
A SIMPLE EQUATION
Work responsibilities can be a game-changer when it comes to employee happiness, and in turn, employee retention, says Sripada.
Pune’s Abhaysinh Shirole joined a new company, a SaaS firm, as a program manager during the second wave of covid-19. What made the company most attractive to him was the range of employee-friendly programmes it offered— Friday off (once a month), flexible working hours, restricting all official communications to Slack, a mandatory training and onboarding program for fresh recruits.
But what encouraged 27-year-old Shirole to sign the employment papers with the company was his would-be employer’s demand that he takes a break before joining so that he returns recharged. “As a non-techie myself, I was given ample time to try and understand the product and world of CX (customer experience) automation, thus reassuring me that non-engineers can also thrive in the world of AI (artificial intelligence), automation and tech, in general,” he says.
When it came to his key responsibility areas, the managers were more understanding. “I remember in my first week I was simply asked to know more about the company, the people in it, and the industry. It was so refreshing; there wasn’t any pressure,” says Shirole. He does admit that there are instances when people have to work extra hours, but they are manageable. “When a company looks after its employees, you want to work for them, even if it’s a little extra. You know you will be appreciated and you end up learning more,” he says.
THE FREEDOM TO WORK
According to Neeraj Sharma, vice-president (human resources), at FourKites India, a provider of real-time supply chain visibility platform, peer-to-peer learning and all-round development are key points workers look for in a job. “Free-flowing communication allows for faster adaptability to the changing business demands. Flexibility and agility are certainly the name of the game.”
For those whose work does not depend on others, the work-from-home rule has certainly been a blessing in disguise, just like in the case of Dubey.
The flexibility of managing timelines and minimal distraction from being at the workplace can mean increased productivity, believes New Delhi-based Anita Babu, who works as an editor at a research firm. “This has helped me understand and appreciate my work as an individual contributor, which means that I don’t have people to manage or clients to face. There’s freedom to choose my hours based on the deadline. My team and managers have faith in me that I will finish the job on time,” says the 32-year-old. “This gives me the confidence and inspiration to be better.”
She believes such an independent working style suits her personal way of operating, since writing or editing type of roles require “space and time. Else one can burnout if all you do is churn out average paragraphs and pages each day. As I set my own hours, I can take breaks in between to play with my puppy, relax. This is a huge bonus of my work. It’s something that I’ll strongly negotiate for in future roles.”
In Kolkata, meanwhile, Ashin Mandal has just returned from Germany and found a job in the country. While his main reason for looking for a job in India was to be closer to his family, the fact that there was no sense of ownership at his previous office was also a deciding factor.
“I did not feel appreciated. Now, I have moved to a corporate job and yes, there is quite a bit of corporate hullabaloo like unnecessary meetings, performance review hoops that I must jump through, but at least it’s a product-based company. It builds its own products. I have a much deeper understanding of the business and how I want to contribute to it,” says the 33-year-old, who has joined the firm as a UX designer. “Plus, I can approach almost anyone from the entire global team to understand things first-hand.”
FourKites’ Sharma says there’s an increased desire among workers to learn more.“The gig worker is becoming stronger now. People now want organisations that offer ways that will help them become better.” He lists what employees want from companies: “self-organised teams, socially and environmentally responsible attitude, transparency, and encouragement, space and time for imagination, innovation and creativity. These are the things that can make employees happy and this will, in turn, help build better organisations.”
Chandrasekhar Sripada, the Indian School of Business professor, agrees. “Happiness is a complex concept. But taking good care of an employee is the most basic thing a company can do. And it always pays off.”