Work-life balance takes centre stage as Indian corporates battle for the right talent

Mumbai-based Dream11 to fine workers $1,235 for contacting colleagues who are on holiday

The Life Insurance Corporation of India headquarters in Mumbai. Talent retention has become a major problem for Indian companies post-Covid. Bloomberg
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Life was busy before the pandemic, but since Covid-19 changed work routines it has become even more difficult for some to switch off from seemingly never-ending corporate duties, even when they are not at the office.

Mumbai-based Dream11 has come up with an innovative solution to ensure that its employees can fully escape the corporate shackles, at least while they are on holiday. Colleagues who contact their co-workers who have chosen to log off while on leave will face a 100,000-rupee ($1,235) fine.

“Individuals who have opted for an unplugged leave are logged out of all work-related communication channels, including emails, Slack and WhatsApp groups,” fantasy sports company Dream11, which has more than 800 employees, said in a statement.

Staff can choose to completely switch off from work for up to one week under the initiative.

“Dream11 believes that this uninterrupted time allows Dreamsters [Dream11 employees] to relax, recharge and come back to work ready to give their best,” the company said.

Like in other parts of the world, a good majority of employees in India have started returning to offices as Covid-19 restrictions are eased and the local economy reopens.

However, high workloads and growing expectations have led many workers to remain constantly connected, with the subsequent burnouts becoming a problem for the corporate sector.

“The corporate culture that employees need to be available 24/7 is not new or only a post-pandemic phenomenon,” says Sonica Aron, managing partner and founder of Marching Sheep, an HR advisory company.

“During work-from-home, where personal and professional lines got blurred, this pinch was felt even more by employees.”

It has now become “more prevalent” in companies “to authentically address this issue” and try to bring a balance between “work expectations and giving employees adequate time to recharge and rejuvenate”, she says.

For many companies, the pandemic and how employees delivered during those stressful days has changed the way they look at their staff's well-being, human resources experts say.

Implementing measures for the physical and mental health of employees is the foremost priority in a bid to retain skilled workers — of whom there is often a shortage in the country.

Companies across industries in India are trying to hire aggressively, but 83 per cent say that they find it difficult to fill positions amid a dearth of the right talent in the country, according to an employment outlook survey by ManpowerGroup India released in 2022.

Other schemes being introduced by companies in India to help attract and retain staff and prevent them from burning out include offering unlimited days off, counselling services, working retreats and hybrid work options.

“There is a choice for employees these days to look for better opportunities if they are getting excessively overworked at an organisation,” says Gaurav Bhagat, a business coach and founder of the Gaurav Bhagat Academy.

“There are many companies in India that allow employees to sign off when not at work and hence these are the companies that get recognised as great places to work and they get the right talent.”

The corporate sector in India is increasingly witnessing a “mindset shift when it comes to employee welfare and mental health”, says Neeti Sharma, co-founder and president of TeamLease Edtech, a learning solutions company in India, which is focused on improving employability.

“Organisations that take steps to create a good work culture tend to retain employees and witness reduced absenteeism and less instances of sickness.

“Reduced turnover also leads to reduced hiring costs and thereby improves the bottom line for any organisation.”

As well as companies developing more awareness of the importance of holidays to recharge, many organisations are also “implementing a no-call policy post office hours”, Ms Sharma says.

It is “encouraging to see such steps being taken”, she adds.

The city skyline of Mumbai, the financial hub of India where most people have started going back to offices as Corvid restrictions are eased AFP

Ravinder Goyal, co-founder and managing director of Erekrut HR Automation Solutions, says he hopes that more companies will follow Dream11's example.

“It shows that the company values its employees' time off and is serious about enforcing the policy. Such a policy could be an effective way to ensure that employees respect each other's time off and create a culture of respect in the workplace,” says Mr Goyal.

But while the objective behind the Dream11 initiative is “quite noble” and the fact that the company has taken these steps to improve employees' mental health and work-life balance should be applauded, not all companies can follow the same route, Ms Sharma says.

Depending on the nature of work, there could be companies where co-workers would need to be contacted while on leave or after work hours for urgent matters, she states.

RP Yadav, chairman and managing director of Genius Consultants, a human resources solutions company in India, agrees.

“I am not very sure about the practicality of this situation in a company,” he says.

“In case [a] person, who has the authoritative power of taking a decision is not connected at such times due to implementation of a policy where you will be fined, it can lead to major work being put off and can have serious implications.”

Nonetheless, it is a good step and similar “unplug” policies have been rolled out across some multinational companies in Europe and the US. Dream11 is the first company in India to make such a public announcement, Mr Yadav says.

Even before the pandemic, there were calls for India's corporate culture to change and help ensure a healthier work-life balance among employees.

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A private bill called “right to disconnect” was presented in India's parliament in 2018, which championed the right for employees not to have to respond to work calls after hours.

“Although no actions have been taken on the bill yet, it is expected that companies will try to follow the trend that is being set by Dream11 soon,” says Mr Yadav.

A survey conducted by Genius Consultants to understand employees' stress levels in India revealed that 37 per cent of those polled take work home from the office and work on holidays and even leave days.

“This leads to an increase in stress and anxiety that is affecting their personal lives,” says Mr Yadav.

Technology adoption and hiring more staff to manage higher workloads are steps companies are now taking, he says.

Powerplay, a digital platform for construction management based in Bengaluru, has asked its staff to return to the office, but has also introduced “a no-questions-asked unlimited leave policy and flexible working hours”, says its HR head Ankita Sen.

“Hybrid, remote and office: all types of work models have worked equally well for us in the last three years.

“However, we are now encouraging employees to return to the office only because this is our start-up's fourth year, and it is crucial for us,” she says.

Under the new policy, workers can take as much paid leave as they want.

“This particular flexible working policy has worked in our favour and employees don't mind returning to the office as they know they can switch off from work anytime,” says Ms Sen.

Meanwhile, Indian comparison websites Policybazaar.com and Paisabazaar.com have introduced child daycare facilities for new parents and are focusing on increasing engagement by organising rewards and training programmes for their staff.

“We believe that maintaining a decent work-life balance is of utmost importance for the mutual growth of employees and the organisation, especially in this post-pandemic world,” says Puneet Khurana, group HR head at both companies.

LogiNext, a Mumbai-based software company, took employees on a “workation” to the Maldives last year and is offering a hybrid work model.

“The organisations that will succeed in the long run are the ones that have the most motivated people working for them,” says Dhaval Thanki, vice president, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa, for LogiNext.

Updated: January 23, 2023, 6:12 AM