Rajeev Bhardwaj, CHRO, leads the HR function at Sun Life ASC and is part of the Business and Human Resources Leadership team at Sun Life Financial. He also drives diversity and inclusion agenda for the organization. In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, he shares using tech, fun elements at work, and showing compassion are the key elements of ensuring a positive employee experience during the time of crisis. Read the edited excerpts here-
Managing employee experience has especially become critical during the tough times' companies are going through on account of the Coronavirus epidemic. What are some of the ways employee experience is affected by a crisis?
Employees are the most significant stakeholders for any progressive organization. Especially during times of crisis, communication channels must be open and active. The organization must keep employees informed about the latest decisions and keep them connected and engaged. Under these circumstances, the entire communication flow translates into the employee experience. Even a single interaction that employees do with their HR or functional partners determines how they perceive the organization as an employer. Naturally, employees are anxious during such times, and several insecurities arise regarding financial assistance in case of any health emergency in the family, and economic concerns start affecting employees’ work and experience.
What are some of the challenges that organizations might face in providing a smooth employee experience while in crisis?
Organizations have traditionally been looking at building employee experience via creating world-class infrastructure and doing several engagement activities within offices to enhance employee experience. However, with COVID-19, a large percentage of the workforce is operating from home and that means all the experience needs to go digital. That means organizations that have made the transition to digital in time have an advantage over those who have not. If most of your communication media hasn’t gone digital internally, it can add up to negative employee experience, given several queries, concerns, or issues traveling amongst multiple groups of people and also allowing grapevine to foster. On the other hand, if one has invested in advanced technologies and social media mode of engagement, then the communication only needs to be repurposed and amplified.
What are some of the initiatives that you have taken to maintain employee experience during these tough times?
In a unique initiative, Sun Life Asia Service Centre‘s (ASC) Employee Assistance Program (EAP) has launched a campaign on mental health and physical well-being for employees to deal with issues and stress related to COVID-19. The campaign is designed as a series of webinars to offer guidance and best practices to help employees navigate the unique situations that many people encounter during the COVID-19 crisis.
Additionally, the company has disbursed their annual bonuses due in March as planned and committed. Although 85% of employees are working from home, the remaining Sun Lifers who are not enabled to work from home have also been paid their salaries and bonuses.
How can businesses balance maintaining employee experience and business continuity in times of crisis? What are some of the 2-3 critical steps they need to take?
With the advent of any crisis, the current paradigm evolves and brings in a new one. In our case, we have not compromised on either of our two key stakeholders: Our clients and our people. While we have taken several steps to ensure business continuity like enablement of more than 80% of our workforce, we have kept the communication supportive and advisory with our people.
This is the opportune time to harness technology to one’s advantage. We are increasingly leveraging the Zoom app for video conferences, virtual chat rooms and collaborative document sharing tools to keep teams engaged and productive.
Employee experience has several dimensions, all of which employers need to pay attention to. What are the key elements the employers need to focus on while managing employee experience?
Employee touch points contribute to a “great” employee experience- their commute to work, their workplace, career development programs, and employee engagement activities in the organization. We have taken into consideration several elements to elevate the employee experience.
In 2019, we moved to our new office, which has been designed based on inputs from a focus group of 25 millennial employees. Keeping in mind the increasing strength of women in the tech workforce, the company has developed a unique ‘Women Leadership’ program for our high performing women employees. We are also investing in up-skilling existing employees with key digital skills and nurturing poly-skilled employees. Digital tech has also enabled to train new employees using more than 50 bite-sized e-learning modules.
Employee experience leads to employee retention. What are the areas where employers are struggling and in which areas they should work significantly?
Two key factors leading up to higher rates of attrition and which constitute employee experience, 1) Culture and 2) Growth. If an organization is not focused on building a progressive work culture conducive to the changing nature of the workforce, it will struggle retaining its top talent.
Therefore, it is essential to define your values and ensure these are followed across the hierarchy. Learning and growth are interconnected and if you do not invest in cross skilling and upskilling of your people, it is detrimental for both business and employee experience.
In a digital world with increasing transparency and the growing influence of millennials, employees expect a productive, engaging, enjoyable work experience. What are the three key steps employers should take to maintain a seamless experience?
Three key steps to keep the younger generation engaged and productive, in my mind, would be:
Leveraging the leadership and manager community to keep the communication process active, transparent and genuine, while keeping the value system intact.
Theme based campaigns for building awareness of cultural and interventional programs.
Fun@work: People must be able to bring their whole selves at work and see their workplace as an extension rather than a place of restriction.