Article: Ritu Sinha of Akasa Air on winning the war of talent in the aviation industry

Talent Management

Ritu Sinha of Akasa Air on winning the war of talent in the aviation industry

The aviation sector, like many other industries, is also witnessing a fierce battle for talent. Ritu Sinha, Head of Human Resources at Akasa Air, shares insights on attracting and retaining top talent in the fiercely competitive industry.
Ritu Sinha of Akasa Air on winning the war of talent in the aviation industry

In the highly competitive aviation industry, retaining top talent can be a challenging task. However, there are several strategies that organisations can implement to retain their most valuable employees.

India's newest airline Akasa Air, indicating its commitment to growth and expansion, has announced plans to expand its workforce and fleet by March 2024. Launched in August last year, the airline intends to hire nearly 1,000 additional staff members, bringing its total employee count to over 3,000. CEO Vinay Dube, in an interview, said that this expansion will include recruitment of 1,100 pilots and flight attendants.  

With the radical change in the nature of workplace models, it has become imperative for organisations to have effective retention and attraction strategies, and Akasa Air is no exception. 

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Ritu Sinha, Head of Human Resources at Akasa Air, shared the organisation's strategy for attracting and retaining talent in a competitive industry,  including how to keep employees engaged and motivated, ensuring that the workforce possesses the necessary skills and capabilities to succeed in the future, and the airline's focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Here are some edited excerpts:

In a highly competitive industry like aviation, how do you retain your top talent and save them from being 'poached'? How do you ensure that your employees are motivated to stay on?

Since inception, we have aimed to build a culture of employee-centricity and all our talent strategies are aligned to this pillar. We currently have a team of over 2,000 and aim to expand to an employee strength of over 3,000 employees by 2024. Our HR policies, including compensation and employee benefits, are crafted with the intent to benefit the employees and cater to their expectations from the organisation.

We also understand the importance of prioritising the well-being of employees to avoid burnout and boost engagement at the same time. We focus on creating employee-friendly and inclusive policies that also encompasses employees' families.

People are our biggest asset, and we are committed to creating a healthier work culture.

At Akasa Air, we firmly believe in the power of the Five C’s to keep our employees motivated and engaged

Commitment: Commitment is critical because creation of culture does not happen overnight, it evolves over time as a result of everyone continually working towards it. The foundation of our employee-centric culture is the complete commitment of our leaders and the management team towards creating a work environment where a strong, healthy, and connected culture can flourish. The various inclusive, progressive, and industry first policies and initiatives of the organisation are proof of our leaders walking the talk.

Care: Employees feel motivated when they know they are part of an organisation that prioritises their health, well-being, and growth. We have different policies in place such as POSH, anti-discrimination and respectful treatment policy, diversity, equity and inclusion policy, Mediclaim, group term life insurance, benevolent fund, and employee leisure travel to prioritise the welfare of our employees and foster a healthy workplace environment. We are the first airline to cover live in partners in our staff travel policy. We cover same-sex partners in our maternity and paternity policy and cover partners in our medical policy.

An early example of employee-centricity is the uniforms we designed, keeping in mind ergonomics, aesthetics and comfort. Akasa Air is the first Indian airline to have introduced custom trousers, jackets, and comfortable sneakers for its airline in-flight crew to ensure sustained comfort and seamless functioning. Given the mobile lifestyle of crew members and long hours spent standing, we inducted sneakers that are light, and contain extra cushioning from heel to toe to ensure better support.  This has been widely appreciated by stakeholders across the industry and has distinguished us from other players.

Communication: Communication is the key and at the core of every successful relationship. Communication breeds trust and trust is strengthened by open, honest and consistent communication. We believe in communicating clearly and often with employees about the company’s short- and long-term goals, larger picture, about any good/bad news and ensure that our employees get to know about things from within the organisation and not outside, so that everyone remains on the same page and well informed.

We take employee feedback very seriously and try our best to ensure that we immediately address any form of inconvenience and distress. We have an all-encompassing calendarised employee connect programmes crafted to engage with and listen to our employees. Monthly HR connects, Leadership Connect, Station Mentorship, CEO connect, one on one discussions, skip level meetings etc. are some of the employees connect platforms. Annual Employee engagement survey is also planned in our very first year, for employee feedback and satisfaction.

Celebration: Creating a culture of celebration makes our employees engaged, happy and appreciated. We celebrate all the good occasions together, be it organisation/financial milestones but also employees' personal and professional achievements. We endeavour to create an environment where employees forge meaningful connections based on mutual trust and respect.

Community: When the employees understand what the organisation is doing for the community, it helps them feel a sense of purpose and also contributes towards building culture, and camaraderie. We at Akasa are committed towards CSR and sustainability. Collaboration, empathy, honesty, humility, perseverance, respect, positivity is reflected in our everyday interaction both with employees and customers.

Another strong value that has been essential to us from inception, has been our focus on sustainability. Today employees connect with an organisation that has a strong purpose and it provides an anchoring point for them that makes them part of a bigger cause through their work.

The management has also been directing all their efforts towards establishing an empathetic, respectful and collaborative work culture that has helped us create a meaningful connection with our employees, making them feel valued.  

In the face of disruptive technologies and changing industry dynamics, how do you ensure that your workforce has the necessary skills and capabilities to succeed?

New-age technologies, automation, and altering workplace models have radically transformed the nature of organisations and job roles. There is a growing need for employees to adapt to the new norms and think out of the box. Equipping employees with skills and know-how will help them meet future obstacles and capitalise on opportunities.

We intend to build a high-impact digital ready workforce through automated processes and investing in the right digital platforms aimed at enhancing employee efficiency, performance, and customer experience. However, working with these new digital platforms and applications, managing unfamiliar business processes is not easy, especially if all of these processes need to be learned at a short notice and deliver results on a daily basis.

We invest in upskilling our employees and managers to use these processes and become familiar with its application so that they are comfortable working with these processes and are able to make the most of it. We understand that it is not just enough to automate processes but requires an entire change of mindset and culture of the organisation and needs to be managed through a change management process. 

The key is communication of the benefits at all levels and creating employee champions who will help carry the message across the organisation. 

What is your organisation’s approach to diversity and inclusion? How do you ensure that your workplace is welcoming to employees from diverse backgrounds?

Diversity and inclusion are crucial aspects of an organisation’s culture that enables a high performing and employee-centric environment. We endeavour to build a workplace where employees feel proud to be a part of the brand. Gender parity is one of the key aspects of our growth strategy and our continued efforts have culminated in 37 per cent of the company's workforce being women.

Moreover, at the senior leadership level, one-third of officials are women. It is our mission to increase women's participation in our workforce to 50 per cent, and we  are making persistent efforts towards the same by creating inclusive policies in the organisation.

We are ensuring that our workplace is welcoming employees from diverse backgrounds through our three-pronged approach of Action, Alignment and Awareness. By Action, we mean focusing on the recruitment, retention and development of employees from diverse backgrounds, by Alignment, designing inclusive policies, identifying and removing barriers, and by Awareness, creating awareness through education, advocacy, and communication.

We do not discriminate in any manner while hiring. We take pride in the fact that some of our women employees have shown exceptional performance and have been successfully leading their respective departments, be it technology, or managing one of the nation’s busiest airports.

We promote internal growth and provide equal opportunities for career progression to all employees. We support caregiving and family responsibilities, by encouraging work-life balance and providing flexible work options.

In addition, we also have benefits that cover not only our employees but extend to their family members, such creche facilities.

All our policies are inclusive in nature, and we continue to educate our employees about these through regular connect sessions, urging them to make the most of these. We have a strict policy towards prevention of sexual harassment and power abuse with zero tolerance for anyone that violates them and have established an Ethics and Code of Conduct Committee.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your retention and attraction strategies, and what metrics do you use to track progress?

Employee retention is an indicator of employee satisfaction. The more satisfied our employees are, the less likely they are to leave the organisation.

The following methods are a great way to measure the effectiveness of our strategies:

Employee retention rate: It is an effective way to measure how many employees we have retained. It allows us to understand if we have hired the right people for the roles who continue to meet overall business goals while contributing to the success of the organisation.

Voluntary turnover: This is the percentage of employees that chose to leave us due to various reasons such as finding a new job, joining a more desirable brand, or relocation. Understanding the voluntary turnover and the reason for turnover is essential, as it will create the basis for the components that we as an employer need to work on to retain our team members.

Happiness and satisfaction of employees: Happiness and job satisfaction are the biggest drivers of employee retention. Whether through surveys or in-person interviews and connects, it is important to understand if the employees are finding their roles fulfilling and stimulating.

Reviews on job platforms: Job dashboards and social media platforms such as LinkedIn are immensely popular amongst talent. With information being available at the touch of fingertips, current and former employees can be valuable brand ambassadors for any organisation. Hence, it is crucial for HR to see what people are saying about their work environment and if people are showing interest in applying for roles at the company.

Employee engagement score: Engaged employees are likely to stay longer in their jobs than unhappy employees. A happier employee is one that feels challenged by their work, valued by their organisation, and feels they are fairly compensated.

Average employee tenure: Understanding how long on average an employee stays with the organisation is a good indicator of employee satisfaction.

There is no hard and fast rule for measuring the effectiveness of talent strategies. The key is to engage with the employees, understand their concerns and support them to perform to the best of their abilities.  

Finally, what advice would you give to other HR leaders in the aviation industry who are looking to improve their retention and attraction strategies?

Today, the role of an HR leader involves not just hiring the right people but also understanding the business objectives of an organisation and accordingly, cultivating the talent pool. In order to have an effective workforce, it is critical to align work culture with core business goals.

Offering competitive compensation and opportunities for professional development and work-life balance are a few ways to enhance employee retention.

As custodians of workplace culture, it is important to engage with employees, support them and reward them so they feel a sense of belonging, camaraderie, and pride. An increasingly diverse workforce requires flexibility, imagination and innovation and a traditional one size fits all employee benefits schemes no longer work.

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Topics: Talent Management, Talent Acquisition, Strategic HR, Employee Engagement, Skilling, #DEIB

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