Every 26th of January, India celebrates its Republic Day - the day our constitution finally came into effect as the governing document of India. 70 years have gone by and this document has gone through changes of its own. As of January 2019, there have been 103 amendments to the Constitution of India since it was first enacted in 1950. Just like the constitution, isn’t it time that the written and unwritten rules of the workplace also go through a change to make them more relevant, more in sync with today’s times?
Workplace policies have been around for as long as we can remember. Many of these have stayed on with time while many have been updated or even scrapped. Many organizations are doing it right while many still have a long way to go in this regard. From age-old policies like following a certain dress code at work to the latest bill introduced by Nationalist Congress Party’s Member of Parliament Supriya Sule seeking to empower employees to go offline after work hours which means no work calls or emails after office and on holidays, the Indian workplace has really come a long way. So, are we ready to introduce, reinforce or remove our workplace policies?
This Republic Day, we take a look at some workplace policies that have just been introduced at the workplace and are a welcome change and also some policies which can be let go off or tweaked to fit the present-day workplace dynamics. We also look at some new and innovative policies that can be introduced in order to ensure a happy, motivated and productive workforce. Read on for some interesting insights!
Right to privacy
Companies are still figuring out the implications of big data. Issues like data harvesting and tracking customers and employees have come under increasing scrutiny in the last five years. As companies increasingly turn to technologies to supplement their HR functions, they need to be aware of how they are processing personally identifiable information. As the legislation around the world gets stronger, HR professionals need be in tune with the changing attitudes and laws. Whether it’s emails, calls, Internet activity, employees need to know and consent to any tracking process. Accessing credit score and background screening activity need to have the backing of individual in question. The right to privacy is not just restricted to work, it also extends to hours outside work and even before being hired and after leaving the company. With dynamic changes in the environment and regulations like GDPR, it's time for companies to refresh their privacy policies.
Pay transparency at the workplace
A culture of transparency and trust starts with the leadership. The establishment of the Republic of India is not only about the civil rights of the people in social life but also about ensuring that the workplaces of India are also restructured as per the needs of a new country's working population.
Historically, talking about salaries with friends and co-workers has been considered as a taboo topic. There are merits and demerits to creating a culture of absolute transparency when it comes to revealing salaries and compensation structures to all employees. However, in recent times where companies like Netflix are setting the trend wherein employees can view the salaries of top management roles, companies in India can also stop and assess their current policies and perhaps raise the question of incorporating new laws.
If people know the compensation structure that the company follows, chances are that the employer brand would be portrayed as a positive one. In today's digital age where all kinds of information are available at employees' fingertips, then why not maintain transparency when it comes to salaries?
Sexual Harassment & Discrimination Policy
In 2018, India witnessed its own #MeToo movement. The incident empowered several women to take to social media and voice personal stories of harassment and out alleged perpetrators. The flurry of commotions over #MeToo movement has put the spotlight on the workplace. Corporates in India are up on their toes with allegations from their employees.
While most of the organizations have their policies around sexual harassment, they still need to relook and reinforce their anti-sexual misconduct policies. This is because people come from different cultural and educational backgrounds in the workplace. These are the challenges companies have to deal with today if they have to create fair and inclusive workplaces.
Organizations need a more comprehensive anti-harassment policy that discourages such acts but encourages employees to raise to raise any issue pertaining to harassment and discrimination.
The right to be remote but connected
With the gig economy on the rise, there has been a surge in the contingent workforce, freelancing talent and in remote contributors. While there was a time when organizations "allowed" remote working as a privilege, in today's day and age it is a norm for anyone to choose to be a remote contributor, a freelancer or a contractual employee. Employees being given the right of choice is yet another way to ensure increased engagement, motivation, happiness and in general, a better employee experience.
While the needs of remote or gig workers have been gaining mainstream focus at work over the last couple of years, there are organizations who still seem to not quite know how to manage and leverage on these remotely connected contributors to business. Being part of an intrinsically globalized, tech-driven, über-connected workforce, today's employees are a lot more comfortable with remote-working than before. Organizations need to be able to meet them halfway and enable the process of being connected to work and the larger picture without being physically present. Employees, on the other hand, need to skill-up on traits and processes that would help them in being productive pieces of the machinery without letting distance get in the way.
The right to bring my pet at work: why it works!
It’s no secret now that having pets by our side makes us happy and lowers our stress levels. Scientific studies have also validated the benefits of pets in the workplace. A 2012 study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University found employees who brought their dogs to work had reduced stress throughout the day as compared to colleagues without pets.
Pets reduce stress, alleviate depression, improve heart health, and reduce obesity. Our workplaces are one of the most stressful environments-which make the case for bringing a pet to work even stronger.
No wonder, Google, Amazon, Ben & Jerry’s, Etsy, and many other large companies allow their employees to bring pets to work. In addition to reducing stress and promoting welfare, allowing pets at work also ensures a financial benefit to employees who don’t have to spend on additional costs of doggie day care or dog walking services. Moreover non-pet owners can also benefit from the comfort of petting a pet. It encourages conversation, interaction, and bonding between the employees. Allowing pets in the office also tends to soften the company’s image, making it seem more progressive and helps to attract and retain hires for the long term who would not have to constantly worry about leaving their pets unattended at home.
Of course, with the right, also comes along the duty of the pet owner to ensure that the pets are well trained and do not misbehave in office or cause damage to property. To ensure that the policy does not become a bother and other employees are not disturbed, the policy should clearly outline consequences for misbehaviour, specifying what types of pets are allowed, putting a number on how many times the pets may visit the office, and clearly stating how animals are to be leashed or contained during their time at office. All in all, the right to bring pets at work can work if the owners can responsibly discharge their duties!
The right to paternity benefits
Back in 90s, the need to protect the employment of women during the time of her maternity was realized and Benefit Act 1961 was established. Working mothers were then entitled of a ‘maternity benefit’ – i.e. full paid absence from work – to take care of her child. But now we stand almost half a century ahead of that time and the dynamics of parenting has changed. Taking care of child is no more considered to be only a women's job, even her husband is expected to contribute equally. In fact, with the millennials and the Gen Zs coming in adoption is the new trend and surrogacy has also become a common phenomenon. As the centuries-old societal norms are breaking, it puts pressure on previously framed policies and call for a need to revisit and revise them.
The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 was indeed enacted to address these new changing trends. However, the focus of even these amendments still remains on the mother and her role as a working parent. Why don't we have a Paternity Benefit Act? Why do still many organizations don't have strong policies to support the parent who either adopts a child or have them through surrogacy?
The 2017 amendments probably need further revision not only to empower working women but also to encourage corporates to be more inclusive with their policies and cover the needs of working fathers.
Hence this 70th Republic Day, let’s welcome some workplace changes, much needed to constitute the utopian workplaces of the future!
What is that one policy that you would want your organization to remove, reinforce or introduce? Please share your views with us in the comments section below.