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Workforce Management RESET - Sanjay Bose

Excerpt from Interview with Sanjay Bose, Executive VP & Head-HR, ITC Hotels


SHRM India in association with Kronos India conducted a joint study in 2020 - "Workforce Management RESET: Strategies & Implications for Changing Times"; with an objective to explore the emerging workforce requirements in the new normal. Further the study also deep dived into how organizations are evolving with their workforce planning strategies and management systems to manage the work, worker and workplaces during times of uncertainty.

Taking the discussions ahead, SHRM interviewed Sanjay Bose,  Executive Vice President and Head-HR, ITC Hotels,  to take his views on the said subject.

Our first question is regarding the new normal. How has the workforce situation been for you and how are you planning on addressing it going forward?

Tourism and Hospitality are probably the worst hit industries by the pandemic.  And when the business comes back, it is certain to have a different shape and a totally different identity. In future, as a customer chooses the hotel or hospitality service, all other parameters will be secondary, to the most important factor of security and safety. The warmth of service and friendly handshake will be replaced by a reputation of being safe and hygienic.

This is the first and clearly evident change which will revolve around hygiene, quality consciousness, no touch, etc., and logically the entire industry is gearing up to deal with it. We already see in-depth specifications of hygiene and zero contact emerging with professional certification bodies defining standards of operations.  These quality certifications are going to be a significant factor in building confidence in the customer and inspiring their choice of brand.

The second factor, which is probably not so obvious is the long-term psychological shift both in the workforce and in the customer.  People from as close as two generations back had experienced paradigm shifts during their lives - world wars, independence, partition, disease outbreaks, famine to name a few – and had built a stoic perseverance which helped them deal with life altering changes.  The current generation has not been conditioned through changes of such magnitude and therefore the reset is triggering a sense of insecurity which will manifest itself in different ways and will certainly reprioritize individual aspirations from what they were restoring the sense of security and dealing with changing aspirations and expectations of the workforce is going to be the primary challenge for leadership and HR in the mid to long term.

Going forward, organizations will need to address two ends of the spectrum – demonstrating the right set of organizational values and providing the right infrastructure for the workforce.  Cultural dimensions will take precedence over other factors, as employees will choose their employers based on how they treat their employees during times of crisis.  At the other end, redoing operational processes and deploying necessary technology to provide touch free, contamination free work environment will also be a priority.    In terms of reward architecture, organizations will need to look at more future-focused rewards. My sense is that more social security measures will be asked for and implemented.

How do you see the remote workforce evolving in the hospitality industry?

In the hospitality industry, jobs which do not need a direct customer interface, e.g. accounting, reservations, etc. will certainly go the remote way. In addition, we will see AI and IoT inspired changes in many avenues of hospitality which earlier would have been unthinkable without human contact. As far as work from home (WFH) is concerned, we have had a very encouraging experience in the last 80+ days. One can imagine 25-30% of the population working from home as we go forward.

Hospitality has always prided itself in having more multi-skilled workforce. With this new approach, do you see flexibility continuing or will skills become more important?

Multi-skilling as a concept exists in areas which demand skills of a lower order.   As we move up the specialization pyramid, where more niche skills or high degree of specialization is required, multi-skilling will not work.  For example, the person who visits your room to connect your wifi may be able to also serve wine. But if the expectation is that the person should be able to understand and fix the proxy settings in your device along with knowledge of the various wines, their history and what goes with each, then two disparate sets of skills and capabilities are required.   The short point being that multiskilling exists and will continue to grow in the industry but the prevalence will be largely restricted to budget, midscale and upscale hotels.  Luxury hotels which have discerning service as their USP will be far slower to adopt this, as the business model itself requires high degree of expertise at each point.

Do you see a workforce shortage in the near future?

The industry has scaled down tremendously in the last few months and is in the early stages of revival presently.   The shrink in business has resulted in over availability of talent and currently we do not foresee any talent shortage in near future.

With the new approaches that will need to be taken, do you see workforce utilization and productivity measures getting redefined.

The fundamental yardsticks will remain the same, i.e. the kind of service we are able to generate with the lowest number of employees and highest service intensity.    However, the customer is going to be far more price sensitive and will demand higher levels of service for each dollar spent.  There will be newer, secondary measures to identify process efficiencies and overlaps as these will gain larger significance.   As businesses compete to lead in a shrunk environment, these new measures will start becoming as important as the traditional measures. We can see that coming.

Costs have been a huge concern and challenge for organizations, especially given reduced or almost no revenues. How can the industry actually optimize costs in these times to prevent any leakages and protect jobs?

There are three dimensions to people cost. The first is the legal framework. Compared to the West, India does not have the concept of part-time jobs. Employment is exclusive to one organization and there cannot be multiple employers of the same individual. Going forward, organizations will be very keen to reduce the people costs and not incur the full-day charges. Also, it is not fair on an employee to be jobless but not be able to pick up multiple or part-time jobs at a point of time.  This is one change which will be welcome by the industry if India Inc. can bring this about.

Hospitality, in India, has been very cost-effective where staffing costs have been 30 to 50% lower than developed countries.   As businesses take time to get back to earlier levels of footfall, there will be a clear focus on enhancing productivity across the value chain.   At least 15 to 20% of the processes will be rationalized with many non-essential steps being eliminated.  There will be substantial investment in technology and automation to bring in contact less service which is going to be the demand of the future customer. While all this will bring about a need for a smaller workforce, it will also mean that the pay differential between the developed countries and that of India will shrink, especially for skilled jobs.

The third dimension is the readiness of the workforce to adapt to the sweeping changes in operating processes. Traditional mindsets will be broken and jobs which were in fixed geometric shapes will become fluid and change shape as per the need of the moment.  There is an enormous amount of training and reskilling which is underway in the industry to prepare the workforce with new set of skills and a different orientation. However, the winners in the new and changed scenario will be those with the mental fortitude to accept and adapt to the new and changed ways of working.   This will inevitably lead to more agile, more flexible individuals being more productive and organizations operating with higher efficiency.

Hospitality has always prided itself on its real estate. How do you see this evolving, going forward with reservations and other support functions moving towards remote operations?

More than remote operations, automation is going to change many of the human-driven tasks in the industry.  We see AI based robots coming in for repeated and automated tasks and IoT influencing almost all areas of hospitality. Physical distancing is here to stay, and the industry will extend warmth and hospitality through newer ways which are more technology oriented – It will continue being close to the customers while minimizing physical proximity. 

Do you see the policies changing over a period of time as next level of workforce emerges?

Everything is going to be on-demand. So, whenever there is a volume which needs to be addressed, there will be more individuals needed to address the work. And as the volumes diminish, it will reduce accordingly. There is also the legal framework and regulations which will need to be taken into consideration. Everything else is going to be there – piecemeal jobs, part-time jobs, remote working.

How do you see the recent labour law relaxations and additional measures e.g. in TDS, PF, etc. towards meeting the industry requirements in these times? What additional labour law reforms would you suggest?

The recent labour codes which are set to be introduced are certainly not enough to address the current requirements. The law needs to be supportive of the employer and provide measures to mitigate the cost challenges thereby allowing industries to flourish.  At the same time, the law also needs to provide support to the workers/ employees and ensure fair treatment.  This balancing factor is evident in the new draft bills but needs to be more aggressively defined. Part-time work and on-demand work need to be factored accordingly.  There is clearly a need to enhance the social security measures, which became evident in the last few months of slowdown and rampant unemployment.  As interim measures, the proposals announced by the Government were welcome and it certainly assisted the minimum wage category which was the most impacted.

Click here to access the full study report: Workforce Management RESET: Strategies & Implications for Changing Times I 2020

Click here to access the Future of Work Report I 2019


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