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Workforce Management RESET - Vinay Jaswal

Excerpts from Interview with Vinay Jaswal, HR Head - South West Asia, Intercontinental Hotels Group


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 Vinay Jaswal,  HR Head - South West Asia, Intercontinental Hotels Group,  to take his views on the aforementioned subject.

How are you managing the new normal and the entire aspect of return to work?

There is a set of employees who understand their duties and responsibilities. I've interacted with employees and I personally feel they feel confident to come back to workplace purely on basis of the guidance and the frameworks which we have provided to them to come back to the new normal, whether it is the IHG way of clean, which is the new way of opening up the hotels or the new special repositories, we created on how to operate in a COVID environment. So, at the click of a button, these resources are available to the managers, on each and every aspect of how to run a hotel or how to do their shift duties and things like that. So, they feel confident about the resources, they are being equipped with. As far as the frontline workers are concerned, there is no hesitancy on that account. As far as "will" issue is concerned, there is no dip. The company has more than enough resources and capabilities to rescale them. The only challenge comes from "family pressures" and that too for people who are remotely based or who have their bases or hometowns away from their workplaces. This is purely to do with the current nature of the pandemic, where we see larger concentration of infection in metros and far little infection in the hinterlands. Obviously, people who are from hinterlands have second thoughts about coming back to metros.  They would wait for some more time for the pandemic to subside in the metros or there has to be some kind of a plateau being reached in the cities for them to come back and resume their life as a normal. That's the population, which is reluctant to come back currently but having said that, they are keen on coming back however it's the family that is restraining the return.

Do you anticipate a shortage in the labour or the workforce in the coming days, weeks or months?

I don't see a permanent shortage of labour.  There will be a lag in demand and difficulty to fulfill the demand with manpower.  I think the biggest challenge is that even though most of the organizations have done some kind of workforce planning, even if one or two of the employees get infected and need to go into quarantine, the shortage will become very evident.

You also mentioned about the increased self-awareness, the dedication and also the high "will" at this point of time - is it also translating into a higher utilization or a higher productivity for the workforce?

Yeah, absolutely. I think as a nation, the way we celebrate our warriors, whether it is COVID warriors, or the army people or the defense forces, there is a certain sense of pride in rising up to the adversity, and we are seeing that is being played out also at our workplaces. Employees realize that during these adverse situations, they too need to serve above and beyond and are accordingly rising up to the occasion. Organizations too are doing all that they can to ensure and build in trust amongst the employees to make them feel safe. I see an increase in productivity and also their output from a quality point of view as well. So, in our organization, as I shared with you, there are enough and more physical and intellectual resources that are powering up our employees. So, there is a sense of confidence, combined with a sense of pride is contributing to higher level of productivity.

How can organizations in these times actually be optimizing costs while protecting jobs?

Protecting jobs is of paramount importance. At least in my organization, and it directly flows from the top and when the pandemic happened, we relied on our guiding principles. And therefore, we did not take any extreme measures of severe cost cutting. We realized that there is an actual challenge with the demand thereby revenues. Therefore, we worked very closely with the owners of our hotels, as they are the top stakeholders in business continuity. We leveraged our high-end scientific tool, which maps each and every cost element with the revenue element. With these inputs, we took actions taking into consideration the compliance and the risks associated with those actions, employee engagement as well as motivation. At the moment, we are maintaining an equilibrium between all three aspects, cost optimization actions, revenue, and our responsibility towards society or compliance universe or employees with respect to their own sustenance levels and things like that.

Everybody understands that there is a bare minimum cost of doing business and all stakeholders, so far have aligned themselves to that cost of doing business, whether it is the employees, or the owners or the operators. We have managed this equilibrium very well. Because at the end of the day, they also realize that tomorrow when we will start getting back  to normal it is the same set of employees who will help the organization ramp up again, at a super speed and what we do to them in these times will matter more in the long term.

Given that now we have voluntarily or involuntarily accepted and appreciate remote working, do you see an impact on reducing real estate? Especially for the back-office staff?

Absolutely, I do see an impact on real estate. When I interact with my network, all of them miss the camaraderie and the energy they get out of the physical co-presence. I do foresee newer workplaces which will be more tight, more efficient and where we will have people coming in intermittent timings and shifts.

So yes, I do see a bit of an impact on office workspaces and real estate. I do see a certain amount of efficiency creeping in, which I think we missed out over the last few years. We all thought that growth is equal to physical expansion. But now this pandemic has taught us that growth necessarily need not translate into physical growth, it may be efficiency growth. So, may be this is an opportunity to look at efficiencies.

And given that these different employee groups or categories are going to evolve, do you see diverse policies or separate policies over a period of time as well?

I do not see a completely new set of policies but there will be certain add-ons and tweaks to the existing policies.

Policies are the guiding lights or pretty much the edifice of an organization. I do not see that altering majorly.  However, there would be a major tweaking with respect to ways of working.

We have been exploring if payroll and reducing the time of payroll or increasing the frequency to weekly or fortnightly would increase engagement. What is your take on it?

To be fair, this is my personal opinion, from whatever I have gathered over the past so many years having worked in various organizations, money has never been a prime driver for engagement. Yes, it is an important motivation and recognition tool. It is a tool which gives you an idea as to whether you're growing or you're static or you are de-growing as far as your professional career is concerned, but it is never a prime mover for engagement. There are enough and bigger drivers for engagement. So, in my industry at least, clearly for the permanent employees or for that matter, even fixed term contractual employees, I don't see any fundamental improvement and suddenly I won't be very keen to introduce weekly or fortnightly payouts as a way of engaging people. I think monthly payout is a fair payout because at the end of the day, these payouts are also linked with your cash flow cycles. So, if you ask me personally, I may not subscribe to this as an engagement driver so to say.

The Government has been pushing for a lot of initiatives to support employers be it reduction in the PF contributions, be it TDS rate, as well as few other stuffs, including fixed term employment. Do you really see this becoming better? Or do you see more labor reforms coming in?

Yes, I see a certain amount of labor reforms coming in on account of the changing economic landscape, but the actions which have been undertaken in the last two to three months' consequent to the pandemic impact, I see them as short term or perhaps mid-term. Will they get translated into the new normal? Only time will tell.

Employees also in their mind, have adjusted their finances to the new normal, have realized the importance of savings. In fact, they have adjusted their expenses in a way to match it with the cash inflow which they are getting as a result of all the rationalization activities which have happened. But they have not majorly undercut on their salaries, to increase their take home salaries.

Also, we have seen a huge amount of workforce, especially at the bottom of the pyramid, having gone to their hometowns. So, to bring them back into economic zones, there will be certain amount of labor reforms which will need to be done by the government to make them feel safe and secured.

Any additional inputs?

I think one thing which I missed out in this whole conversation was the talent management aspect. I think in my organization, we are certainly not missing out on this opportunity in all this talk about rationalization, manpower optimization, health, and safety. We are certainly not putting the talent management at the back-burner and I know that there is a surplus of talent now in the market. When we are going to open up more hotels, we are going to require sharper and smarter minds. To fulfill these demands, we have created various talent management activities internally. How do we ring-fence our own talent? How do we add new talent and career pipelines for these smart people? – are some of the questions that we are constantly asking ourselves.

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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