Companies in India Tailor Benefits to a New World of Working

By Shefali Anand September 24, 2021

​As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change the way we work, some employers in India have updated their employee benefits and allowances to make them more relevant to current times.

A top priority has been medical benefits, given that the pandemic is far from over and medical treatment can be costly in India's private hospitals. A ferocious wave of COVID-19 cases over the summer affected millions of employees and their families across the country, and employers are still responding.

"The safety and well-being of employees has been predominant in whatever actions we take," said Hema Mani, Chennai-based regional director of HR at Lennox India Technology Center, a manufacturer of heating, cooling and refrigeration systems. This year, Lennox added medical insurance coverage specifically for COVID-19 for its employees and their family members. It also created policies to support any other financial needs of employees that might not be covered by medical insurance, Mani said. 

NEC Corporation India Pvt, a provider of IT and network technology solutions, increased employees' medical coverage earlier this year when it renewed the company's insurance policy. In addition, employees now receive a subsidized top-up option to further raise the coverage for their dependents.

"We are hearing that COVID has long-term impact, so health has become critical for us," said Kashish Kapoor, head of HR at NEC Corp., based in Delhi. Companies like NEC and others have offered to reimburse the cost of vaccinations for employees and their dependents. This reimbursement would extend to any booster shots that may be required in the future, Kapoor said.

Some companies have organized vaccination drives for staff. At chocolate-maker Hershey India Pvt, 90 percent of its employees have received at least one jab and around 20 percent are now fully vaccinated. Hershey also extended health benefits to its third-party contractors who work on the company's factory floor. And in addition to helping these workers get vaccinated, the company has made medical counseling available in multiple languages for contractors, according to Abhishikta Das, Mumbai-based HR director for Hershey.

Last year, the company also announced a medical fund of up to $100 per employee to cover the cost of sanitizers, masks and anything else employees felt they needed to protect themselves from COVID-19, Das said. This was in addition to medical insurance for all employees, according to the company.

To provide financial security for its sales staff, Hershey decided early on not to cut the incentives that make up a large part of their income. Instead, "we changed the design of our incentives," Das said. Because sales executives could not visit clients in person, the company decided to assess the sales team based on the number of phone calls they were making to retailers and other clients. "That worked well," Das noted.

More Downtime

Companies across India also have taken measures to help employees manage the anxieties and psychological stress tied to the pandemic and related issues. Some employers have implemented employee assistance programs for the first time. 

At Hershey, the company contracted with two consultants to counsel employees on health, nutrition and other topics. Cognizant of the possibility that employees may experience burnout while working from home, Hershey made it a rule to keep one hour each day free of any calls and meetings, said Das, who added that they've also introduced an additional day off this year.

NEC Corp. has introduced a "rejuvenation" leave, which provides five days off in addition to the company's regular holidays. "No documentation is needed, and no questions asked," Kapoor said. Employees can take these days off any time after discussing it with their manager, he said.

Hershey also has sought to give more downtime to employees, including those on the factory floor. Das said they've reduced the number of shifts for factory workers from three to two, while adding hours to each shift. This provides additional time off over and above usual break periods.

"It was basically a creative way of thinking how we can give them some time off," Das said.

Work-from-Home Convenience

For white-collar employees, most of whom have been working from home since the pandemic began, many companies have modified perks to suit the work-from-home lifestyle. Some employers introduced a one-time allowance for staff to buy a chair, desk or any other equipment needed to set up their home office.

Lennox, for example, has been giving every employee 10,000 rupees ($137 USD) for this purpose since last year, Mani said, and the benefit extends to any new employees.

At NEC Corp., where around 95 percent of staff is currently working from home, a long-standing broadband Internet connection policy has been revamped, Kapoor said. For employees who moved back to their native towns or villages in remote locations, the company bore the initial Internet connection charges.

Company perks and festival gifts have also been made more relevant to a work-from-home arrangement. During the big festival of Diwali last year, Lennox gave its employees a smart speaker, Mani said. The company also tweaked its onboarding kit for new employees to include a workstation laptop stand, Mani said.

One perk Lennox employees enjoyed pre-pandemic was access to free snacks and beverages in the office. The company has since stopped stocking the office pantry and instead pays for food and beverages that can be offered as part of a team-bonding activity, Mani said. If a manager wants to acknowledge team members for a successful project, the company provides food coupons. And to recognize exemplary work, managers have pizzas and cakes delivered to employees' homes.

"In a way, we made food remote as well," Mani said.

Shefali Anand is a New Delhi-based journalist and former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. You can follow her on Twitter.



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