The role of an HR department is pivotal for any company’s success. Yet, employee engagement programmes tend to be out of sync with the aspirations of the new age employee By Usha Sharma
The human resource (HR) department is an important asset of an organisation. It helps companies in building a team of highly talented professionals and procedures that are pivotal for success. Over a period of time, the role of HR has also evolved to include a lot of responsibilities. Initially, the key role of HR heads was to recruit the right candidate for a job/ position and retain them. Today, the key functions of the human resource management (HRM) team include recruiting people, training them, performance appraisals, motivating employees, improving workplace communication, ensuring workplace safety and much more. In the current scenario, more emphasis is also given to training and engagement programmes to inspire the employees to enhance their knowledge to ensure career growth. This, in turn, helps motivate and encourage employees in constantly delivering productive results. Over time, companies have also adopted better technologies to help implement the expanded role of the HR department.
Archana Dubey Mitra, Vice President-International Marketing, Bal Pharma compares today’s trends with traditional methods and says, “Earlier days were far different from today’s scenario. It was just the starting period for the (pharma) industry. Companies were not very aggressive or the competition was not very high. Now, the whole culture stands changed as the competitive spirit is being forced upon (employees). In earlier times, flow of information was restricted whereas today it’s just a click away. With increased exposure and handy technology, HRM has emerged as an important tool for organisations’ recruitment and retention strategies.”
Certainly, advanced methods and technologies have helped in simplifying the procedures and making them more accessible.
N Ahmedali, Managing Director, Cornucopia has over 40 years of experience in HRM in India and in the Asia-Pacific region.
Commenting on the different practices followed by various HR heads as engagement practices Ahmedali says that in the 70s and 80s, there was a high degree of employee engagement in the pharma industry. The industry and its professionals were respected. Compared with other industries, the pay was good and the customers, i.e., the doctors respected the pharma profession.
In this scenario, Ahmedali comments, “Naturally, not very deep solutions had to be developed or implemented in order to gain employee engagement. It was sufficient if one was able to hold down these elements with a reasonable balance and equilibrium and the automatic result would show up in terms of engagement.”
Sharing similar observations, Divakar Kaza, President, Human Resources, Lupin says, “There has been a huge shift in the nature and behaviour of employees in the 1970s-80s to today and that has caused this paradigm change in the kinds of benefits and activities that organisations undertake today, as opposed to yesteryears. In the erstwhile period, employees really just needed to be ‘well-looked after’ and in doing so HR was appreciated for designing and implementing a bouquet of employee welfare
activities. However, today’s (largely) millennial and GenY workforce is far from that.”
Global economic trends are the biggest reason for this change. Aditi Kare Panandikar, Managing Director, Indoco Remedies observes, “In the late 70s and 80s, due to limited options and constraints in economic growth, employees would join one organisation and would retire from the same organisation and hence the issue of attrition did not figure. However, post globalisation, growth prospects brought in an overwhelming change in the job market. This gave an opportunity to the employees, wherein the industry became more competitive and thus came the issue of employee retention.”
Moving towards a tech-driven era
These macro-economic trends have resulted in a scarcity of talented manpower in the industry. As Bhavin Mukund Mehta, Director, Kilitch Drugs India reasons, “There is competition between the companies for top hires. Demand for talents made it necessary to have something which will make the employee feel attached with the employer. Employee should be highly absorbed into the organisational culture and enthusiastic to work.”
Thus HRM has caught the attention of promoters like Kare-Panandikar who notes, “The HR function has gone beyond the process of recruitment and support function and has achieved the status of being a strategic partner for building a team of working professionals for the organisation.”
Pawan Chaudhary, Chairman and Managing Director, Venus Remedies emphasises on how technologies have evolved and helped in changing perspectives, “Unlike in the 1970s – 80s, now companies are more forthcoming and transparent about their vision and mission. Thanks to modern-day technology, every single information about the company is available to employees. As a result, they feel more informed and involved with the organisation like a family member, which motivates them to work hard to meet the objectives and goals of the company.”
However, technology is a double edge sword: easy accessibility and availability of information in the public domain has also encouraged employees to tap better opportunities. This has caused another HR bottleneck. Kaza feels that these better avenues for growth resulted in many challenges for the HR department explaining, “Today’s employees are hungry for growth, recognition and challenges and strongly express their desire to be ‘groomed, developed and rewarded’. And HR teams are on their toes in designing and then redesigning talent management strategies, competency models, reward programmes and engagement initiatives, that are ground-breaking and highly inspiring.”
As time has brought about a change in the mindsets and attitudes of people, the importance of the HR department has grown significantly.
Many other sectors have understood the importance of employee engagement programmes quite early. Take for instance, J Willard Marriott, Managing Director, Marriott Hotels’ quote, “If you take care of your employees, they take care of your guests. When guests are happy, they come back to your hotel and business takes care of itself. Thus the importance of having happy employees who are satisfied in their jobs is key. In the boardroom, even chief experience officers (CXOs) do not undermine the value of human capital and the importance of engaging with them positively and productively. This is critical in the pharma industry as well. As Chaudhary of Venus Remedies explains, “Being a research and development-driven company, we cannot compromise on talented professionals who can help us realise our objectives. It is impossible for any pharma company like us to grow without employees who strive for excellence to achieve their goals in life. Hiring and retaining such ambitious employees is a tough task.”
HRM is based on three pillars — diversity, talent management, and personnel systems. Mehta suggests, “In today’s business world, we can split functions of HR department into two parts ie; HR-Administration and HR-Leadership and organisation. HR administration deals with managing compensation and benefits. There is a crucial link between compensation and the right talent. Compensation and benefits design is core to the employee value proposition and the employer brand.”
HR leadership involves helping the topmost management improve people capabilities. HR leaders need to work towards identifying the employee skills needed for business success, leading talent development, designing organisations to deliver results, fostering a culture of agility and responsiveness, and leading change efforts.
“Keeping in mind the challenges faced by the Indian pharma companies, the HR department is extremely relevant to ensure empowerment of employees and their careers through training, development and growth opportunities that will sustain growth,” says Kare-Panandikar. As she continues, “As part of its key deliverable, an active HR department must recognise the impact of the outside environment on the organisation, measure the impact of the competition on the dynamics of the employment market and integrate the overall organisational strategy and functional strategies, apart from initiating engagement programmes.”
Attrition is a major challenge faced by HR personnel in today’s competitive market and one way of tackling this challenge is to have effective employee engagement activities which would open up line of communication. “Today’s HR activities focus lies on engagement value proposition that creates engagement drivers, systems and strategies including leadership, communication, work environment, team-work, career development, rewards and recognition and work-life balance,” Kare-Panandikar adds.
The role of an HR department is to ensure that the employees stay connected with the organisation and feel free in sharing their goals, fears and conflicts. However, often employees face difficulties in approaching their HR personnel due to a lot of reasons such as lack of daily engagement, lack of open communication lines and pre conceived notions. As Kare -Panandikar highlights, “In the process of organisation development, one needs to have a clear understanding of business perspective and human behaviour. Human behaviour is a science for which one needs to have the understanding and knowledge of the subject and hands on experience which differentiates HR from any other support functions.”
If HRM is so crucial to a company’s performance, then it follows that companies need the right HR professionals who are up to the task. Speaking about the desired orientation of HR personnel, Ali emphasises, “We need to understand that this is a knowledge world. We also need to realise the fact that HR is essentially a facilitating function rather than a frontline one. Several of the conventional HR matters are known to the heads of other line functions. The difference essentially happens when HR as a function is not able to appreciate the needs of those who produce, sell and makes the company laugh to the bank. Hence, a need has arisen for HR function to have full knowledge of the business, in its entirety.”
Therefore he concludes that, HR managers “need to become generalists than HR specialists. Under those circumstances alone will the HR profession be able to appreciate the needs of other stakeholder functions. If that can be addressed, the differences will automatically narrow down if not eliminated. It is also important to consider that conflicts are a part of life. We need to make the workforce, every one of them, realise the psychological part of conflicts and conflict resolutions.”
Key components of employee engagement
As per a survey and analysis of the iOpener database, happiness and well-being are the two most important needs of every employee. Happiness at work is counted in terms of words of appreciation, recognition, respect, encouragement, time taken to complete a task and issues like leave. It plays a very important role in retaining the employees for a longer span and ensuring their loyalty to the company.
Chaudhary mentions, “Today’s generation looks for a job which can define them, help them contribute in the growth of the company and give them a great sense of purpose. Pharma companies should strategise their HR plans around these aspects to retain world-class professionals who can help them achieve new heights.”
“Pharma companies do not have an alternative to having HR engagement programmes. Also, the HR departments of today are key strategic partners in their organisation’s short and long-term strategies. Engagement programmes hold significant value in light of retaining the talent particularly by pharma companies as also by other sectors in general. But it has been found that pharma companies are more receptive and forward thinking when it comes to putting tools and mechanism in place to help in rising engagement levels,” feels Kare-Panandikar.
HR engagement activities should be directed towards organisational development as well. Such initiatives aid in higher productivity levels among employees and also add to their attachment and passion towards the organisation. It is an established fact that employees turn out to be more productive if they feel fulfilled in their jobs. Moreover, they tend to align with the organisation’s long-term goals and thereby help in achieving a good retention level and productivity.
Ali emphasises, “It has taken a wider scope. It has become imperative for pharma companies to have scientifically designed employee engagement programmes that are well implemented.”
“Increasing competition to hire top professionals, rising demand for candidates with specialised experience in science and research and the need to provide job stability to employees are the factors that have prompted pharma companies to come up with such HR engagement programmes that an employee cannot resist being a part of your company,” says Chaudhary.
Dubey-Mitra opines, “The impact of employee engagement can manifest itself through productivity and organisational performance, employee retention, customer outcomes, advocacy and organisation’s overall image. So it is important to continually understand and encourage employee engagement in the workplace.”
In the current context, HR has become a strategic partner and performs four major functions like strategic HR, operational HR, industrial relation and compliances. These are the areas where HR professionals need specialised skills and expertise which differentiates HR portfolio from the other departments in the organisation.
“Gone are the days, when HR was only restricted in managing personnel records and administering healthcare and welfare schemes. Today, HR is able to comprehend the business context as efficiently as any other mainstream function of the organisation and the CHRO is able to forecast, predict and devise strategies that have tangible impact on business results, like any of their counterparts within,” spells Kaza.
With the realisation that HR adds real business value to the organisation through the work force it hires for the company, other functions with the company too give it due importance instead of looking on it merely as a ‘necessary evil.’
As Chaudhary says, “The other departments should not consider the HR department as an isolated one because nowadays this department is accessible to all other departments when it comes to sharing information, resolving employees’ grievances, etc. Other departments should cooperate with the HR department to spread the corporate culture of the organisation and maintain discipline. All departments of an organisation should work hand-in-hand to achieve the common goals of the company.”
The way forward
The HR department should clearly define the organisational goals, create opportunities for employees to enhance their skills from time-to-time for their professional growth and recognise and reward their performance so as to bring out the best in them. The HR team also helps in maintaining a safe, clean, healthy and employee-friendly working environment. Thus, it is imperative for companies to set up a strong and effective HR department. Employees are the real assets of an organisation and rewarding them appropriately provides both encouragement and motivation.