In Conversation with Anushree Singh Country HR Head, AkzoNobel India, On Employee Engagement amidst the second wave of COVID-19
Anushree Singh is currently working with AkzoNobel India as Country HR Director, India Sub-continent. Before starting her journey with AkzoNobel, she was leading the people strategy as HR Director for Avery Dennison, Label and Graphic Materials Group.
She is a seasoned HR professional with close to 16 years of experience and enjoys a strong grip on Human Resources Strategy, Business Partnering, Culture Transformation, Strategic Workforce Planning, Employee Engagement and Talent Development. Previously, she has held leadership roles with companies such as Xerox, Aircel and Aditya Birla Group.
Anushree has experience working with Commercial and Manufacturing Functions, including Industrial Relations management. Her strengths lie in her ability to build strong HR strategy to enable business results and create a great place to work. She holds an Honors Degree in Psychology from Delhi University and a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Management from the Indian Institute of Planning & Management. She is also a certified DDI Facilitator.
Q- As an HR Leader, how do you see the Impact of COVID-19 on Employee Engagement?
With all its complexities, COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the workforce in the last year and a half. While the engagement drivers haven’t changed much, it’s safe to assume the way employees experience, perceive and behave has changed.
Erstwhile life and our pre-COVID-19 regular daily routines, communication with colleagues at work, friends and families at home, our hobbies … all have transformed by varying degrees. The burning questions lingering in the minds of employees are focused mainly on their health and safety, and how can they feel more feel secure and included in these times. Equally real is the fear that if working virtually, people’s efforts may not be as visible as before.
At AkzoNobel India, the leaders and the organization at large has ensured that there is immense recognition, clarity, direction, and connect to address such vulnerabilities, while keeping employees engaged and motivated during these tough times.
Q- What has COVID-19 taught us about employee engagement?
With the more severe second wave of COVID-19, the last few months have been truly challenging for each one of us at a personal and professional level. This time the virus is more virulent; impacting many of us and our dear ones. While intaking negative news on a sustained basis in such an environment; it is difficult to even for the most resilient people to bounce back with positivity.
Such stressors are long-lasting and have long-term repercussions on employee mental health and wellness, if not addressed adequately. This holds true for leaders alike. At this point, organizations must prioritize the physical & mental health of their employees while supporting emotional wellness and extending support even to their families.
Q- What are measures you have taken at AkzoNobel to ensure employees feel valued, heard, and engaged in current times?
AkzoNobel India adopted a holistic two-pronged approach to ensure that our employees stay safe, healthy, engaged, and motivated. Led by Human Resources (HR), a COVID Task Force was formed with representation from different relevant departments. Prioritizing our people, we set up an internal COVID Helpline to support colleagues in distress.
This Helpline was manned by the COVID SQUAD – our volunteer group of over 140 employees. Recognizing the employees need to access genuine and expert advice at a time when hospital visit was not preferred, our VISIT APP facilitated employees with tele-medicines and online doctor consultations.
At the same time, we supported our employees during their time of need by sourcing oxygen concentrators and making them available across all our manufacturing sites and offices. We also organized camps, tie-ups to provide vaccination support to our employees and their families, reimbursed the vaccines cost on individual basis, and reviewed our existing health benefits and offerings, with a special focus on junior management and shop-floor staff.
In these unprecedented times, compassion and healing continue to be our primary standpoints. As Work-From-Home became the New Normal since 2020, AkzoNobel India has been leveraging digital platforms and our creative approach is to involve employees to even drive these initiatives. Simultaneously, employees are re-emphasised about the importance of personal time, encouraged to take regular breaks, and maintain a healthy work/life balance.
For AkzoNobel India, constant Employee Connect in these unprecedented times was imperative. To effectively hear our employee voice and insights, we regularly conduct town halls, coffee chats with leaders. Our feedback forum – Your Voice Matters! provides a platform to our employees to pour in their ideas and suggestion for us to work upon.
Additionally, the HR team launched a special program – “The Covengers Initiative”. The 12-week holistic plan on employee engagement factored in various engagement pillars such as care, family connect, wellness program, learning, and fun at work.
Under the Employee Care Program, experts interact with our employees on critical topics like mental health, financial wellbeing, preventive care & COVID-19 care.
On recognition front, the company rolled out a virtual talent show Rang-Manch, which gave our employees a virtual platform to shine and showcase their talent with their colleagues. Rang-Manch also presented an opportunity to reward those who emerged as the exemplary wellbeing ambassadors for the company. Parallely, AkznoNobel recognized and rewarded high performers via the virtual Flying Colors R&R program and amplified these success stories within the company’s network.
At the same time, we fully understand our role and responsibilities when it comes to society and contributing to the communities in which we operate. As a responsible manufacturer, AkzoNobel India initiated a special tele-medicine project – Arogya Sakha. Through this, we are providing access to specialist doctors for over 1.5 million beneficiaries across India, including our painter community members, contractors, contractual employees and shop-floor teams.
Q- How important is real-time communication, especially when most employees are working remotely?.
A few months back the focus was more towards to return to work in new normal environment. Today, after over 2 months of lockdown, we are once again gearing up for the Unlock. In these everchanging turbulent times. It is natural that associates may feel some degree of uncertainty.
There is a constant need for communication from the organization. Employees look upon the leadership to steer the ship through the pandemic and rightly so. So yes, the real-time communication is of paramount importance as it helps settle down the nerves and keep associates on track of what the organization is doing to help them out.
We ensure to communicate regularly with employees through various forums, formal townhalls, informal coffee sessions with leaders, Pulse and Organizational Health surveys, and 1:1’s check-ins by managers. We continue to leverage our AI tool – Amber to also reach out to our employees and hear their voice.
Q- What are your policies to decreasing employee stress and anxiety especially in WFH model?
We have recently launched AkzoNobel We Care Program which is developed on 4 pillars of – Wellbeing, Medical Expense Reimbursement, Hospital Insurance & Life Insurance. To enhance employee experience, the program was digitized via smartphone app to ensure employees can utilize the most from the safety of their home. We also launched our employee assistance program last year to provide counselling services for employees and their families.
We are regularly conducting webinars on topics such as COVID-19: Defeating the virus together, Ergonomics Session, Webinar on Nutrition to treat and prevent COVID-19, Physical fitness session to name a few. More than 700 employees have actively participated in all such sessions and we have received a lot of positive feedback from them.
Q- What is your hiring plan for 2021-2021?
We have not made any changes in our hiring plans or revoked any offers. Due to second wave, we have deferred the recruitment, till we understand the full impact of Q2 and recovery trends.
Q- Any concluding remarks?
In the words of Nathaniel Branden, “when you learn to accept fear, you cease making a catastrophe of it. Then it ceases to be your master”. This global pandemic isn’t likely to disappear overnight, so we need to accept the reality and live with it. Keeping people in the loop is an incredibly effective way to drive employee engagement.
So be transparent with your employees about your plans and activities. Look to create authentic channels where employees can confidently share their real issues and concerns.
Thank you Anushree!