As featured in the New Indian Express, Indulge | Cover Story.
From herb gardens and PlayStations to getting a massage and sleeping at work, we look at the many things companies are offering to keep employees happy, stress free and motivated.
Sports and films have to take a back seat when it comes to our biggest obsession today—work. From the commute to it, the execution of it and the worrying about it, we spend more than the designated average of eight hours consumed by it. Not a healthy trend in a country where work stress is ranked as the number one lifestyle risk factor (Towers Watson report). Recent studies are also giving us pause: like the one published in the Journal of Neuroscience that unequivocally states that poor sleeping habits, an inevitable by-product of stress and shifts, will cause brain damage and hasten dementia, other than disrupting work-life balance. But more troubling for employers, the high attrition rates—hitting nearly 20 per cent this year.
“These days, much of a person’s day is spent at work. So it’s getting difficult to establish a work-life balance. If there’s a fun work culture, employees will get motivated and work better,” says psychologist Sangeetha Madhu. While companies had woken up and smelled the stress some years ago—giving birth to HR activities like team outings, casual Fridays and annual sports events, basically fun work culture—today we find many trying to think out of the box when it comes to people management by keeping employee morale high and giving them opportunities to let off steam at work. Like city-based OPN which has a resident dog that employees take turns feeding and taking out for walks—a break that they swear help their productivity. Or Gurgaon-based remote technical support firm, iYogi, which organises events like iYogi Premier League and the month-and-a-half long iYogi Got Talent competition, to invigorate their staff. We look at other companies that are going that extra mile to keep the scowls off and the stress levels in check.
Games people play
While in-house football and cricket teams are the norm, what’s catching on is games within the office—from X-Box and PlayStations to table tennis and carom. “To beat the monotony, we have games like X-Box and table tennis that employees play to revitalise themselves,” says Saurabh Srivastava, VP Marketing of travel site ixigo.com. At HelpShift (Pune), a customer support platform for mobile apps, employees kickback in a room with a foosball table, X-Box and a huge TV where they watch cricket matches and movies. Sonia Patra, chief happiness officer (a blend of HR and admin), shares that they have a ‘sleeping room’ where employees can take a nap in between work, no restrictions on attire (walk in wearing shorts or pyjamas), and karate classes, as their office boy is a champion. “Honestly, there hasn’t been a single day when I don’t want to go to work. The fact that it is fun and no one looks over your shoulder every second helps you work more efficiently,” says Parul Jain, an employee.
At Pune’s Webonise Lab, a product development company, you’ll find no cubicles. Instead, there are round tables where its 155 employees sit. “It’s called the culture of information radiation because, no matter where you sit in office, within 30 minutes you’ll get to learn five new things from all the conversations around,” says Saurav Mishra, the CMO. And work can never get too stressful here: there is a four-bed dormitory for power naps, PlayStations to give you an adrenalin boost, and a refrigerator stocked with beer for some off-duty fun. Purchasing a pool table, foosball table and musical instruments is also on the cards.
Dial up the music
Closer home, at Whoa Mama Design, a city-based advertising and design studio, drumming and playing the guitar are a part of their work culture. “We are about 15 of us and impromptu jamming sessions are part of how we keep the spirits high, during and after work. There’s always something going on—like, we have a punching bag and foosball table that we use to let off steam. People also do their pet projects, like up-cycling junk and making terrariums—all of which helps our work as it keeps the creativity alive,” says Anek Ahuja, business development head, laughing that the team usually stays back at the office and he literally has to ask them to get out. “And no one is really quitting, so that is a good thing for us,” he adds.
Many work places are also introducing internet radio. “Though it’s been slow to catch on here, companies are now realising what a great tool it is, especially in an environment like IT, where it’s all about projects and deadlines,” says RJ Dheena, who creates similar content for MNCs in the city. In Thiruvananthapuram, UST Global, an IT services provider, encourages employees to plug into their UZone station and relax in the midst of work. Started six months ago, it’s a huge hit. “Everyone’s busy creating content for it and planning to try their hand at RJing,” says Ashwin Kumar, HR. Another vibrant part of their office hours is their music café—a jamming session in the cafeteria that morphed into a full-fledged club with ambitions of cutting an album. “We get together whenever we can, whip out guitars and flutes, write songs and just have fun,” says Joseph Fernandez, senior marketing manager, who recently performed for the Chennai Super Kings in Bangalore as part of a UST event. Adds Manu Gopinath, global head of HR, “We’ve found that when we create an atmosphere of freedom, flexibility and fun at work, our staff creates magic.”
Of surf and sand
Speaking of magic, is there anything more magical than shopping while at work? A message about a dress an employee had purchased, accidentally popping up on his screen, gave Mohit Gundecha, CEO and co-founder of Jombay, a Pune-based recruitment company, the idea to start a shopping lounge. Every alternate day, for half an hour, employees can shop online. “We not only talk about shopping, but also about issues we faced through the day. So by the end of it, we are all reinforced. It also saves time as we can spend our weekends on other things,” says Pritha Das, one of the company’s 25 employees. Gundecha has also introduced selfies and groupies sessions. “Sometimes people even dress up for these sessions and they post the pictures on Facebook, which helps in showing off our fun work culture and, thus, helps brand promotion. In fact, the number of job applications have gone up by almost 40 per cent,” he says.
Finally, there’s Hyundai Motor India Limited, where Stephen Sudhakar, VP of HR, says the approach is very holistic. “Since our workers spend a considerable amount of time at the workplace, we try and give them as many facilities to relax and stay fit as possible,” he says. Their playground is a huge hit, where every evening you can see employees throwing hoops or playing volleyball. “We have a huge pond in the compound, with fish to feed, a gazebo to take in the fresh air and a herb garden, where people who are interested can lend the gardeners a hand,” he says, adding that they also have a fully-furnished, air-conditioned dormitory where anyone who works overtime can get some shut eye. “All of this helps relax their mind, as it’s a stark contrast to the conveyor belts. And our approach has meant our attrition levels are way below other comparable companies,” Sudhakar signs off.
We don’t need to introduce Google as a great place to work at. While officials were unavailable for comment, we’ve learnt that their new facility in Gurgaon is upping the ante. Staff will walk into a reception area inspired by the Taj Mahal and an office that boasts of a railway coach for informal meetings, a mini golf course, a cricket pitch, their famous napping pods and micro kitchens (Google believes employees should never be more than 150 feet away from food), swings, and a gym with massage and sauna rooms. With options like working out of anywhere in the office (say bye-bye cubicles) and getting the freedom to take 20 per cent off work time to spend on their individual ideas and interests, Googlers love going into work every day.
Though Yahoo may not have as vast an arsenal of fun things, Aditya Bharadwaj, a consultant, says he loves their well-stocked library. “We’d just sprawl on the couches and bean bags, reading comics, when things got a bit much,” he confesses. He also points to their game room with foosball, table tennis and pool tables, and a whole host of indoor games that let people recharge. Another considerate gesture: a refrigerator stocked with snacks and fresh fruits, to promote healthy eating.
The fun creators
Helping companies turn the nine-to-six schedule into something people look forward to is the aim of Mumbai-based employee engagement company, Never Grow Up. “The inspiration came from listening to friends talk about work-life issues and realising that, no matter the industry, there was a gap,” says Asif Upadhye, who co-founded the company with his wife Shazia four years ago. The eight-member team today works with clients in retail, IT, telecom and others, to bring a fresh and fun perspective to the work culture. “Research shows that happy employees result in a more productive workforce, which in turn means a positive impact on attrition rates and the bottom line,” explains the 34-year-old, who does everything from employee engagement consultancy and consulting clients on building workplace culture to creating customised ‘gamification led’ interventions. “Requirements change—from introducing yoga and salsa classes to creating office decor that changes every day—but we make sure we deliver what fits each company’s needs,” signs off Upadhye, who ensures his team is always having fun with activities like golgappa eating competitions.
Surya Praphulla Kumar and Sharmistha Maji | [email protected]