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The flex flux
Most Indian companies don't have a defined policy on flexible work timings. Bosses still prefer to have their team working around them under direct supervision.
Till about a decade ago, the concept of working from home, flexi timings and the idea of work-life balance were all alien to the Indian workforce. However, once the Indian units of multinationals adopted global practices and new age technology firms became big employers, a lot started to change in corporate India. One of the biggest changes was that employees started striving for greater flexibility. It was easy for global firms to roll out organisational policies already laid out in the developed world. But Indian firms were more cautious, opting to adopt new-fangled HR practices only on a case-by-case basis.
Recently, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! put a stop on telecommuting, a popular work mode in Silicon Valley in which the employees do not have to travel to a central place of work but operate from home, a coffee shop or any other location with the help of telecommunication. She drew heavy flak for taking contemporary work culture back by a decade. However, she may just have taken a cue from our desi companies which have steadfastly refused to incorporate flexi work as a regular practice, opting instead to offer it to only employees who need it.
"Unlike the West, in the Indian context flexibility usually has to be negotiated, " says Saundarya Rajesh, founder of Avtar Career Creators, a talent strategy consulting firm, and Flexi Careers India, which focusses on creating sustainable careers for women. "We found through a survey that 75 per cent of employees who managed to work flexible hours in Indian companies were actually allowed to do so by their bosses. It had nothing to do with company policy. "
Rajesh says Indian companies have evolved manifold over the past decade but a lot still depends on the boss. "MNCs borrow international practices and execute these policies faster. The West experimented with flexibility much earlier because women's participation in business is much higher there. But that doesn't mean Indian companies are not doing enough, " says Santrupt Misra, group HR director at diversified conglomerate Aditya Birla group. Misra says with more women joining corporate workforce in India companies are opening up to these practices.
"Every change faces some resistance and that applies to the workplace as well. But we cannot say that organisations which offer benefits like flexi work are better than the ones which don't - it is all about the nature of operations, " he says.
The Indian managerial mindset prefers to have the team around him/her because of the sense of inclusion, better control, and often the opportunity to build the team itself. But experts say that men and women who seek flexi hours are often dismissed as unambitious. "This has a lot to do with the cultural mindset of not only the employer but the society at large. In such a scenario, Indian organisations reflect the societal attitudes towards people who have part-time work or work out of their homes, " says K Sudarshan, who heads the Indian operation of executive search firm EMA Partners.
All HR heads agree that women who have very young children need flexible work hours but they point out that at times asking for too many concessions could jeopardise a woman's rise to the top. A report by IT consulting firm Accenture confirms the popular belief that most Indian women prioritise their family roles above their profession. It states that more women (72 per cent) than men (58 per cent) turned down or did not pursue a job because they were concerned about its impact on their work-life balance.
"In India, most times, a request for flexibility is turned down when it comes from a man, " says Sudarshan of EMA Partners. Companies, however, maintain that they do not discriminate between men and women on this issue. Says Hari T, chief people officer at IT services major Mahindra Satyam: "A male employee wanted permission to work out of home for six months because he had to be with his mother who was being treated for cancer. We would not dream of not saying yes, so it is need based not gender-based privilege. "
In Indian companies, a business case has to be made for allowing employees to work flexi hours - if you are productive, rules will be bent for you. Also most HR heads say they do not endorse long periods of work from home, a practice very common in countries like the US. "The West does not equate longer hours with better productivity because they are a materially satisfied society. But in India, which is a developing country, we are all striving for a certain lifestyle. There was no concept of a five-day week till the MNCs came in but now most Indian companies offer it. So we have evolved rapidly, " says Mohit James, HR director at L'Orêal India. The French beauty and cosmetics major recently opened a creche at its Mumbai office.
"Flexibility has to be aligned as per the environment. Today, it doesn't just mean flexible work hours but also being able to work from a preferred location, using technology for doing virtual meetings, " says Ashutosh Telang, executive vice president and head HR, at Marico. The makers of Parachute hair oil adopt a pretty generous approach towards their employees who are referred to as 'members' : they do not track their hours at office, leave for four or less days need not be applied for in the leave tracking system, there is room for flexible work options as well.
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