At the Million Jobs Mission conclave organised by the global philanthropic network Social Venture Partners in New Delhi this January, former Planning Commission member Arun Maira emphasised an aspect that is all too often overlooked - the primacy of the human element in industry. State-of-the-art technology, revenue, profit, scale are all very well, but people working in industry matter more than all of these. "The only appreciating asset in any company and its biggest value creator, if utilised to the full, is its human capital," he said. "Given motivation and the right environment, human knowledge and performance can keep improving."
Well aware of the truth of this assertion, Business Today, in collaboration with its long-standing partner, HR solutions company PeopleStrong, has been conducting an annual survey of how human capital perceives Indian industry. The "Best Companies to Work For" survey looks at companies from employees' point of view. The survey of 2016 used a detailed questionnaire which was open to all salaried employees. It was shared online across social media, sent to employees listed on databases available with BT and PeopleStrong, as well as to Sheroes, the well-known job portal for women. In all, 15,300 people across 11 industries responded.
The results show that while emoluments matter, they rarely figure as the primary consideration in rating a company's attraction. Instead cutting-edge work, a clear career progression path, the quality of people already working in the company, work-life balance, and humane and transparent company culture, are the things employees care about. Compensation can be matched and even exceeded by rivals, products and processes can be copied, but culture is not so easily duplicated. A recurring theme in the responses was the importance of professional development. Many respondents maintained they would stay on in a job, eschewing more attractive job offers from rival companies, if they were convinced it offered more learning opportunities, especially global exposure and cross-functional roles.
After collating the replies and ranking the top 25, it was found that the Indian arms of Google and Accenture have held on to the No. 1 and No. 2 positions they won in 2015. Google is justly famous for the lavish free meals and free massages it offers employees, but what seems to have mattered much more for respondents was its sense of mission, and the opportunities for career mobility it offers. "The mission of our company and what it is trying to do is super-critical," says Rajan Anandan, Vice President, India and South-East Asia, Google. "It is how to connect 1.3 billion Indians and make the Internet useful for them. When you hire very smart people and focus them on a hard problem like this one, they get energised and excited." Accenture believes the quality of its existing workforce is its biggest draw. "While others have business ambitions such as being the largest by revenue, profitability or some other such metric, we have a talent ambition - we want to be the best place for highly specialised talent," says Parag Pande, Managing Director - Human Resources, Accenture India. The company also spends lavishly - $940 million a year - on further training of its employees.
Amazon India and TCS have exchanged places in 2016, with the former at No. 3 and the latter at No. 4 - just the opposite of their ratings in 2015. Amazon's high ranking - indeed its presence in the top 25 at all - is something of a surprise, given its reputation as a highly demanding company. A much discussed 2015 report in The New York Times on the functioning of its US headquarters called it a "bruising workplace" where "workers are encouraged to tear apart one another's ideas in meetings, toil long and late, and held to standards that the company boasts are unreasonably high". But Amazon is also the country's most visited e-commerce website and offers vast learning opportunities - sufficient incentive, presumably, to overcome the pressures it also places. "Employees love the fact that they can come up with innovative solutions to solve any issue a customer faces," says Raj Raghavan, Director, HR, Asia-Pacific at Amazon.
Across sectors, apart from Google topping the IT companies list and Amazon the e-commerce, ICICI Bank (No. 9 in the overall list) stood foremost in banking, Indian Hotels (the Taj Group) in hospitality, Abbott Laboratories (No. 12 overall) in pharma, IBM India (No. 6 overall) in BPOs and IT-enabled services, Tata Steel (No. 14 overall) among core sector companies (steel, oil, power, minerals), LG in manufacturing, Airtel (No. 13 overall) in telecom and Mahindra & Mahindra in engineering and automative. (Indian Hotels, LG and M&M, though leaders in their sectors, did not figure in the overall top 25.) The biggest leap upwards has been that of the banking sector leader ICICI Bank, which had been at No. 23 last year. (In 2015, it was behind HDFC Bank at No. 17, but this time it is well ahead, with HDFC Bank retaining the same ranking.) Other companies which have climbed up the rankings, albeit by just a single step, are Amazon (from No. 4 to No. 3) and Tata Steel (from No. 15 to No. 14).
Nine companies figuring in the top 25 of 2016 were missing from the list in 2015 - Facebook (No. 8), HP Enterprise (No. 10), BHEL (No. 15), Reliance Industries (No. 19), SAP Labs India (No. 21), Tata Motors (No. 22), Cisco (No. 23), Adobe (No. 24) and ITC (No. 25). Of these, four - Facebook, SAP Labs, Cisco and Adobe - have made the list for the first time ever, while the remaining five, though figuring in the top list of some earlier years, had dropped out in 2015. Facebook's debut is mainly due to its much-lauded decision to provide paternity leave for the same duration as maternity leave - four months. SAP Labs, too, has extended its maternity leave provision to six months, with paternity leave raised to three weeks from the earlier five days.
Prominent among those who have fallen off the list from 2015 are Flipkart, American Express, Idea Cellular, Vodafone, Citibank, Axis Bank, Genpact, Aditya Birla Financial and Larsen & Toubro. The management churn at Flipkart possibly impacted its allure, while the slide in popularity of the other eight needs more detailed analysis.
A high percentage of responses suggest that employee benefits also matter a great deal. Several employees BT spoke to appreciated the fact that companies were taking special pains to attract women employees, providing benefits such as extended maternity leave, integration programmes for mothers returning to work, child day-care centres and work timing flexibility. Some are even offering substantial paternity leave. They noted that free or highly subsidised lunch and on-campus gyms - in some cases with zumba, dance and yoga classes thrown in - are becoming widespread. However, compensation, while not the most important, remains a thorny area - only 26 per cent overall claimed to be "extremely satisfied" with the link between their salaries and performance, with dissatisfaction highest in the 25-35 age group. Still, the good news is that some companies have taken note and are tweaking their payment scales and appraisal procedures, seeking better and more frequent feedback on performance and acting on the results.