Covid-19 hit when India's second-largest bank, HDFC Bank, was preparing for transition. Aditya Puri, the founding chief was getting set to hang up his boots in October 2020, while in parallel grooming Sashidhar Jagdishan to take charge. Addressing the management digitally, Puri said welfare of employees would be the first priority of the bank during the crisis phase. "Whether it's Covid or no Covid, you fellows are working so hard and delivering results," he said. HDFC Bank decided not to cut increments and bonus and offered promotions while many of its peers were desperately cutting costs and resizing remunerations. Puri wanted the bank's 1.18-lakh employees to stay focused on the theme of customer centricity and building the portfolio.
The bank had been consolidating and expanding its business in rural and semi-urban areas before the pandemic broke out. So employees were deployed across the country for operating branches, building new ones and marketing products. The engine of financing halted with the lockdown, but solutions at scale enabled employees to be connected with work and remain productive.
"We have been tasked with ensuring branches and ATMs remain operational for customers. This was a delicate balance that we have been trying to maintain during the lockdown," says Vinay Razdan, Chief Human Resources Officer, HDFC Bank. For meeting challenges head-on, the bank formed core committees at senior leadership levels across different business segments - HR and Admin among others - to look into employee safety and business continuity.
The HR team quickly put together guidelines for physical safety and circulated to all locations. It addressed protocol concerns in social distancing, masks, PPE kits, periodic sanitisation and fumigation of premises and others, say bank employees. A Covid-19 medical helpline was set up for employees and the bank ran awareness campaigns through medical webinars, newsletters and videos on internal communications channel 'Our World'.
Another major worry of the HR department was the psychological health of employees and their families. The anxiety of the transition from office environment to work from home (WFH) affected a number of employees. For countering this, several awareness series and learning resources have been made available. A radio show has been recorded in conversation with a senior psychologist for spreading tips and ways to deal with this unprecedented time. It also experimented with short, animated videos for managing anxiety during the lockdown. The company also set up a team of doctors from Apollo Hospital for connecting with employees and family members who fall sick. Besides, the HR business partnering teams rallied around establishing high level of direct connect at the ground level with employees.
For employees who tested positive, the bank picked up additional expenses that fell outside the medical insurance ambit. It also introduced a special Covid leave policy for those who tested positive or had to be quarantined due to colleagues testing positive.
The bank also ran awareness campaigns and an interesting off-job learning series - which included 20 minutes of learning bytes, online music, cookery and fitness classes. Online sessions for meditation, mindfulness and yoga and physical wellbeing sessions for employees and their family members saw participation of more than 20,000 employees, says Razdan.
"While employees were home, they had an opportunity to invest significant time in learning and getting certifications through online courses and equip themselves for better delivery in existing roles or take on new roles," says Razdan. With new work structures evolving and new priorities, it will be very important for employees to reskill and reinvent themselves to changing realities, he adds.
"While the new 'world of work' is unlikely to revert back to what we were, we may have an opportunity to make the best of both physical and virtual worlds," says Razdan. The bank has 5,485 branches across the country. "As we transition to hybrid modes of working, the key is going to be to find the right balance for different kind of roles between the amount of time it can be discharged remotely and through physical presence in office," says Razdan.
It will require a new HR architecture to be created around employee life cycle events like on-boarding, goal setting, performance management and learning. It will have to drive new set of product innovation. The bank is moving to 'outcomes-based' business management and HR is working towards putting in place new processes which will enable more autonomy and individual accountability while working remotely.
"Several HR interventions are vertical agnostic and help bring employees together on a common platform, where they can discuss ideas and issues in the spirit of ONE BANK," says Razdan. The bank has systemically invested in building capabilities and experiences at leadership levels and it helps to allocate portfolios and challenges to talented employees ahead of time, he adds.
Razdan says there is an opportunity to build a more diverse workforce by bringing in talent that it earlier found difficult when working full-time. HDFC Bank is looking to induct talented women, who took a break due to family responsibilities, and the differently abled for whom physical travel to an office location may be challenging.
The pandemic failed to restrain the spirit of coming together of employees and their families. The bank's annual talent competition 'Hunar' has been conducted digitally and had 106 performances from across India. Employees performed with their families, including parents or parents-in-law.