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Promise of a way of life

Shalini S. Dagar     January 21, 2010

Quick! What is the full form of BHEL? Be Happy and Enjoy Life… It's not, but that's how employees of Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd see their company. Don't get them wrong: BHEL is not the typical sarkari company (the government has a majority stake) with products that nobody wants and staff that does no work. It has been working three shifts to build equipment that every power utility wants. And it is minting money.

BHEL's business requires high technical skills. Sure, it cannot compete with the private sector on the compensation front. But it sure does a good job by retaining talent with constant training and creative outlets.

"We encourage experimentation and mistakes are not punished in the process of learning…We tolerate failure, but of course, not at the cost of repetition," says B.P. Rao, Chairman and Managing Director, who has been with BHEL for over 31 years now. "When employees are given freedom to innovate, they often give their best," he adds.

Most never leave for greener pastures (attrition is less than one per cent), and those who leave maintain their links. Last year, when BHEL opened its doors to former employees, several applied, and it took back in 46. BHEL has given around 30 CEOs to India Inc. The secret: Rigorous training schedules and extensive mentoring. Its average annual training per employee (over 16 man days) is higher than comparable international benchmarks of around 12 days. Last year, 800 of the 45,000-odd employees were trained as mentors. "This is not sporadic. It is the culture of the company," says Rao.

If work satisfaction is a major attraction for BHEL's employees, the quality of life is what keeps the wife and kids happy. Work-life does not need balancing. Benefits such as the comprehensive medical cover stretch beyond retirement, while soft loans and self-sufficient townships keep the families comfortable. Rao does agree that today's restless younger generation finds it difficult to appreciate this BHEL way of life. But last year's recession made the company stand out like a beacon for IIT and IIM alumni who would otherwise queue up for multinationals.

BHEL was among the first PSUs to have an HR director on its board and to publish a comprehensive HR manual, pioneering performance and open appraisal systems. No wonder, BHEL's employees have their own acronym for the company.

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