In an exclusive interview with All Things Talent, Rajan Susairaj, Country Head – Talent Acquisition at Merck Group (India and Indonesia), explains the concepts of happiness at work, the importance of employee well-being and thinking beyond employee engagement to create happiness at the workplace.
Rajan Susairaj is a seasoned Talent Acquisition professional with nearly 20 years of versatile functional expertise in the areas of Internal Mobility, Channel Management, Recruitment Operations, Recruitment Marketing and Recruitment Technology. He is currently serving as the Country Head of Talent Acquisition at Merck Group for India & Indonesia. Prior to joining the Merck Group, he has held HR leadership positions in leading organisations such as Bank of America and HSBC. Rajan holds a social work degree from the University of Osmania.
Q: You have a rich experience of nearly 20 years in various areas of Talent Acquisition. What has been the most defining moment in your career to date and why? Also, what business priorities are you focussing on in your current HR role?
A: In the last 20 years of my career, I have seen many highs and lows and throughout this journey, I have kept one guiding principle in mind i.e. “There are no good or bad experiences, just learning experiences”. This principle has helped me become open-minded, accept challenges and explore new possibilities. In every organisation I have worked for, I have learnt something new. If I were to pick most defining moments in my career I would say, my experience with banking & financial services industry (HSBC and Bank of America). Not because of the volume of work, but because of the exposure and accountability of the roles I managed. I got to work on new projects like the Centralized Recruitment Operations & setting up the Channel Management Team. I also had the opportunity to work with some great leaders, from whom I have learnt a lot during these times. I would say my current experience with Merck Group is also career-defining as I have never worked for this industry and I continue to learn newer aspects every day! My top priorities right now are establishing a strong employer brand in the country, focus on gender diversity and building a strong talent pipeline for critical/leadership roles.
Happiness is more holistic and therefore when an organisation provides tools, policies & practices that create a good balance between work and personal life, the probability of positively impacting happiness is higher.
Q: What is happiness at work? In your opinion, why is happiness still regarded as just a trend and not a strategic objective?
A: Happiness at work to me is when a person can bring their highest state of mind to the workplace each day. From an employee standpoint irrespective of the type of project/ assignment, or the volume of work the person is motivated and makes meaningful contributions. From an organisation standpoint, this will reflect in a more ‘collaborative’ and ‘appreciative’ environment, where everyone feels ‘seen’, ‘heard’ and ‘valued’. When you have happy employees, it will reflect in their productivity, customer satisfaction and revenues. Happiness is not yet considered to be a strategic objective by the corporates because I think this is still a complex and somewhat subjective topic to directly measure the outcomes.
Q: In India, eight in ten employees are dissatisfied with their jobs. How can improving work-life balance, become one of the strongest predictors of happiness?
A: When you think of Work-Life Balance, you are referring to the aspect where an employee is comfortably managing all aspects of her/his life without stress i.e. Personal & Professional, this means providing for well-being of an employee beyond workplace. Happiness is more holistic and therefore when an organisation provides tools, policies & practices that create a good balance between work and personal life, the probability of positively impacting happiness is higher. Many organisations are looking at newer ways of providing that balance and reducing the stress, in the form of flexi hours, work from home, crèche facilities, sabbatical leaves, employee assistance programs etc., to provide a happy workplace.
Q: According to you, what are some common workplace issues that affect the emotional well-being and happiness of employees?
A: There can be several factors affecting the emotional well-being and happiness of employees. On the one hand, they can range from simple issues like location/ relocation, office space, lack of learning & capability development, lack of a clear career path, and current role to more complex issues like the insecurities arising due to organisational changes, office politics, lack of visibility etc. On the other hand, let’s not forget that there may be personal life events or personal challenges that may severely affect a person’s emotional well-being, even if it is temporary.
Q: How can companies leverage their happiness at the workplace to attract new talent?
A: I think organisations need to think beyond employee engagement to really create happiness at the workplace. It’s good that organisations are serious about improving their engagement scores, putting up action plans and executing them. But they still tend to become an annual activity, a little bit mechanical so to speak, with the goal of increasing the score for the following year. We need to start looking at engagement as a continuous process like performance management and at a more individual level. It may be difficult to understand this when organisations are going global and having complex structures. However, to begin with, ‘accountability’ should be shifted more from ‘Management’ to ‘Managers’. I am glad that more and more organisations are looking for ‘Empathy’ in managers and in various leadership roles, hopefully, this will bring in that required shift.
To keep your employees motivated, you need to pay them appropriately and value their contributions. When
each employee feels that she/he is making an impact on larger organisational goals in their own way, they will feel motivated.
Q: In your opinion, why doesn’t employee engagement necessarily lead to a happier workforce?
A: Organisations continue to focus on Employee Engagement, which is a representation of individual interaction with the others (largely colleagues, manager, and leadership) limited to the workplace. Happiness, on the other hand, is more “individualistic/personal” and at the same time more holistic (beyond workplace). Therefore, there is a difference between these two aspects. Happiness may or may not impact Employee Engagement because some people tend to behave and respond differently to their workplace and personal environment.
Q: Do you think workplace happiness is about more than just perks? Also, how does the salary affect motivation? In what way?
A: I will say that salary is important (of course, all of us work to earn at the end of the day) and an employee needs to know that they are being paid appropriately for the work they do. I say this because in most of the engagement surveys, ‘rewards’ feature at the lower end of the stack. Having said that, it is important to note that salary & perks are not everything that will keep your employees happy and motivated, else no one will ever get a good engagement score or leave a high paying job. So, to keep your employees motivated, you need to pay them appropriately and it is important to communicate and show that ‘You’ value each employee and their contributions. When each employee feels that she/ he is making an impact on larger organisational goals in their own way, they will feel motivated.
Q: Do you have any examples of this in your workplace? For example, have you seen higher salaries being reflected on higher performance or even decrease one’s performance?
A: Yes, it may happen in the short term however, there may be no long-term impact or sustenance in the performance-based purely on higher salaries. Everything boils down to how motivated is your employee? And what ‘You’ do to keep the employee motivated as mentioned earlier.
Q: The digitally transformed economy brings unprecedented opportunities for business growth. What does HR look like in the era of cloud, analytics, AI and IoT and how is it helping organisations grow?
A: This digital transformation and the constant disruption in the IT space is cathartic and is opening new possibilities in almost every aspect of our life. Thanks to the new age technologies, we are moving to more meaningful roles and spending less work on mundane jobs i.e. Within the Talent Acquisition space, the technology has created more space to focus on aspects such as ‘Employer Branding’ ‘Recruitment Marketing’ ‘Right Sourcing’ and ‘Candidate Experience’. Platforms to provide a user-friendly, interactive and instant ways of communication are all great. The ability to reach larger talent pools in a short span of time, finding the right target audience/ segmentation of the target pools, are all becoming more convenient.