Some people work to play. Others work so they can get ahead. Then, there are a few like Seema Nair, Senior EVP and Member, Chairman’s Office, Reliance Industries, whose work is their play. Seema’s passion shines in her genuine energy for all things HR and Business.
In an exclusive interaction with Human Capital, Seema discusses why it’s an exciting time for HR — to drive organisational value, manage deep change that permeates every aspect of how companies operate, build resilience and inclusivity in organisations, and thrive in the future of hybrid work.
Organisations adapted to mass virtual work schedules at astonishing speed (among many other things) last year. Before the pandemic, it appeared impossible to do anything like that so quickly. After a year of quick and bold pivots, how are you navigating the second year of the pandemic at Reliance Industries (RIL)?
When the pandemic first hit, we couldn’t have imagined it would be here to stay for over a year. And then, just as the country was stabilising, we were hit by the second wave.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, RIL doubled down on its commitment to people safety. Reiterating the principles of ‘care’ and ‘empathy’ in everything we do, we are constantly pushing for a comprehensive approach to ensuring the good health and wellbeing of our employees and their families.
Through the ‘R-Surakshaa’ program, which is the largest corporate vaccination drive in the country, we are ensuring the inoculation of all members of the extended Reliance family, including household members, domestic help, drivers, etc. So far, we have completed over 2.5 lakh+ vaccinations, with 91% employees, 82% family, and 90% contract labour workforce members receiving the first dose of the vaccine. In case of COVID-19 infections, we are ensuring that employees and their family members get the best-in-class medical care.
Despite our best efforts, we are dealing with the loss of lives of our employees or their family members. While nothing can fill this void, Reliance has continued to be a pillar of solid support. The company is providing last drawn salary for a period of five years to the families of employees who have succumbed to COVID-19.
We are also covering 100% of tuition fees, hostel accommodations, and associated book costs up to the level of a bachelor’s degree at any institute in India for all children of our deceased colleagues. We are covering enrolment into insurance for immediate family members. Our prayers continue to be with the families, hoping that they find the strength to cope with this.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about how hard skills are “soft” and soft skills are “hard”. What’s your take on this? What do you believe are some essential soft skills that can be leveraged across a wide range of roles and industries?
Expertise in a particular area or domain is relevant in a certain context and forms the core foundation for many bodies of work, be it in business or partner functions. Soft skills are indispensable for the success of any individual or business. We may use expertise to build an exceptional product or service, but if we cannot convince customers to buy and pay, we will not be able to build a successful business. It may take considerable time to polish soft skills, as they don’t always come naturally. It is also important to find role models to emulate these behaviours.
Skills that can be leveraged across industries and roles include narrating data outcomes effectively, influencing, storytelling, communication across diverse audiences, negotiation, interpersonal skills, and a service-oriented leadership style.
How can organisations make a concerted and comprehensive effort to improve employee experience rather than letting it happen willy-nilly?
It starts with explicitly reaffirming a culture of psychological safety for all employees at all times and having a holistic approach to inclusion and the wellbeing of employees and their family members.
Our holistic wellbeing program, R-Swasthya, promotes awareness and progressive practices regarding physical and mental health, financial literacy, diet and nutrition, and yoga and meditation through virtual connect sessions with employees and family members and EAP services provided by our partner network of therapists.
Communication is especially important in these times of WFH and remote work. In the new normal, an integrated digital ecosystem will play a pivotal role in defining the employee experience and supporting not only work but also passion, inclusive experiences, choices, and purpose.
At Reliance, we are building a digital platform to enable agile team-based performance feedback, a capability tracker throughout an employee’s lifecycle, personalised careers paths, a diversity portal, and a talent marketplace to create an exemplary employee experience on par with the experience they are used to as customers.
How easy or difficult is it for people to work remotely or in a hybrid-remote setup at RIL? For the share of the workforce that can work from home (or from anywhere), do you see the office as a hub for accomplishing the kind of collaboration and creativity that cannot be achieved virtually?
In these times, physical offices have assumed the role of hubs to accomplish collaborative and creative projects that benefit from personal interaction. For other projects, virtual workplaces come with the advantages of flexibility, efficiency, and employee comfort. Our manufacturing plants continue to operate with reduced on-site presence. Most industries are likely to switch to hybrid work arrangements.
The COVID-19 pandemic, its economic fallout, and the new ways of working have disproportionately impacted various people, families, and communities, creating a host of questions about workplace equity. How can organisations foster equity and inclusivity?
Organisations need to have an equitable and inclusive approach towards pandemic-related policy decisions, such as providing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines to everyone in the employees’ family and extended ecosystem, and emergency medical support and financial aid to both blue-collar and white-collar workers.
Now more than ever, organisations must create opportunities to upskill and offer employment to the most marginalised and affected sections of society. RIL has financial aid schemes for both regular staff and contract workforce to ensure enhanced security for families of deceased employees. Throughout this pandemic, RIL has not only protected existing jobs but also created over 75,000 new jobs across the organisation.
What would you recommend to women who want to rejoin the workforce after a career break but feel they’re no longer capable of making it in the professional world?
The professional world does not change significantly in a few months or years. One can pick things up within the first few days/weeks on the job. Find one or more mentors to help create a great resume, practice responses to interview questions, and connect with your professional network to share your resume. Don’t be apologetic for taking time off or regret your life choices!
Most importantly, look out for organisations that have enabling platforms for women who want to re-enter the workforce. For example, at RIL, we offer an inclusive Maternity Leave Policy, Miscarriage Leave, a Mentorship program for Women, a “New Mothers” Employee Resource Group, and inclusive infrastructure.
Up-Close and Personal
While early job experiences may not be the most challenging or monetarily rewarding, they certainly are formative. Could you give us an account of an unforgettable experience at your first corporate job?
I introduced computerisation to white-collar and blue-collar workers in a factory environment as a management trainee. I gathered all the leaders to a meeting room to take the decision, which was unheard of at the time. I got away with it because I had previously done one-on-ones with all the leaders, working with them through objections/ suggestions and polishing the proposal until it was acceptable to all while still meeting our overall program goals.
Have you had an ‘aha!’ moment when you learned and experienced something so profound that it changed you forever?
Your tongue is a few inches away from your thoughts — don’t lose courage and speak up.
How are you taking care of your mental and physical wellbeing?
On weekends, I try a few hours of digital detox, pottering around my garden or kitchen.
What’s your favourite indulgence when you need a break from work?
I enjoy spending time with my family and watching OTT.
What would we be surprised to learn about you?
In the past three years, I’ve lost considerable weight quite easily using simple, easy and healthy principles. Even I’m surprised that I managed to pull this off!
• What’s your favourite quote?
I always get idioms/quotes wrong, mainly because I mix them up whenever I try to recall them in meetings — it’s a perennial source of fun for my team!
• What’s the one thing you miss most about pre-pandemic times?
I miss connecting with colleagues in person and celebrating occasions. We used to enjoy a lot of bonding and laughter, especially over food.
• What’s a movie title that best describes you?
• Complete these sentences:
i. If not an HR, I would have been … practising a form of art, architecture or working in sales/marketing.
ii. I strongly believe in … karma.
iii. I’m grateful for … my daughters.
iv. I wish … humans were unselfish — the Earth has plenty for everyone’s need, but not greed.
• What comes to your mind when you hear these words?
i. Failure: Learn, try again, develop grit
ii. Psychological Safety: Internal locus of control
iii. The future of work: Hybrid and exciting
Are you comfortable working with dispersed colleagues?
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