Usha Devi is an accomplished human resource exponent who is passionate about people. She strives to create conducive and engaging work environments to bring out the best in a workforce. She has worked with several local and multinational organizations in different industries such as Goodyear Tire, Nippon Sheet Glass, Avery Dennison & Texchem Corporation; mostly in leadership roles.
Usha’s experience in the corporate world gives us some insights on how larger corporations and businesses hire and retain good quality people on their teams.
A Kedahan at heart, with roots in Penang, Usha enjoys participating in runs (albeit a slow jog) and is always a ray of sunshine, even to strangers.
In the middle of a sabbatical, Usha - ever-so-kindly - took out time to chat with us about building great work cultures, employee wellness and life in general. Read on.
1. You've always advocated the power of a F.I.T work climate. Tell us more about it!
Yes, I am a firm believer of a Fun, Inspiring and Trusting (FIT) environment. As employees, we want to work in a space that allows us to contribute and be valued. When that happens, we will definitely enjoy our work more. Fun here doesn’t mean being happy all the time or having games or activities. However, to me it means an environment that is relaxed, where we can joke and be ourselves. Fun is when we look forward to coming to work and giving our best shot. And at the end of the day, it leaves us with a sense of achievement. All of us want to work in an organisation where our teams and leaders inspire us.
The other element that I am passionate about is being trusting. Trusting here means a space that promotes transparency, encourages openness, allows healthy discussions, is fair in execution and yet respects confidentiality and does not create double standards.
Imagine working in an organisation where you enjoy your work, your leaders inspire you to be your best and you know that culture gives you a space to be yourself. Isn’t this what all of us look for?
2. Tell us about some of your favourite initiatives in your 20+ years of career and the change you saw?
I believe I cracked the code to incentives and deliverables that both promote individual accountability and collective team achievement. Incentives are sometimes structured to reward the individual’s achievement. While this is good, sometimes in the pursuit of one's own goal, a staff might overlook the team’s targets.
How do we promote and find a balance between individual and team achievement? How do we enhance the spirit of collaboration?
In this particular case, it was decided to have 3 portions i.e. individual, team and country achievements. Initially, it was based on individual achievement and what we found was that the targets were achieved, but there was little collaboration amongst the team members.
Some were not keen to lend a hand outside of their scope. Hence, this incentive scheme was modified. Needless to say, it did achieve the objectives of meeting the tangible deliverables and also enhanced team collaboration.
3. In your experience, at what point in their tenure are employees most likely to leave?
Employee attrition is normal and to a certain extent, healthy. I do not believe this is something we should prevent, unless the attrition is at an unhealthy level and it creates unsustainability issues in the organisation.
In the past, we’ve seen that employees leave within the 1st year, or after the 3 year or 5 year-mark. This dynamic might be different now. However, fundamentally the reasons are the same, i.e. they leave when they feel that they are not in the right job, their salary did not increase per their expectations, they feel stagnant and can’t see any career progression and/or there are limited growth/learning possibilities. Obviously, there are other reasons too, but generally these are the big buckets.
4. A lot of companies continue to struggle to put employee wellness at the forefront. What are the main challenges organizations often face? How do you go about employee well-being?
This is definitely a hot topic nowadays. Generally, I feel like companies do understand the need to ensure the wellness of their staff, however, they end up putting business first and things slip through the cracks.
I think it’s best to start with the basics like creating a safe workplace, treating our employees with respect, and paying them fairly for their value and contribution. Eventually, as the business progresses, companies can build on this and offer much more value to its people.
5. You’re on a sabbatical and enjoying your time away from the rat race. What have been your biggest learnings/realizations from your time off so far?
It’s been a few months now and I am definitely enjoying my time. A few quick takeaways for me:
- A hybrid work environment will be here to stay. Personally, I can’t see myself commuting a couple of hours or more daily. That time can be spent with the family or indulging in my personal interests.
- We must all continue expanding our social circle. I have met so many new and old faces these past months and it is so enriching to hear of their journeys.
- Stop and smell the roses every chance you get. I am sure many of us wished we had travelled more in the pre-pandemic era.