We Believe In Retaining Top Talent And Managing Attrition For The Constant Growth: Rajeev Bhardwaj

In an interaction with BW People, Rajeev Bhardwaj, ES Asia HR Business Partner, Enterprise Services Asia, Sun Life ASC talks about keeping employees happy, dealing with attrition rate in the sector, introducing employee centric approaches in his organisation and more.


Employees constantly tend to look for better opportunities outside. How do you keep them engaged and keep the attrition rate down?

In a dynamic talent market like India, attrition is a significant business challenge to enable organizational growth and renewal. For us, it is critical that we retain our top talent and manageable attrition for the constant growth of our business delivery.

SunLife Asia Service Centre India (SunLife ASCI) has a young, digitally native workforce with 95% being Gen Z or millennial. This workforce demands a holistic life where their experience must suit their needs and aspirations. This focus on providing a great employee experience which reflects in our employee engagement scores which have consistently been above 90% through the last few years.

The employee experience is enabled through an integrated initiative called Utopia. The driving principle of Utopia is that Happy Employees make Happy Clients! Utopia program re imagines the employee experience.

Listening to employees is the most critical step to an engaged workforce.We use Amber, by inFeeddo, an AI enabled Employee Sentiment Analysis tool that enables real time feedback and gives insights on employee sentiments. Detailed look at the analytics provides insights on specific employees whom the HRBP can further connect with at a personalized level.

We have the program offers health check-ups, onsite doctor availability as well a mobile app in association with DoctorInsta that enables employees 24X7 medical consultation on their fingertips.  We have had more than 800 of our people registered with the same.

Employees are also engaged in technology focused events like Hackathons. Our people also voluntarily run different Clubs- on Health Safety Wellness, CSR and the Josh club in which fun days, fetes, family day, sports day etc are organized by employees for employees and their families. As an organization, we lend complete support in terms of management of these events that Clubs run for people welfare and also fun!

How do you ensure fairness in promotion and hiring and keep employees happy?

At Sun Life ASCI, we have structured procedures for hiring and progression like regular talent and technical assessment with multiple levels of interviews including HR. Any employee qualifies for a promotion when he/she has completed a minimum time-period in the respective role.

We have two types of promotions; in-band progressions and band promotions. In in-band progression, the journey is from point 1 to point 2, which is reflective of the scope and span of work one is doing. When you’re in-band level promotion, then you’re expected to take on a bigger responsibility and accomplish more than expected in your current or existing role. However, in Asian markets, there is a higher expectation on career progression and often it only means vertical growth. It is always a tough balancing act for the HR and leaders in the organization to cater to the growth aspirations of employees and yet keep the pyramid intact. At the end of the day, there is a proportion of how many leaders, managers, employees one can have. We strive to balance individual aspirations with the structure of the organizational pyramid.

How powerful is the HR in terms of decision making or is it the top management that drives the decisions?

If people’s strategy is what drives shared service operation, then the HR responsibility is shared with leadership. It is no longer a functional role to drive things. From that perspective, HR finds it a very receptive audience for its ideas, secure approvals, and move forward on that. The other side is, at times, the decision making and some of the HR expertise get shared with the business where they try and build a larger pool of consensus to bring focus on people sensitive issues.   Employees are helped by HR to improve organizational and personal knowledge, skills and abilities. HR Practitioners in SunLife ASCI also act as change agents to prepare and support employees on improve work performance and productivity.

Since there is a lot of talk about the skill gap in the market, how difficult is it for HR to hire in the insurance sector?

Sun Life ASCI is a shared service operation which provides Business Processing, IT, and Investment Research based Knowledge services to Sun Life’s global insurance business. We therefore, hire more in the areas of technology, operations and some specialized Insurance and financial services. The skill-gap we face mostly are in the data digital technology side where we compete with other technology, product companies and start-ups.

It is therefore important for organizations like ours to invest more in Learning and development of our own people and have multi skilled personnel on board.  Under our key Learning initiatives, we have partnered with LOMA, one of the most respected professional education institutions worldwide, and employees have the unique opportunity to certify themselves with various designations offered by LOMA. Sun Life ASCI supports lifelong learning and offers a unique Education Assistance program.

We also promote a culture of continuous and self- directed learning, by building an ecosystem that allows all employees to access learning solution. To enable this we’ve augmented our formal workshop based learning curriculum with a robust e learning platform, virtual classrooms, bite-sized video courses available on state-of-the art interactive touch screens, peer learning sessions, mentoring and coaching programs.

How does your organization adapt to meet the requirements of a changing workforce?

Over the last few years, one has seen the organization’s policies and processes gear more towards the millennial and Gen-Zs. So, there is less focus on bureaucracy but more in terms of what is the expected outcome and results of it. For example, we had a workshop of 25 millennial employees to get their views and suggestions while designing our new premises. Basis their inputs, we have incorporated a lot of sustainable young vibrant design elements of a modern workplace. Our studied focus on innovation will only be successful when we show readiness to blend in with the new and forward-looking approach.

The change workforce is also fueled by the digital disruption and increasing use of artificial intelligence at the workplace. Technologies such as smart devices and the internet of things are changing the way companies deliver their services. At SunLife ASCI we are adopting design thinking techniques with these technologies to develop processes that improve the work experience. Utopia and Digital first initiatives are examples wherein we have used design thinking approach with technology to enhance employee experience.

How can organizations lead the way in learning and close the skill gap both for their employees and for their organization at large?

The twin imperatives of producing growth and the need to innovate with speed, raises many talent related questions. How will organizations attract talent with requisite up skill exiting workforce? Can legacy workforce adapt to a future where more processes and functions will be automated? More importantly, what cultural drivers and leadership capabilities will embed and an innovative and adaptable mindset in the organization? Finally, how can HR systems become more digitized to support more effective delivery of Talent strategies and to create a compelling people experience.

It is imperative to create an ecosystem that caters to different learning personas of the multi-generational workforce. Sun Life uses digital technologies to offer self-paced, & social learning that can cater to different learning styles, across a wide array of professional, functional & technology subjects, to a much larger and geographically dispersed audience.

Leadership of a diverse, agile and networked organization like Sun Life requires a new set of leadership capabilities, viz. being inclusive and culturally sensitive, relationship building, managing remote & geographically diverse teams and most importantly, curiosity & learning agility. Our Talent strategies and programs help leaders build these capabilities and embed them in the wider organization.

How is technology shaping up the HR function in the insurance sector?

Technology is a huge part whether it is the ERP views like a workday or the learning navigator cornerstone technology in L&D. While a lot of organizations digitize or automate their processes.

At Sun Life ASCI, we have launched a program called the Digital First Initiative. It is a unique endeavour to create a Unique Digital Experience wherein any query, support or service that an employee needs will be catered through, akin to customer experiences. The Digital First Initiative digitalizes Sun Life ASCI’s internal processes for its 1800+ employees wherein they will have a single user interface for all their queries in the areas of- compensation & benefits, performance, learning, management, & query management, travel, leave, e learning programs etc. We are trying to see the complete life cycle of an employee in the organization and identify what are the touch points, which if automated bring about a superior employee experience; and invest in that. It is a multi-year strategy, but it has milestones and short term goals to ensure we are focused and on course. 

What has been the diversity ratio in the insurance sector?

In the ITES sector, the diversity ratio broadly has been between 20-25% females and 75-80% males, which is considered to be okay, given the multiple shifts and 24*7 kind of operation.We are focused on engaging women and men across the organisation to attract, develop and retain women at all levels. We have consciously decided to move the needle by intentionally seeking out gender diverse talent while hiring for leadership positions.

We are now committed to 40% diversity ratio in the next couple of years at the leadership level. We have historically had very healthy ratios at entry and mid-management levels, and our current ratio is 66:34 across the board, which we believe is quite healthy as per industry standards. In the future, we are quite optimistic to take these figures upwards. We believe this is only possible in an environment built on respect and dignity.


Around The World