It takes a lot of courage for the ground staff to step out and put others before them, says Swati Rustagi of Amazon India
In a conversation with YourStory, Swati Rustagi, Director, HR, Amazon India, talks about how the ecommerce giant is coping with the current coronavirus crisis, and the different measures it has taken up to help its employees.
The coronavirus crisis has triggered pay cuts, hiring freeze, and job losses across industries in India, adversely affecting the livelihood of many. There has also been voluntary resignations, pulling back of internships and job offers, and an overall bloodbath in the hiring space.
However, ecommerce giant Amazon India says it will continue to ensure that its employees have a job, and also provide employment to those who are in need.
In a conversation with YourStory, Swati Rustagi, Director, HR, Amazon India, talks about the different practices the company has been following and intends to follow in the coming years.
Swati has close to two decades of experience working in the HR field. Before joining Amazon, she worked for the likes of Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), DSP Merrill Lynch, Johnson & Johnson Medical, Glenmark Pharmaceutical, and Max Healthcare.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
YourStory (YS): How would you describe the past few months, and what has been the internal mood at Amazon?
Swati Rustagi (SR): It has been a rollercoaster ride, but it has also been amazing and humbling to see the way people have responded to the situation. These are the people on the ground - delivery, housekeeping, security, etc. It takes a lot of courage to step out and put others before you. It is a different human spirit. We have been fairly blessed to have a large staff to support and work with us to help serve our customers.
We did a task and asked them to pen down their thoughts and say why they are doing this. We also got some great feedback from associates who wrote to us and the customers. There is so much awareness and need to help senior citizens, people with health problems, young mothers, and that endurance and spirit is beautiful. This kind of belief is giving Amazon the courage to do what we do.
YS: What is Amazon doing to ensure job security for its employees, and how are you bringing job stability?
SR: We are all confronted with this question, and it is one thing that the leadership at Amazon is looking at closely. We are committed to India for the long run. We have to ensure that our ecosystem, which includes people of the gig economy, the delivery staff who get paid per package or truckers, grows. We have to bring them along the journey.
There will be some tough moments and great moments. Our mental model is in the tough moments, and we need to be completely humane and supportive. This includes creating sustenance mechanisms - be it in terms of minimum wage or health benefits.
Next, we need to focus on how to create work so that people keep coming back to work. For this, we are now looking at different contracting methods.
Our commitment is that anybody who wishes to work will have work. People working now are getting paid significantly higher than they would in normal times. This is not to get them to work but to give them confidence that jobs still exist, and jobs will continue to exist at Amazon for those who wish to work.
YS: What COVID-19 has brought to the forefront is that people can work remotely for extended periods of time. But it has also made us aware of many jobs that will now become redundant. What is your take on the new world order?
SR: I believe this is a time that is testing the tensile strength of your existing processes as an organisation. And I think the existing processes of Amazon have been fairly strong. I am proud of the fact that we have been conscious of our investments. We don’t see any reason at this point in time to be worried about job losses.
And we fall back to what Jeff Bezos writes in our letters - ‘You don’t invest for three months. You invest for the long term, and if your investments have been conscious and in the interest of the customer, there is no need to worry’.
The customer need is not going to go away, it will be postponed and be in a different form, but the need will exist. We need to be smarter in our expenses and be discretionary, but we don’t see investments in our customers discretionary. We hire people so that they do smart work to serve customers in the best possible way.
People on the field have always been hired through seasonal hiring, and we will continue that model as it gives us flexibility. We have looked at that model closely and are being supportive and fair in times like these.
YS: What are you doing to ensure the safety of your employees?
SR: There are so many people who want to contribute to the economy and bring it back up. But from our side, we are doing our bit as well. It just isn’t about coming to work and feeling good about it. We set up safety precautions early on like temperature checks, screenings, masks, training on hygiene protocols, etc.
This is not about the workplace but it is also about the families. So, all our safety and training campaigns have also included the families. We have a checklist that is given to all the employees that point out the 10 things they must do before they get home.
We have introduced additional 14-days paid leave. If the employees have some problem or get quarantined, they need to be given time off, but not from the regular leaves. This encourages self-reporting as well.
We have introduced the Amazon Relief Fund. People who don’t get social security under the gig economy in India – the delivery personnel and truckers – will get benefits if they get sick or are quarantined. We also ensured they got some assured wage in the month of April with a Partner Relief Fund.
YS: How do you see the HR and people management landscape transform post-COVID-19 in the overall industry?
SR: While the fundamentals will remain the same, the solutions will change. The world has survived different kinds of crises. People have seen world wars and the economic depression, but the human spirit has endured and survived. There has always been the spirit of entrepreneurship and enterprise.
There will be a hard period, but what will change is for HR to come together as a community, versus being industry or organisation specific, to create platforms of support for the labour market. It will be creative to get together to come up with different solutions to be supportive for the collective workforce. We will also see enhanced conversations around social security and basic cover for people. This won’t be just health but even income loss. It will be either from industries, government, or market practices
I also believe that mental health will become bigger. We are a high touch and visibility kind of culture and when people have to go through things on their own, it can be difficult. We need to think of ways to engage with our people within our working systems.
And we definitely will look at ways on how we can work efficiently without working together. And to that extent, the future of work may be different. But at the fundamental level, the enterprise won’t go away. It will come back stronger.
Edited by Megha Reddy