In the cement industry, there are mixers that work at a very high temperature. It is difficult for human beings to be around that area. It is the job of certain people at the factory site to set the break-even point temperature reading of such machines. If that temperature crosses the break-even point, a siren goes off and the supervisors or engineers who are present at the site take necessary action to control the temperature and bring everything to normal. If the person who sets the break-even point temperature is not motivated enough or happy at work, he will end up making mistakes. And if he does, the company will incur huge losses, as there is risk of the machine breaking down or things going awry if the temperature exceeds a certain level. The safety of the entire factory site may be compromised.
In the corporate setup, there are some people who work at the back end to support the front-office staff. They may not be the ones who are talked about in the office but they carry out some critical duties and tasks, which help keep everything in place and running smoothly.
“Noiseless employees act as governance bodies. They make sure that the customers are receiving their services on time and all other internal processes are running efficiently and smoothly.”
Rajeev Singh, CHRO, Yokohama Off-road Tires
They are the ‘noiseless’ employees of the company. A couple of vital functions carried out by them are data entry and management, back-end processing, market research and billing and accounting. Some other clerical jobs, such as that of personal assistants and secretaries can also fall into this category.
Usually in every company, the star employees are those who regularly interact with the stakeholders, customers, clients and investors. Their work is absolutely indispensable and quite visible to the world. They are the ones who make the most ‘NOISE’ since their efforts are discernible.
The situation in the corporate world is similar to how the audience appreciates the actors and the co-actors, who are quite visible on the screen, while there is a huge invisible team at work behind the scenes, that makes things possible.
All businesses will keep their ‘noisy’ employees in mind and design engagement solutions for them, but what about the ‘noiseless’ employees? They are the ones who help drive growth in the company. Though their contribution does not seem tangible, it is important, and in some cases, it can even cost companies several crores in damage if there is the slightest of mistakes.
“Assessment of potential is very important and mapping this to their career growth is the next step. At Ultratech, there were some supervisors who used to carry out backend engineering functions and maintenance. They were generally not that qualified so the company tied up with the Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences (BITS) and designed diploma and degree courses for them to educate them further and promote them within the firm.”
Ravi Mishra, SVP-HR, Advanced Materials Business, Aditya Birla Group
Let us take the example of the Bhopal Gas tragedy. The major cause of the leak was the malfunctioning of the safety measures at the plant, and because the training of a maintenance worker and a supervisor was not completed. If the training of the workers and the supervisors had taken place as per the standard procedures, this major disaster could have been averted. Training is important to keep employees motivated at work.
Now that it has been established that it is critical to keep back-end employees motivated, is there something that needs to be done differently for them? Yes! After all, one size does not fit all. The challenges in keeping such employees motivated are different, and therefore, require different treatment.
Ravi Mishra, SVP-HR, Advanced Materials Business, Aditya Birla Group, believes that in India, the mind-set of leaders needs to change. According to him, people who work in the data-entry position or who are into documentation work, are considered to be inferior simply because the nature of job is such that it does not require high qualifications. Therefore, people have a very negative attitude towards such employees.
Meaning and purpose
One challenge for organisations is to try and add purpose to the job of the ‘noiseless’ lot. Back-end roles are quite repetitive and monotonous. It is difficult for such workers to understand how they are adding value to work or contributing to the reputation of the organisation as a whole.
“These employees are the unsung heroes of the corporate world. One way to empower these noiseless employees is by upskilling them and designing a career path for them. I have seen some of the more motivated and ambitious ones growing and going on to take up different roles in the company and upskilling themselves. People from the accounts and billing department have gone on to take up sales role and so on. We can rotate such employees. Naturally, the ones who really want to, manage to grow in different roles and functions.”
Sharad Sharma, CHRO, Pramerica Life Insurance
Mishra shares his past experience at a pharmaceutical company, where a set of people at the factory, called sorters, handled a medicine that ran the risk of becoming poisonous if exposed to the ultra violet rays of the sun during production. The sorters were responsible for separating those ‘poisonous’ bottles which were labelled with a different colour from the rest. The tiniest oversight in this process can possibly be the reason for someone’s death. Having observed cases of negligence in this work, the CEO asked Mishra to make a short film for those working in this role to make them realise how vital their work is.
Training and empowerment
Sharad Sharma, CHRO, Pramerica Life Insurance, shares that at Pramerica, they organise regular compliance training for such employees, which helps them realise how critical their job role is as the company works in a regulated environment.
Another problem is empowering such people. Generally, noiseless employees do not really have a say in the decision-making part of the business. Then how does one empower them at the workplace?
Sharma suggests that the high performers in such roles can be encouraged to give some ideas because they become so skilled and experienced at their work, that they become subject matter experts.
“These employees are the unsung heroes of the corporate world,” asserts Sharma. One way to empower these noiseless employees is by upskilling them and designing a career path for them. In fact, in his career, Sharma has seen some of the more motivated and ambitious ones growing and going on to take up different roles in the company and upskilling themselves. People from the accounts and billing department have gone on to take up sales role and so on. “We can rotate such employees. Naturally, the ones who really want to, manage to grow in different roles and functions,” opines Sharma.
Assessment of potential
Rajeev Singh, CHRO, Yokohama Off-road Tires, cites the example of a person who used to work in payroll and did back-end maintenance of payroll work, in collaboration with the accounts department. He was moved to the compensation and rewards department and eventually became a rewards manager after a while.
All people may not have the calibre to achieve such success, but it is important to give them equal opportunities. Mishra shares that in India we fail to assess the potential of such people. “Assessment of potential is very important and mapping this to their career growth is the next step,” says Mishra.
At Ultratech, Mishra shares, there were some supervisors who used to carry out backend engineering functions and maintenance. They were generally not that qualified so the company tied up with the Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences (BITS) and designed diploma and degree courses for them to educate them further and promote them within the firm.
Some roles carried out by noiseless employees do not offer much growth because of their very nature. Take the role of an executive assistant or data-entry operator, for instance. How can one craft a growth path for them? Singh suggests adding more complexities to their roles either by increasing the volume of the tasks in case of executive assistants or giving the opportunity to upskill the employees in using certain technology, such as SAP for data operators. “Such noiseless employees act as governance bodies. They make sure that the customers are receiving their services on time and all other internal processes are running efficiently and smoothly,” mentions Singh.
Rewards and recognition
Another way that they can be motivated is by rewarding them properly and if needed, going out of the way to recognise their work. In this, leaders will have to step up and take the initiative. Mishra recalls a person who handles documentation for the export and import business. Mishra feels he was quite motivated and despite the lockdown and the pandemic, was ready to come and work at the office.
Mishra also noticed that he put in more hours than usual. For the same reason, he also suffered a cardiac attack while driving and met with an accident. At the time of performance review, Mishra noticed that the person received a rating of three out of five on the rating scale, which meant ‘needs improvement’. Seeing this, Mishra spoke to his manager about increasing the rating by some margin. This was duly achieved and the said employee was rewarded as per his true performance. Though not a very big gesture for the Company, it did work as a huge motivator for that employee. After all, since the employee himself had gone out of his way to work for the company, the organisation is also expected to go out of its way to reward him.
As leaders, one may fail to understand what value ‘noiseless’ employees add, but they are crucial and we need to keep them motivated.