“I can’t get a wife,” the engineer said. And though Hari Menon is neither a matchmaker, nor a psychotherapist, he knew it was his job to take this seriously.
Hari is the Regional Human Resources Director for Malaysia and Asia Pacific for Alstom, a trans-national company working with 100,000 staff in 100 different countries worldwide. He was talking to an employee who had worked at the company for a number of years, who enjoyed his job and was good at it. But now he wanted to find someone to settle down with - and his job title was getting in the way.
In India, where this conversation took place, a job title is an important consideration when courting prospective life partners. And regardless of his years of experience and good reputation, without the word ‘manager’ in his description, the engineer feared he just didn’t sound senior enough.
But the engineer was highly valued for his technical abilities, working in a sector of the organisation that Alstom depends on if it is to retain its position as an industry leader. The company needs some of their engineers to stay with them and develop their specialisms so that as the years of experience add up, the company’s expertise goes from strength to strength. It didn’t make good business sense to begin converting engineers into managers, especially as the skills and training requirements of good managers are very different to those of engineers.
This is a reality that can create a conundrum for HR practitioners across different sectors. They know their role is to nurture talent and retain employees so they can protect companies in competitive environments. But how can they balance this responsibility with giving support to their employees at important crossroads in their lives?
The case of the lonely engineer prompted Hari and the HR department at Alstom to look at the structures determining how employees progress through the company. They decided to create two career trajectories within the company, one to grow technical experts and another to grow leaders. Benefits, job titles and roles were adapted accordingly to fit into sustainable career paths. They began a series of initiatives including industry guest lectures, so their technical experts could get the exposure and wider recognition they deserved.
This story from India tells a bigger tale about how workers are looking to integrate jobs with wider considerations in their lives. Alstom finds these issues affect both men and women in similar ways. In their twenties, they are happy to work and live in remote engineering sites. The international aspect of their work is exciting and they are looking to make money. But as they grow older, they want to be based somewhere for longer than a project cycle lasts. They don’t want to travel as much. They look to move into office-based jobs so they can be around for their family, building a sense of security and belonging.
Employees don’t arrive at work and leave parts of themselves at the door. Their happiness at work depends on factors beyond their job description – their health, their family, their enjoyment of their lives. They are also influenced by wider social and cultural expectations about how we fall in love, if we buy a home, how we raise children, or at what age we retire. If organisations are to prosper and benefit from their employees, an excellent first step is to take their employees wider needs for happiness into account.
I haven’t yet heard whether the engineer tied the knot and lived happily ever after. But I expect the ‘dinner-for-two’ vouchers handed out by the HR Managers for exceptional performance could have lent a helping hand…