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Perspective

Soul Advantage
How ‘India’s Best NGOs to Work For’ draw the right talent by offering more than just a noble cause

Razeyeh Jalali

The non-profit sector in India plays a crucial role in directing India’s growth story by connecting givers and benefactors, mobilising funds and developing projects that result in meaningful change. Therefore, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have become attractive learning hubs for the career-conscious, looking for more than just the corporate gig. But who among them attracts and retains the best talent?

Every year, Great Place to Work® Institute India assesses and felicitates the Best Workplaces in a variety of categories; among them is India’s Best NGOs to Work For. Analysis of both for-profit and not-for-profit organisations, over the past 11 years in India, shows that a healthy workplace culture is characterised by high levels of trust, pride and camaraderie. An organisation’s output, too, hinges on positive, motivated, vision- and mission-oriented employees, driven to deliver more than what their core role requires them to. 

The Best NGOs to Work For attract the right talent though they do not offer the highest compensation. What sets them apart from others in the same sector as well as their competitors in the for-profit sector in India? Data collected from surveying 28 NGOs reveals their strong points (see: Winning strategies). 

1. Unique benefits: This often means moving away from the ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ of employee welfare policies to factoring in life stage and background of an employee before deciding on a policy. Equitas Development Initiate Trust, for instance, has Mom and child Saturdays. Equitas Gurukuls allow teachers to bring their children to school on working Saturdays. One staff member is then assigned to take care of all staff kids. 

2. Work-life balance: This stretches beyond the standard leave and flexi-time policies offered by most organisations. Matters of health, mental and physical wellness, child and parental care needs are to be considered when designing initiatives for a workplace. Room To Read’s Child Travel Policy is an ideal example. Though efforts are made to reduce long-distance travel for female staff who are breastfeeding, in situations where travel is imperative, Room To Read supports the tickets, visa and accommodation costs of the child and the caregiver. This policy can be availed by female employees with children under two years of age. 

3. Creating a fair workplace: This includes lowering the scope for impartiality and favouritism by managers, and institutionalising practices that ensure fairness in promotions and equal opportunities for all. For instance, with the help of a people management platform, Equitas Development Initiate Trust has instituted a badge system. These badges act as rewards given out to recognise and acknowledge efforts taken by colleagues. 

4. Facilitating open and honest communication: This is more than the simple chain-of-command cascading of information within an organisation. It also deals with employees’ perception of whether management can or will answer the tough questions with a certain degree of transparency. Make A Difference’s Speak to CEOs is a portal that allows employees and volunteers to share their thoughts, concerns and queries directly with the CEOs. They then ensure that all the queries and concerns raised are addressed.  

Data from the Great Place to Work® workplace assessments of NGOs from this year shows that organisations in this sector have a clear edge over their competitors (large and mid-sized organisations) in areas relating to pride and mission orientation. Employees from the not-for-profit sector feel a stronger sense of pride in the work done and they can also connect their roles to the overall organisation’s objectives better than their peers in the for-profit sector. This is particularly true of the under-35 age group, who constitute about 63% of the not-for-profit workforce.

The past few years have seen an increase in the younger demographic — freshers and those with up to seven years of work experience — opting for a career in the not-for-profit sector. This could be due to the fact that today, work needs to be ‘more than just a job’ — there needs to be a marriage of passion and profession. 

Besides offering personal satisfaction, people practices in employee development from the Best NGOs today are at par with some of their larger for-profit counterparts. All the Best NGOs offer development budgets across all levels of employees in the organisation. Sewa Rural’s SamvadthiSwavikas (dialogue for development) is one such programme that includes off-site training programs, health and wellness training, spiritual guidance on a daily basis, and medical education training for the nurses and doctors. 

Employees today are ‘skilling-up’ at every chance they get, to make themselves more ‘in demand’ to prospective employers. The question to be asked then is, ‘is the social services sector in India gearing up to meet the changing expectations of prospective hires, or are they still relying on the association with the higher-purpose to woo and retain talent?

Not-for-profit sector in India today needs to improve on a few counts. Our analysis shows that these relate mostly to employee perception on management competence and creating a ‘culture of cooperation’ at the workplace. 

The ultimate goal of every organisation that has embarked on its journey of creating a Great Workplace is to reach a point where high trust translates into high performance. Companies will know that they are close when employees start ‘going the extra mile’ without expecting a reward or incentive at the end of the road. A large majority — 84% — of employees in India’s Best NGOs to Work For, 2018, experience a high-trust, high-performance culture compared to an 80% of employees reporting the same experience in India’s 100 Best Companies in the ‘for-profit’ sector. We could say that the fuel for this is the connect with the higher cause or the greater good.

Hopefully, for the Best NGOs to Work For, the success in creating a high-trust, high-performance culture will only help them further their mission.

The writer is a senior consultant at Great Place To Work® Institute

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