Article (February-2019)


Mind mentoring in IR is the key

Anil Malik

Designation : -   Management Consultant HR & IR Strategies

Organization : -  AM HR Solutions, Indore


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The role of leadership in an industry should be like a parent and one should act like a mentor. The communication of leader should not be only transparent and specific but it should also be so effective in such a way that people also perceive it without any distrust.

Mr. Anurag Mitra, General Manager-HR of the Chemical manufacturing company, with  an average employment of 400 permanent workers, 200 trainees, 100 fixed term employees, 300 executives and other staff members along with around 700 workers through contractors firms. In Such a Company where demographic structure of work force itself is in disproportion, the HR Head needs to be more conscious and transparent.

However, in absence of any formal union, the bi partite committee is the forum for the interaction, on day-to-day issues to find solutions amicably. The committee is open-ended with no rules and limitations.

The involvement of committee represented by representatives of permanent workers to discuss the wage rise issue of contractor's labour with management was not at all required. Such issues one can only be discussed with the contractors who are the direct employer of their employees. Mr. Mitra, the HR head should have well thought of such a sensitive issue as group dynamics has its own role to play and it cannot be ignored. In fact he should have called all the contractors, if they demanded the rise or he himself wanted on behalf of management to raise the wages. He could have played tactfully by demanding request of rise of the wages of their workers from the contractors. Actually Mr. Mitra should have refrained himself from his such a so-called strategic move of having involved permanent workers in the issue of wage rise of contractor's workers. In addition, Mr. Mitra's role becomes dubious when he differentiated people by his own choice and has given weightage to Mr. Yashwant, one of the committee members among five members. He adopted divide and rule theory, which has created gap within the group as the other members except Mr. Yashwant, were not keen to rise the wages of contractor's employees. The impact of this division of minds of committee members went long ahead and a traditionally adopted practice in the company of going on annual trip was to put on hold when representatives of permanent workers refused to join the trip with contractor's workers. In fact, organizing trip of all kind of workers together itself was the wrong move and management should have thought of before initiating such events with frightfulness. The practice of going on annual excursion trip with combined batch of permanent workers, managers and contractual workers initiated with a view of maintain the harmony & bringing the sense of belongingness among all. No one even thought of other side of the coin. The HR head Mr. Mitra had an opportunity to review the situation and he could have done it nicely by making different batches for the trip with regular workers and the contractual workers could have been left on contractor's decision of going to the trip or not.

Otherwise, in a committee he could have taken another decision on annual trip and set the guidelines for it. At least the situational gap could have been diluted by respecting the intent of permanent workers. Organizing the annual trip in such a manner was the poor decision of Mr. Mitra, which he took without thinking the basics of industrial relations. Mr. Mitra as a HR head gone in a different way and instead of solving the issue, he left it unresolved with a hope that time will heal the wound. However, every time it does not happen. A wound in the body part can heal by medicines but if heart is burn and mind is misguided then it becomes difficult to prolong.

The situation developed in such a way that both the groups of on roll and off roll people found themselves in a battlefield. A continuous and transparent communication of cause & need of rising the wage issue could have diluted the stress. Even after wrongful initiation of discussion on such unrelated topic in the committee, it was very easy for Mr. Mitra if he could have convince the permanent workers, the statutory base of such revision. However, he missed this opportunity also.

This situation went further aggravated and fueled the fire when an on role permanent operator by opening the valve of toxic vapors diverted the pipeline towards the face of an off role worker, which he inhaled and got fainted. After first aid in the dispensary, he was taken to hospital where his condition declared critical. Looking to the situation the Hospital administration intimated to local police station. The moment people came to know about the involvement of police, the situation turned to worse in the plant.

One side the off roll workers left the workplace and assembled near administrative office demanding stern action against the accused operator and other side on roll workers have come forward in support of the operator against whom police wanted to take lawful action.

Surprisingly here, also the plant leadership and HR Head Mr. Mitra could not lead the situation when police took the first hand statements from the co-workers at the hospital, the welfare officer was clueless & found himself in a hot water to give any statement in support of management. He was busy in calling to his bosses but no guidance was received and police ultimately filed the one sided FIR against the Operator. Any senior person could have avoided the situation. In fact, management should have formed a team by delegating different responsibilities inside and outside the plant for defusing the situation. However, here instead of defusing the situation management further directed to HR Head Mr. Mitra to suspend the operator who put life of a contractual worker in danger. Mr. Mitra's dependency on one person Mr. Yashwant was not graspable. Because Yashwant was helpless to convince his people. Off late Mr. Mitra got in mind that he should call a contractor and ask him to control his aggravated workers, which he obviously denied.

This situation often happens where leadership at management level avoids the basics of Industrial relations and of contract labour management.

Here also, deployment of contractual workers with permanent operators at perennial nature of job was the unlawful act. In general, management prefers such deployment of people with a view of cost economics & Shop managers prefer such engagement as they found flexibility in assigning job. However, this does not work in a long way. Further, there should be defined terms and condition of agreement between contractors and the management on the wages and the working conditions and mechanism of rise of wages on enhancement of inflation or change in working pattern etc. A time bound review mechanism should be there with the contractor on performance of his employees etc. Even involvement of contractor's workers should also be limited in company's events. Identity should be well defined and clear. When structurally we put them in a separate status then there should not be any emotional ground of oneness feeling except the wages, which should be on skill based and as per principle of equal wages for equal work. Unfortunately, these fundamentals of deployment of off roll have not followed.

Further, a forum of bi partite committee is practically good for some local issues but where there is no formal leadership forum or union, there management leadership itself play a role of mentor and establish channels of communication at every level with a view of understanding of group dynamics. The shop supervisors should act as a first representative of management before workers and they should be empowered as a single window solution for his group of people. Why everyone should come to HR Department for day-to-day issues.

An ambiance of trust needs to be built in the mind of people and no room for rumors or murmuring left in air. In the current case the CEO should have called a meeting of entire plant's managerial leadership and strategy could be formed for defusing the turbulence situation by delegating the specific responsibility to each for handling the outside and inside situation.

In the last, the sensitivity towards industrial relations and group dynamics could not be judged by the management, which has resulted into turmoil one by one.

Mr. Mitra's dependency on one person was the strategic failure and against the characteristics of Group dynamics. The industrial relations is a long way to go in industry. It creates base of harmony and smooth operation in an industry. It is a sort of preparation of land for farming. It is a way of creating adjustment in a climate for common goal. One has to extend space for each other's role, thoughts, mind, and mistakes. To work in team is industrial relation and to maintain balance approach between the excellence and average is industrial relation & to develop competitiveness among people for common goal is industrial relation. Expectation management is industrial relations. However, one should be clear that authoritative approach is not an industrial relation, jugaad, divide and rule, appeasement to some group, & favour, is not an industrial relation. Industrial relation is a mix of psychology and social science, it is a process of mind mentoring which Management and HR head as well must keep in mind.