By Dr Alka Rai, Assistant Professor, NTPC School of Business, Noida; and Sunil Maheshwari, Professor, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad
The unprecedented Covid-19 crisis presented enormous challenges to corporates, especially companies involved in essential services like the power sector. The Covid-19 crisis underlined the significance of power utilities, as electricity is critical to ensure the smooth functioning of various sectors of the economy. Being in the business of electricity generation as an essential service provider, Team NTPC ensured continuous power generation and provided uninterrupted power supply to the country. In fact, some of its plants, such as NTPC Vindhyachal, operated at 100 per cent plant load factor (PLF). At the same time, one of its hydropower plants emerged as one of the top hydropower stations in the country for 2020-21. NTPC opted for capacity enhancement even amidst a crisis.
To get insights into the NTPC response plan to the Covid crisis, the information available on secondary sources, such as company media releases, social media, print and online media and reports, was referred to.
The following is a brief note on NTPC’s initiatives in response to the Covid-19 crisis…
Helping society: People beyond profit
NTPC worked in close coordination with the state and district administration. It not only provided essential medicines for Covid to the people in its surroundings but also offered medical facilities to them. It also undertook a massive awareness drive to raise awareness among communities. NTPC projects, in association with its CISF fire wing, took up mass sanitisation programmes in hundreds of villages and towns. NTPC’s ladies’ clubs and NGO also came forward and extended a helping hand to society during the crisis. Mass vaccination camps were organised at various locations.
Helping employees: People before PLF
NTPC provided its employees the e-Paramparsh application for telemedicine so that they could avoid going to hospitals and secure themselves from getting exposed to Covid-19. The company also collaborated with AIIMS, with senior doctors from the premier hospital imparting education to its staff through webinars on Coronavirus symptoms, and proactive and reactive measures to fight the menace.
India’s largest integrated energy player runs 24×7 control rooms for better coordination for patients across sites. The 24×7 control room also coordinated the procurement of medicines, hospital equipment and services with the help of daily reporting and a management information system. A dedicated Covid-19 helpline number was issued for both present and retired employees and their families to provide information on testing centres and treatment centres in government and NTPC-empanelled hospitals. NTPC constituted a task force at the central level for various Covid-related activities such as coordination for hospital beds and other treatment facilities across various empanelled hospitals.
The company airlifted a dozen of its coronavirus-hit employees, including some dependants, from across the country and admitted them in corporate hospitals for better treatment. NTPC also took steps to extend financial assistance to employees and their families who had faced difficulty and losses due to Covid.
Accelerating learning and development opportunities
The company’s learning and development (L&D) strategy was customised for enriching employees through intensive digitisation and online training, enabling them to avail of these services from anywhere. The company’s apex L&D centre conducted over 250 training sessions in diverse disciplines ranging from technical, functional, health to safety. Besides, regional learning and development centres located in power plant projects created more than 100 online learning opportunities.
The company launched a unique “45-Day Learning Challenge” for its staff, which involved learning for 45 days and earning certifications in varied disciplines such as technical, finance and HR. In addition, classes were held on power plant essentials such as turbines, boilers, water chemistry, renewable energy and other significant operations and maintenance areas through in-house as well as guest faculties. The company collaborated with the World Bank to offer its staff an opportunity to be a part of a rigorous online technical course, attending virtual classes, giving assessments, and eventually obtaining certifications. Employees and their family members participated in the “Art of living” programmes to keep themselves strong and focused during the turbulent times. Similarly, a special six-month initiative based on counselling services was extended to employees’ family members via employee assistance programmes.
Communication and monitoring
The company managed communication for many purposes like business continuity, spreading awareness and stakeholder engagement. As a very first step to deal with the pandemic situation, the company issued different circulars from time to time in order to provide guidelines for the smooth functioning of plant operations, support functions, townships, hospitals, construction, and many others activities (covering guidelines on staffing decisions, work from home policies, monitoring and control, necessary arrangement for work execution, and overall hygiene and health). All stations/projects/offices were advised to continuously communicate with stakeholders including district administration/medical authorities to update them on the company/unit initiatives to address the situation. All possible communication channels including social media were harnessed to raise awareness about the virus with communication on the “Dos and Don’ts” through a series of creative messages.
The top management team was regularly reviewing the situation on a daily basis, and some of those meetings were shared as web broadcasts with all employees to maintain a constant dialogue and brief them on the efforts made by the company in handling the Covid-19 situation. The management and even the company chairman were constantly encouraging and motivating the workforce. The company’s chairman also communicated to employees through the company internal communication application to boost employees’ morale and disseminate necessary information.
Kahn’s conceptualisation of employee engagement: The essential conditions
Kahn conceptualised personal engagement as “the simultaneous employment and expression of a person’s ‘preferred self’ in task behaviours that promote connections to work and to others, personal presence (physical, cognitive, and emotional) and active, full role performances”.
The essential three psychological conditions of personal engagement are meaningfulness, safety and availability. Here, psychological meaningfulness is “a feeling that one is receiving a return on investments of one’s self in a currency of physical, cognitive, or emotional energy”. Kahn has further explained the three factors influencing psychological meaningfulness – task characteristics, role characteristics and work interactions. Psychological safety is experienced “when people can show and employ one’s self without the fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career”. As per Kahn, the four factors may directly influence psychological safety (group and intergroup dynamics, interpersonal relationships, organisational norms, and management style and process). Psychological availability, that is, measuring how ready people are to engage given the distractions they experience as members of social systems, is the sense of having the physical, emotional, or psychological resources to personally engage at a particular moment.
Being corona warriors, NTPC employees served society through continuous power generation amid the Covid crisis leading to appreciation, praise, and gratitude to these employees from society, and accordingly generated a sense of meaningfulness among employees. The connection between task characteristics at NTPC (during the Covid crisis) and meaningfulness is also realised here. For example, being on the job to serve the nation (through continuous power generation) is a great challenge for power sector employees. NTPC top management including the CMD has tried to inculcate such a sense of challenge among employees through different channels of communication (covering meetings or messages on different platforms like social media, website, regular meetings, internal communications, etc.). Further, during the Covid-19 crisis situation, it was seen that NTPC employees were performing beyond the role (such as being a part of different special task forces, community services, coordinating with different government authorities), which causes them to apply a variety of skills at the job. NTPC also made the effort to involve employees creatively even while working from home through escalating training and learning activities (assigned learning goal agendas also) not only for employees but also for their families. Autonomy was extended to employees and the management to deal with the situation (for example, giving flexibility/leniency to different groups/ task forces in decision-making). In the time of the Covid pandemic, power sector employees have played the role of “essential service provider”, “nation server”, “community server”, and “corona warriors”. Such identities helped develop a sense of meaningfulness among employees (through role characteristics). Being involved in supplying continuous power to the nation even during the pandemic also gave power sector employees a sense of shaping the external world. Power sector employees (at NTPC) were involved in meetings with the top management, government authorities, ministries, and the community around. All such interactions also generated a sense of meaningfulness among employees.
NTPC’s approach towards dealing with the Covid crisis also helped ensure the psychological safety of employees. For example, at the interpersonal relationship level, support from the company (including from leaders or direct supervisors) in all forms gave employees the confidence to continue their work without any fear of negative consequences. Similarly, solidarity in the company and a high level of coordination among different groups across functions, geographical zones and levels generated a sense of psychological safety. Further, the top management and leaders communicated their expectations (in regular meetings, webcasts, internal emails and internal company apps) to employees clearly. They also provided assurance to them that they would receive support and resources. These efforts created a sense of psychological safety among the employees.
There is evidence that confirms the fulfilment of the third psychological condition of employee engagement – psychological availability. NTPC’s initiatives to provide medical consultation and treatment aid to employees and their families, as well as the best care during hospitalisation (including airlifting them in critical illness) through support and financial assistance to employees and their families, vaccination drives and emotional support through various trainings and exercises helped employees become available at the workplace physically, emotionally and cognitively. Such initiatives helped reduce distractions for employees and helped them rebound at work with energy.