By Ramakrishn Ghosh
I have just made my most critical hire. We now have a CEO at home. As I write this blog, the new appointee asks me her job description. “Chief Entertainment Officer”, I tell her, “Your job is to keep your grand mom happy & entertained”. Co-opting my tiny tot baby girl to work harder during the convalescence period of my mother’s serious accidental injury last week is my innovation for today! We need innovations and flexibility in these unprecedented, unforeseen and unheard situations which no human alive except for a few who would have witnessed the Spanish flu more than a hundred-year back have lived to see. Covid 19 has changed lives dramatically. It started as a news alert at the beginning of 2020, which we all ignored.
At Apeejay we welcome a new year with superb energy and enthusiasm with large scale cultural events for the community and round it off with a big Picnic with Friends and Family. So when the alerts came in, we were celebrating at our Annual Picnic and Long Service Award Ceremony. It feels good to see and share these images now!
By February the threat assessments were underway by our management and travel restrictions were coming into effect, but, the way it exploded into a pandemic across the globe reaching almost every corner, was without a parallel! The ripple effect on the social and economic fronts will be long term and far-reaching both at national and global level. The situation is grave at the business front.
There’s plenty of evidence it is wreaking havoc on both business supply chains and business demand as it continues to spread exponentially with no respite in sight.
At Apeejay, I am proud to share that we have made honest efforts to get back to normal as soon it was possible. I work from our headquarters in Kolkata and our offices here started on 4th May – the very first day of the lifting of the lockdown. We were provided company buses for travelling to and from office along with daily lunches and surprise gifts from our Chairman on Fridays. I had been working from home for more than 5 weeks and it was during this time I realized the importance and meaning of work-life balance.
It is much easier to focus on work at office as the mental adjustment needs no tweaking and is always in an auto mode while at work with your family members around, the tweaking often took time and it was hard on the family too as they had to agree to ignore my physical presence from 9 am to 7 pm.
I joined back with a Mission to get things back on track as much as possible, as on as possible. A few visuals of Unlocking 1.0
The Annual Award ceremony for our Tea Business for Season 2019, scheduled for March 25th had, had, to be cancelled because Apeejay began the closures and travel restrictions well ahead of the Government announced lockdowns that only came in end March. The estates had resumed work from 14th April for Season 2020 and I rallied my team around and we decided that we would curate a unique Award ceremony for Season 2019 winners keeping all social distancing norms in place.
The Best Plucker Award and the Factory Star Awards were initiated by Group chairman as well as Chairman of Apeejay Tea, Mr Karan Paul and he is the key motivating factor which has ensured that this process of recognizing the hard work of our workers continue. I had announced the Apeejay Tea’s Reward & Recognition Programme in April 2019. An Internal Communication campaign comprising posters, flexes and verbal communication was created. The posters and flexes showcased the Year I, i.e. Season 2018, Champions and highlighted the parameters and criteria for the awards – Skill, Competency, Attendance and adherence to Best Practices. Posters were put up across the estates at the offices, factories and divisions. By February , all estates’ data was compiled and 13 workers were adjudged Champions of the Season by virtue of winning the Best Plucker Award or Factory Star Awards three or more times in the season. We had to complete the Season 2019 process and we did ! The annual awards to the Champions were given on 21st May – the first International Tea Day by the United Nations. Here are some images :-
The only SOP given to the Estate managers was to create small ceremonies to give out the awards, maintain award dignity and conduct ceremonies with respect to winners and implement the vision that hard work was recognized and rewarded by the company. This, we felt, would compensate for the lack of scale or visible celebration as had been done for Season 2018’s grand award ceremonies conducted in March 2019 to conclude the Edition 1 of the Awards Program.
Each Manager, who had a Champion from his estate, was spoken to individually along with their Welfare Officers. The managers decided to hold the awards at a venue most suitable for them. While some managers wanted to conduct the same during 2nd or 3rd weighment, others gave out the awards within office premises after a workday.
I must say that all this would not have been possible without a seamless coordination and teamwork among Managers, Factory Assistants, Garden Assistants and Welfare Officers and subsequently resulted in giving a sense of dignity to the award ceremonies.
The Champion Pluckers of Season 2019 were Aruna Monboth & Radhika Ratan from Khobong Tea Estate; Lochmi Birsa and Parboty Gulap from Hilika Tea Estate; Usha Bhumij from Ghoiralie Tea Estate and Anu Kumari from Borjuli Tea Estate; Anjana Mal from Jaboka Tea Estate and Aroti Gowala from Muttrapore Tea Estate. The Factory Champions were Kaspal Champi from Pengaree Tea Estate, Ramnath Panika from Ghoiralie Tea Estate, Naya Surin from Sessa Tea Estate, Arun Tanti from Jaboka Tea Estate and Anand Tandi from Napuk Tea Estate. Among these, Arun Tanti and Aroti Gowala have won the Champion of the Season twice as they had won it in Season 2018 also. Here’s a short video of it and you can hear the Champions speak ! https://youtu.be/7TXruzgwgkY .
Among Year II Champion Pluckers, Usha Bhumij of Ghoiralie Tea Estate and Lochmi Birsa of Hilika Tea Estate were given a special award in Year I – Apeejay Surrendra Group Value Achiever Award – instituted to honour those who uphold the Group’s values of Solid, Committed, Entrepreneurial, Youthful and Inspired through their actions. Incidentally, Usha had received the Best Plucker Award from the Government of Assam in 2018 for plucking the maximum quantity of leaf – an award instituted by the government after Apeejay Tea’s initiative and publicity around it in Year I.
Right after, I reassembled my team and worked through on how to implement Season 2020 Awards because Covid 19 was not going anywhere and we needed to make some changes. I am very proud to say that we were encouraged by our Chairman to stay the course and keep our objectives sacrosanct and announce the program with no changes whatsoever!
Year III of the Reward & Recognition programme started in the month of June as Season 2020 started amidst a lot of uncertainties and roadblocks due to the Covid19 pandemic as a result of which plucking and factory operations took time to be fully operational. Here, I must thank our frontline workers like Welfare Officers, Medical Staff, Garden Assistant Managers and Factory Assistant Managers who worked tirelessly day in and day out during the lockdown to ensure that the garden functions normally and also ensured the safety of the workers by creating awareness about the disease and maintaining all SOPs and safety protocols while at work.
The success of the past two years of the Reward & Recognition has been entirely due to the teamwork of these frontline workers along with the Managers, Deputy General Managers, Managers-in-Charge of the estates and the HO team members who were involved in spreading joy and celebrating skill, commitment and hard work as envisioned by our Chairman. The Champions of Season 2020 will be felicitated in March 2021 where they will be given the coveted Chairman’s Trophy along with a certificate and cash award.
Our workers are the most critical element in the entire chain of Tea production and we have to continue this unique process of recognising their hard labour, skills and commitment. We still have a long way to go before we could achieve what we have thought of accomplishing through this process. We want the absenteeism to become a thing of history and the workers becoming more proactive and aware, become productive and thereby having more time for themselves, have less sickness due to improper hygiene and food habits etc. In a nutshell we want them to become a role model for the society and progress. Till that time, we will continue our efforts. We have just begun and re-started.
The Assam Tea Industry which was already in deep economic distress due to unregulated record production, a diminishing domestic consumption, stagnant prices, suddenly had to go under shutdown from 25th March till 14th April after which the government allowed factory operations with 50 percent workforce following various sanitisation and distancing guidelines. This lockdown started right in the peak plucking season, which adversely impacted production and import. Further, it is a well-known fact that there is a widening gap between the exponential rise in the cost of production and the sluggish rise in prices of tea. Since 2014, auction prices of Assam tea have hovered just between Rs 153 per kg to Rs 156.43 per kg whereas the average cost of production has touched Rs 200 per kg. High loan instalments and almost break-even profits have led to distress in the companies’ cash flow in a cash-intensive industry. Banks have stopped providing loans to the industry. Many units are now under cash crunch and facing bankruptcy.
All this indicates that at times the external circumstances are beyond the control of human beings and we all need to adjust ourselves to the new normal. And this ability to adapt makes the human race the superior species and we need to control our thoughts, our perspective and we can work towards surviving these challenging times with sanguinity!
As we progress into more hopeful times as various countries have progressed well in their vaccine trials and mortality rate has come down significantly, we have to re-start and I am emphasizing on the word restart. We all have to shed our fears and restart everything.
I look at the daughter again. She is preparing a list of how she will keep my mom entertained. Good progress made for the day! Here’s me with my new home CEO, Ms Shivangshi Ghosh. !
Ramakrishn Ghosh is GM, HRD , Apeejay Surrendra Management Services Private Limited.