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For better workplaces

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Pooja Bajaj works with corporates to build and enhance employee engagement and happiness. Ronita Torcato reports

Slim of build and very pretty, Pooja Bajaj is a highly articulate entrepreneur whose company's  name underlines the extent to which corporates should go to keep employees engaged and happy.  Bajaj's organisation Extra Mile works with corporates to provide solutions  that cater to the needs of both employer and employees  in making the workplace a fruitful, happy space.

“We aim  to improve engagement levels, meet communication needs, and help build great teams in the workplace,”says Bajaj, who uses  diverse activities and team-building exercises. Additionally, through digital engagement, the physical distance between employees is bridged by connecting them via an online platform.

“We focus on all kinds of wellness— physical, mental, emotional.  We use team activities of different genres, all  having an element of fun which facilitates bonding,” she says. Communication with colleagues is also required to get the clarity that imbues true engagement.”

Born and bred in Mumbai, Bajaj holds a post-grad degree in Marketing and Business Management from Warwick Business School in the UK.  She worked in marketing for companies like L’Oreal and Philip Morris  and then, aged all of 25 and gainfully employed at Marlborough, she did some soul-searching and introspection before she called it a day to set up her own company Extra Mile.

She was, as she tells it, motivated  by wanting to make the workplace a happy and engaging environment “since employees spend half their lifetime at the workplace. And what do they do afterwards? I thought I should look at what I can achieve to make a difference, to bring about even a small  change."

Her first  client Vodafone approached her after tuning into a radio program she’d done with an RJ. Today, Bajaj’s 75-strong clientele includes Kotak Mahindra, Zee TV, Birla Capital, Book My Show and Google.

Word of mouth has served as the best marketing tool, even as Bajaj has worked hard to  build and maintain credibility. She considers change essential for expansion and growth and invests in the enhancement of knowledge and skills  through reading, networking, and learning ‘on-the-job’. “Every project or initiative at Extra Mile has been a learning curve”. From creating a radio channel for Kotak Mahindra employees, and composing the company anthem at Birla, to CSR focused team building at Google – each project has reaffirmed that  team  spirit can be strengthened by  unity, collaboration, empathy, and integrity. All it requires is the opportunity to tap into these inherent values and live them out at the workplace."

Does employee engagement translate into employee happiness? Bajaj says, "Corporates tend to view employee happiness and engagement as the same thing. However, just because employees are happy (with the salary perhaps), it doesn't necessarily make them productive. A happy employee is viewed as a well-engaged employee when they go the extra mile, trust managers/seniors, take up challenges, motivate others, inspire colleagues and put in efforts to be one with the company. They have a sense of purpose and individual goals  are aligned with the overall strategic goals of their organisation."

Extra Mile utilises sports, music, offbeat experential programs,  even comedy improv  as tools for engagement. "Our engagements are planned to nurture and build their skills on various personal (passion, hobbies) and professional aspects (skill building, shaping your future).  and connecting the company with the  extended family—the employees' family—as they are the pillars of support behind every successful employee and by educating the families about the company."

Extra Mile's  services include self defence   workshops with a trainer who demonstrates verbal and physical techniques—some martial arts too—to deal with sex offenders “and be more aware and precautionary but it’s more about how to take on  the attacker’s weak points.” 

The lessons came in handy for Bajaj when an early morning walk with her pet dog turned out an ordeal:  she was accosted by a black-clad biker who exposed himself, made lewd gestures and uttered filthy language.

Bajaj also conducts empathy building workshops. For instance, Extra Mile has worked with BPCL employees who built cycles for orphanages in Pune and Nashik, with GAP, Kohler and Clix Capital in Delhi to make educational toys out of dismantled toys and craft materials for five-to-seven- year olds and with Birla Health Insurance staffers who made cycles, toys and painted canvas shoes at a collaborative activity held on Independence Day.

This World Disability Day, Extra Mile conducted an activity called 'Wheels of Hope' with  Google (Hyderabad) and Aditya Birla Capital (Jaipur). Employees were split up in teams which were  asked to locate all materials needed for making the wheelchair by a quick game of treasure hunt. By the end of the activity, Extra Mile brought in residents of an underprivileged old age home to interact with employees. The newly assembled chairs were presented to each of the bedridden elderly.

Bajaj says "It was an exciting new experience for the Google India and Aditya Birla Capital teams to get on their knees and assemble wheel chairs. It was a magical moment for us to see employees touched by stories of residents on how deeply they felt towards the teams for this gesture.  Truly, wheels of hope were spinning at the venue!"

Extra Mile currently operates in 25 cities. Future plans  include an IP in the tech space to connect corporates across the country in quarterly inter-corporate challenges.

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