Q: In your view, how have employees’ expectations of employers changed due to the pandemic and economic crisis – and how has Talawakelle Tea Estates responded?

A: The plantations industry has a long tradition dating back over 100 years of estate management supporting estate workers in times of crisis.

During the pandemic and economic crisis, we at Talawakelle met and exceeded the expectations of our workers by arranging food, fuel and medicines to ensure that they had peace of mind through difficult times, secure in the knowledge their needs would be met.

Our company has gone beyond the usual employee welfare measures by offering special incentives to help workers increase their incomes. And our estate workers kept their faith in us and cooperated. As a result, we were able to work symbiotically through the crisis.

Q: Can you share some best practices you adopted to tide through the unprecedented challenges brought about by the economic crisis?

A: As a group, we look after 140,000 people in all. During the pandemic, Talawakelle ensured that the entire workforce received all three COVID-19 vaccinations. In addition, we made sure that we had food stocks for six months to reassure workers. Medications and supplies for pregnant and new mothers, and asthma patients, were stocked. We also ensured adequate stocks of fuel to ensure staff mobility.

All these measures affirmed the faith that our workers place in us. Talawakelle ended the year with record profits, which we gladly shared with staff by way of incentives. The winner of the ‘Best Worker’ competition was rewarded with two years’ worth of salary.

Throughout the crisis, food packs were distributed amongst estate staff and the disabled.

We also offered online educational courses that were displayed on large screens for the children of estate workers during school closures.

Going beyond the call of duty, estate workers’ children taking their O-Level and A-Level examinations were provided with free transport on exam days. Our staff visited students to wish them and boost their confidence.

These measures helped us to build closer bonds with our employees.

Q: The pandemic has come and gone but the changes to the work culture that it brought on are here to stay. Is this true for your organisation?

A: Our workers are earning more during the crisis through various incentives and surprise bonuses. We are offering flexi work, which has enhanced the work-life balance for workers and increased their satisfaction levels.

It has been a win-win because we too have profited by way of higher productivity and increased profitability during the year. Our ethos is ‘doing good is good for business’ – and we make sure to live these values in the way we take care of employees.

Q: Could you outline the lessons you have learnt from participating in the Great Place to Work Sri Lanka survey?

A: It has been a fantastic intervention in that while we’ve been doing many programmes for estate workers over the last 100 years, this survey has helped to streamline and organise our initiatives in a systematic manner. We find this has enhanced employee engagement, which in turn has brought benefits in terms of better performance, higher prices and our estates being among the top 10 in the country.

Participating in the survey helped us to gain independent feedback from staff and we were delighted to note that very high levels of employee satisfaction were reported!

Moreover, Talawakelle has won a host of local and global awards during the year.

Q: What is the role of Talawakelle’s senior management in promoting an open and engaging culture?

A: Our leadership is very hands-on and this helps to percolate our values to the entire workforce, thereby strengthening ties between management and staff. The senior management ensures staff also enjoys the profits earned.

Q: In what new ways can a positive work culture be fostered?

A: We have gone beyond the requirements of Great Place to Work by introducing a ‘Great Division to Work’ competition internally along with an award ceremony. All 600 divisions took part under certain categories and the 10 best were rewarded.

Subsequently, a staff symposium was held where each division had to present their winning interventions, thereby motivating other teams as well. The best teams were rewarded with foreign trips.

These measures have boosted the positive work culture.

Q: What measures have been taken by your company over the last 12-18 months to unleash the untapped potential of the workforce?

A: As a first in the tea plantations sector, 25 female veterans and 25 children of estate workers were recruited for a comprehensive training programme, which will enable them to be absorbed into the permanent cadre with prospects for rapid career progression.

Women in particular hold much promise and this programme will help us to empower them to build careers with us right up to the executive level. This is also a service to the industry as they could be employed by other plantations as well.

We will continue to innovate new programmes like these to empower our workers and ensure their wellbeing.

– Compiled by Yamini Sequeira

Telephone: 2627000  |  Email: info@talawakelleteas.com  |  Website: www.talawakelleteas.com