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A leading hospitality group with an HR strategy that can appear like a gamble to many. Aradhana Lal, Vice President – Brand, Communications & Sustainability Initiatives speaks about the ‘Inclusive Employment Programme’ of Lemon Tree Hotels, in conversation with Neha Vig Sharma of SUBURB

Aradhana Lal

Q1. When and why did Lemon Tree begin its ‘Inclusive Employment’ initiative?

AL: Lemon Tree’s Inclusive employment programme is a unique initiative that the hospitality group adopted in its HR policies in 2007. ‘Initially, it was done as a pilot because a lot of planning was required i.e. our employee base had to be sensitized and trained; a job mapping exercise was done with respect to different roles and a specific disability (e.g. Speech and Hearing Impaired (SHI)/Deaf); and some SOPs were redefined.

‘The HR team approached the government department – Vocational Rehabilitation Centre (Ministry of Labour) and we started the trials by employing candidates from here. We roped in external experts to train the existing teams as well as the recruits with different disabilities. After two years, it was observed that there were around 20 – 25 employees with disability across 3 or 4 hotels.

“What started as a trial then became an HR strategy of Lemon Tree.’’

Q2. What is the unique contribution that these employees bring to the organisation? 

AL:  ‘The pilot was successful and we made inclusive hiring a part of our HR strategy and business model. We were able to generate employment and give a sense of dignity to our Employees with Disability (EWDs) including different disability types like Orthopaedic Handicap, SHI/Deaf, Low Vision, Intellectual and Developmental Disability (IDD) and Autism. There is a gratification of a different kin that has to do with the impact we have on the lives of so many people. These EWDs are very focused on their work, they have a desire to excel and are hard working. Most importantly, they rise to the occasion, at the time of need. This is what makes this program work.’

Q3. ‘What is the employee strength under this category and what disabilities does Lemon Tree Hire?

AL:    ‘The hiring takes place across India at our 77 hotels in 45 destinations. We have 600 EWDs and 400 Employees from Economically and Socially marginalised backgrounds (EcoSoc). The strategy we have adopted as an organization is meant to mainstream Opportunity Deprived Indians (ODIs). ODIs comprise two segments – the first is EWDs and the second is EcoSoc which includes BPL, orphans, widows, divorcees and abandoned girls. As a part of EWDs, employees with Down Syndrome, Slow Learners, IDD also get inducted in various departments. Recently we have included acid survivors and transgenders in the teams.’

Almost 1000 people or close to one-fifth of our company comprises opportunity deprived Indians.

Q4. How challenging is their training? 

AL: ‘We have a well-established internal training system. The training methodology includes visuals/AVs, in-depth activities, behavioural assessments and on-the-job experience. For Deaf colleagues, we hire a Indian Sign Language (ISL) trainer who knows ISL well and easily connects with these employees language. The functional trainings are for ten days training and then they are placed in the relevant departments of the hotel. For Slow Learners or employees with Down Syndrome, it starts with a traineeship that is from six months to a year.

Q5. In which departments are they recruited?

AL: Once the EWDs are trained they are in deputed to their department including Front Office, Reservations, Food & Beverage (Service), Food & Beverage (Production), Engineering, Finance, etc. At Lemon Tree you may see a person with only one arm or someone in a wheelchair as part of the Reception. We have many Deaf staff in F&B teams. Housekeeping also has several Deaf and Autistic employees. In the Finance department, the EWDs are commerce graduates. In the engineering team, we have trained staff with physical disabilities, who are trained at an ITI Institute. It requires a great deal of detailing to hire them, train them and then place them as part of our business model. Now it is the way we do business.

Q.6 Have you found a reduction in the attrition rate of the organisation with the hiring of people with disabilities?

AL: The company attrition rate is somewhere around 50 per cent as it is for any hotel company but that of EWDs is approximately 25-30%. So it’s an excellent HR reason also to absorb people with disability because it supports your requirements of being able to retain good employees. 

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