Aradhana Lal- VP Sustainability Initiatives- Lemon Tree

Jasmeen Dugal  (click here to know more about this blogger)

Her resolute belief and active participation in Lemon Tree Hotels Founder, Chairman and Managing Director Patu Keswani's vision to build an inclusive employee base by integrating opportunity-deprived Indians and the differently abled into the workforce, is evident in her shining eyes and passionate conversation. In conversation with Aradhana Lal, Vice President- Brands, Communications And Sustainability Initiatives, Lemon Tree Hotel Ltd.


In sync with Patu Keswani's vision, Lemon Tree Hotels continues to actively recruit Opportunity Deprived Indians — 1] Employees With Disability i.e. people who are deaf, amputee or physical handicap, acid attack survivors or have Down Syndrome or autism 2] people from marginalised economic and social background i.e. orphans, widows or battered women, divorcees etc, youngsters who haven't completed education due to financial constraint and people from economically weak families. ''This reflects the culture and ethos of Lemon Tree Hotels. It is not charity. It is inclusion. The result is mainstreaming people with disability, who wouldn't have a job otherwise'' says Aradhana Lal over coffee at Lemon Tree Premier, Delhi Airport, Aerocity.


How does it work, I ask her? ''Inclusion is a core human resources strategy which began in 2007. One day, founder Patu Keswani had a surprise visitor — the mother of one of his differently-abled employees who expressed gratitude that due to the job, her son could get married and support a family. That was the turning point for Keswani, who met his core team to understand the feasibility of hiring a larger number of people with disabilities. Within no time, the project cascaded into a huge enterprise and I was asked to drive the sustainability initiative. Now, implementing it is like preparing for a marathon. We need support from top management sensitisation to integrate them into the workforce and frequent reviews ensure there is smooth workflow and no communication gaps.'' Lemon Tree Hotels also has strategic alliances with NGOs who deal with disabilities. ''Besides comprehensive internal training, we take the help of NGOs to train the differently-abled within hotel premises as well as run sensitisation sessions for all members of the work force. For intellectual and developmental disabilities, during a six-month traineeship, the educator spends a majority of his or her time at the hotel, reducing it gradually till he visits three- four times a month to troubleshoot. The core of this traineeship is to integrate the differently-abled within the staff. A programme of this nature requires sensitisation of the entire team. In order to hire deaf, we have been able to implement a programme where we conduct sensitivity training for all employees on board, including new hires. This is led by external experts whose forte is Indian Sign Language. This has become an integral part of our system and the staff across our properties can now communicate in Indian Sign Language! This sensitisation is crucial — one cannot expect the staff to work with the differently-abled without proper knowledge on how to communicate with intellectually or physically challenged people within the workforce!''


How does differently-abled recruitment of such magnitude take place, I ask? ''We began with the speech and hearing impaired; two- three people at a hotel in Gurgaon, which gradually increased across the properties as we learnt how to engage with them through trial and error. Then we began hiring the physically handicapped i.e. people without a limb or in a wheelchair. In all these case, we made them undergo the standard induction and training process. Then, we began employing the intellectually challenged i.e. people with Down Syndrome or autism. For such candidates we run a trainee-ship with the help of specialists to ensure they understand their tasks and responsibilities. It is like hotel school, but in a tight timeframe of six- nine months. Job Mapping is crucial — identifying their individual strength and where it fits in with our job vacancies. Once they join Lemon Tree Hotels, we train them to perform tasks in their specific areas. Initially they were inducted in back-end roles such as housekeeping Then, we extended it to the restaurants and reception where guest interaction is part of the job. For smooth workflow, we re-engineered the service process; for example, each differently abled employee wears a card that says they are deaf or have Down Syndrome and they provide guests with a notepad and pencil to write down their request. We also provide whistles to them, to be used in an emergency to attract attention and get help.''


Is this philanthropic or is there more to it, I ask as I wrap my head around the heartfelt initiative. ''This is not charity or corporate social responsibility. We believe that persons with disabilities must be given the same opportunities as others to realise their full potential and live with dignity. We do not change rules, responsibilities or job description for anyone. In fact, they work hard because someone has finally given them an opportunity and this results in more productivity than other employees! For example, boys in housekeeping clean sixteen - seventeen rooms each day whereas the differently abled boys clean nineteen - twenty because they single-mindedly perform their task. This makes them 15 per cent more productive than their colleagues, which underlies our belief as a company that with the right training and inclusive approach, this segment of our workforce will deliver results. Yes, we are flexible when required. For example, a person with intellectual disability will not be able to physically cope with working through the night so we do not assign the night shift and we adjust work hours where required and the supervisor is in touch with their family on text message at the end of a shift, till they reach home. And, during the traineeship period, each month we review all of them, keeping in mind their productivity or failure to grasp the concept. We do this review with trainees and parents; with intellectual disability, the capacity to absorb information is limited so we request their parents to help them practice what they lack at work, at home…''


Lemon Tree Hotel's approach to hospitality and commitment to equal opportunity employment is a matter of pride for other members of the workforce, who feel they are an integral part of this invaluable contribution to society, resulting in high morale. Ask any staffer, from the front desk to groundskeepers, about working at the hotel and the response is heartfelt, even overwhelming. I hope the culture of Lemon Tree Hotels encourage more travellers to choose the upscale business hotel that is high on exceptional service and sumptuous cuisine. And I hope it inspires hoteliers to consider ways in which they too could give back to society. Salut.

LEMON TREE HOTELS Aradhana Lal- Vice President- Sustainability Initiatives- The Lemon Tree Hotel Company

LEMON TREE HOTELS The Differently Abled at Lemon Tree Hotel



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