The pandemic and the lockdowns have left a trail of loss and grief and it becomes imperative, now more than ever, to scale up quality mental health services at all levels. This is what countries across the globe felt the need for at the World Health Assembly in May 2021.
Accordingly, corporates close to home are already adapting to the post-pandemic setting and doing their bit to raise awareness and destigmatise mental health issues. Read on…
‘Okay to not be okay’
While employee mental wellbeing was always a topic of discussion, the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown brought the issue to the fore with corporates aligning their goals in this direction.
“Owing to the challenges of the pandemic, several of our employees shared how they were experiencing feelings of isolation and burnout and their inability to use the pre-pandemic informal networks and support systems such as friends or co-workers. Many employees were hesitant about sharing these emotions and were unsure about where they should seek support. Against this background, it was important to assure our employees that ‘It is okay to not be okay’,” says Neerja Bhardwaj – HR Business Partner, India Technology Centre, GE
“We acknowledge the ills of the ‘daily grind’ and have tried to prioritize a healthy work-life balance for all our employees. In the initial days of remote work, as teams were settling in, we encouraged them to take days off for their ‘mental health.’ We suggested teams keep a few working days call-free or zoom-free, to give them a break from being on video calls. Additionally, we also offered 12 weeks of paid time off from work to employees who have spent a certain number of years with the company and at regular intervals after that, employees are given another six week sabbatical. Also, there isn’t a limit on the number of sick days that an employee can avail if one needs them,” adds Tina Vinod, Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Thoughtworks.
Katarzyna Kern, global head of HR at ANSR, stresses that it is essential to encourage employees to explore their emotions and discuss how they are feeling at work. “It’s also crucial to have a working culture that encourages employees to talk about their personal problems,” she adds.
Buddy system at work
Lending a helping hand to fellow employees are mental health advocates within the organisation. “Advocacy plays a key role in driving positive change and we have developed a voluntary network of more than 1,600 mental health advocates who regularly reach out to their colleagues so that everyone can have a colleague who is ready to listen and discuss mental health issues, and we can proactively provide support where needed,” says Lakshmi C, managing director and lead, human resources, Accenture, India.
Safe spaces to show we care
Companies have also gone beyond regular workshops and confidential counselling sessions with their employees, Sindhu Gangadharan, senior vice-president and managing director, SAP Labs India, informs, “Our Employee Care Cycle aims to de-stigmatise mental health issues by outlining the cycle of support from prevention to cure.”
A recent initiative they rolled out aims at providing a safe space for colleagues to share and talk about their grief in the presence of others with similar experiences.
“Voice-out forums and safe spaces for employees to freely share their experiences with their colleagues did help us in helping out our employees at India Technology Centre,” says Neerja, adding that they also have Wellness Day offs for employees to rejuvenate.
Lakshmi adds that earlier this year, Accenture had upgraded their medical insurance policy to include mental health consultancy reimbursements for dependent family members.
Technology to drive change
While technology has received the short end of the stick, companies across the country have tried to use it to reach out to employees. Satyanarayanan Visvanathan, SVP and head – HR (global) and head of corporate quality, CSS Corp, says, “Our 24/7 employee assistance provides counselling and aid to employees, and HR chatbots automate responses to queries, leading to faster issue resolutions. Additionally, we have been conducting virtual mindfulness sessions and digital detox (digital quarantine) to enable employees to find the right balance amid their hectic schedules.”
Sudeep Ralhan, vice-president of people, Walmart Global Tech India, adds that they have leveraged technology to ensure a wider range of personalised options for each employee. “And now that organisations and people have had a taste of the many benefits of tech-enabled focus on mental wellbeing, I see the adoption increasing substantially over the next few years,” he adds.