The pandemic has brought the importance of mental well-being to the fore, even at workplaces in India. With a sizable population working from home, some organisations are making efforts to create a safe environment for employees to freely talk about their worries and anxieties. According to a study by 7th Fold, an HR and well-being consultancy, 36% of corporate India’s employees reported that their mental health worsened as they settled into the new style of working from home. Further, 28% of employees working from home reported burnout.
“The pandemic has given us an excuse to talk about mental health, and it is becoming easier for people to talk about it at their workplaces,” says Nirmala Menon, founder and CEO at Interweave Consulting, which focusses on inclusion solutions for workplaces. She says people who could generally be classified as neurotypical were feeling unsettled because of the worries they were harbouring. It has been observed that alcoholism is on the rise.
Experts say that trusting employees and being honest with them helps put to rest many of the work-related fears a person may have. Another element that has a far-reaching impact is the ‘humanisation’ of leadership. Menon points out that training leaders to identify signs of depression or early indications of stress and burnout is crucial during this time.
“Senior leaders sharing anxieties with teammates or accepting the challenges of this new working dynamic can be very reassuring to employees, and can give them the courage to speak up,” says Abhijit Bhaduri, founder and CEO, Abhijit Bhaduri & Associates, a leadership and culture consultancy.
Several Indian corporates, including advertising and marketing agencies, have implemented a variety of initiatives and interventions to address the anxieties arising out of living through a pandemic.
For instance, Dentsu Webchutney works with the Hank Nunn Institute, a not-for-profit organisation that provides services in mental health, workplace stress management and more. This association began at the agency’s Bengaluru office, and has now been extended to other branches. As part of this initiative, a counsellor is available once a week to address any issue an employee may wish to discuss.
Gautam Reghunath, CEO, Dentsu Webchutney, informs that these sessions are completely confidential. “Some weeks are packed, some are not; but what’s important for us is for everyone to know that it’s okay to seek out someone to talk to, if they feel the need,” he adds.
The HR team at DDB Mudra Group conducts awareness drives and encourages employees to use the Employee Assistance Program that provides 24×7 professional and confidential mental health counselling. The company also holds regular town hall meetings where employees can have candid talks with the CEO, Aditya Kanthy. Further, the lunch hour has been blocked on the calendars of all employees; as a result, no meetings can be scheduled during this time slot.
BBH has declared that all its staff will get two Fridays off in a month, giving them a long weekend every fortnight. The agency has also given its employees the liberty to turn down work calls beyond 8 pm, unless there is an emergency.
Rita Verma, EVP and head – HR, DDB Mudra Group, notes that despite juggling work, home, caring for the elderly and children, people were rarely taking time off. The agency has now instituted mandatory leaves. “People were hesitant at first, but later realised that switching off is much needed, as it improves innovation and output.”
Some companies have also been organising Zoom parties and talent shows to facilitate team interactions and downtime. Bhaduri cautions that while these activities help in team building, they cannot substitute professional counselling and treatment.