In the difficult times, we are living in, employers have risen to the myriad challenges posed by the pandemic and prioritised employee care like never before. Both leading corporates and startups are doing an impressive job of supporting employee mental health and wellness at the workplace. From virtual townhalls and Yoga sessions to flexible leave policies and providing child and elder care packages, organisations are pulling out all stops to offer assistance to their workforce.
A new paradigm for HR
Some startups like TurboHire have had to rethink their HR policy with the long-term in view. The company offers unlimited wellness paid leave for all physical and mental wellness related concerns and not just for COVID-19 and chronic illnesses. The 35-member organisation also conducts virtual freewheeling well-being sessions where employees are encouraged to share their concerns due to the stress caused by the pandemic.
“At TurboHire we understand that the very first step towards building genuine, sustained employee care is to create an atmosphere of well-being on a minute-by-minute, day-to-day basis,” says Ridhhi Sanghi, Director of People Success, TurboHire. “We seek to build a culture of trust and belongingness where members know they are safe and can thrive.”
The many acts of employer kindness amid the pandemic isn’t restricted to only startups. The pandemic has also sensitised corporates to express solidarity and take effective measures to ensure their employees have the necessary support required to tide over the unprecedented health crisis.
As the second wave of the pandemic continues to ravage the country, Bajaj Auto recently announced significant changes to its HR policy. Under the revised policy, the auto major will offer adequate support to the families of employees who have succumbed to COVID-19. The deceased member’s family will receive monetary support for up to a period of two years and hospitalisation insurance for five years. Further, dependent children will be monetarily supported till their graduation in any field of their choice.
Like several other organisations, Indian hospitality chain Oyo Rooms covers the cost of COVID-19 vaccination shots for its employees and their families. The company recently announced a slew of other health and wellness policies aimed at putting employees at the centre of the company’s strategic HR initiatives. Oyo offers free annual health checks, discounted women’s health packages, gym memberships, yoga sessions and other employee benefits such as a COVID-19 home care cover, psychiatric cover and enhanced maternity coverage.
Almost all organisations have set up an internal COVID task force that is a support mechanism for employees to access critical resources needed in the battle against the pandemic. Additionally, the pandemic also presented a unique opportunity for companies to focus on empathetic leadership towards not just employees, but also the ecosystem at large. For example, Hindustan Unilever ensured that besides its workforce, its suppliers and distributors, too, got vaccinated.
Straddling the work-life balance
The pandemic has ushered in new realities at the workplace. The leadership and HR teams at both established corporates and startups realised that work will get done, no matter where the employee is located. While a bulk of India’s organisations adopted a work-from-home policy early on in the pandemic in 2020, they have subsequently revisited their HR policies to ensure they don’t risk losing their best talents.
For instance, L’Oréal India has adopted a progressive leave policy to ensure its workforce avails of ‘wellness days off’ to recharge and rejuvenate amid hectic work pressures triggered by the pandemic. As a step in the right direction, the company introduced Wysa, an “emotionally intelligent” chatbot that communicates with employees to address pandemic-induced issues such as anxiety, isolation and stress.
COVID-19 that has stretched on for over a year, has also caused excessive burn out at the workplace. According to Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index report, workers in India reported increased feelings of burnout with close to one-third experiencing work-related fatigue. One of the major factors contributing to the burnout is the work-from-home model that leaves workers exhausted and unable to strike a balance between work and personal obligations. To help employees set clear boundaries in the current scenario, Razorpay is among a clutch of companies that has introduced a ‘No Meeting Day’ policy. At Razorpay, the second Wednesday of every month are meeting free days to encourage employees to recharge without the stress of participating in multiple meetings that result in productivity loss.
In an attempt to promote holistic employee wellbeing and support them through these challenging times, food delivery platform Swiggy had announced a move to a shorter work week amid the pandemic. The company rolled out a four-day work week during a month when COVID cases surged across the country, allowing employees to pick the days they would want to work.
The pandemic has resulted in employees working longer hours sans availing of their eligible annual vacation time. The situation has led to organisations offering employees extra holidays to de-stress and recharge. In a bid to allow employees indulge in “personal time off” (PTO), some companies are allowing accrued vacation to rollover amid the pandemic. The revised leave policy not only ensures employee well-being, but also reduces the financial burden on companies.
At Deloitte, employees are encouraged to contribute their unused quota of paid vacation to a common ‘holiday pool’. Any employee can dip into the shared pool to avail of COVID and non-COVID-related emergencies.
As someone who also oversees the HR department at T-Hub, I cannot stress enough on the importance of safeguarding your employees’ physical and mental well-being. T-Hub takes employee care seriously. We arranged free on-site COVID-19 testing for not just employees but also our support staff. This was important as we work out of a shared workspace. Volunteers from our workforce also created a COVID support group to assist colleagues who tested positive. An internal dashboard was created to monitor the health of employees. This became a critical tool to promote harmony at the workplace.
Further, to address the fear of returning to the physical workplace, the leadership team at T-Hub has been encouraging its employees to get back to a ‘normal’ office environment. Many of us, including me, returned to the physical office space in May 2020. One of the primary reasons for doing so is because we believe that a dynamic organisation like T-Hub can truly evolve and thrive only when its employees engage in day-to-day interactions with key ecosystem stakeholders. T-Hub has been organising a series of regular webinars on health and wellness issues that is also open to the larger ecosystem. We have also taken an additional COVID-19 insurance cover for our employees and organised multiple vaccination drives that supported its employees, startups, corporates and academia as well.
Valuable lessons from the pandemic
There is a growing awareness in India Inc. that the post-pandemic world that we will occupy would be vastly different from the one prior to the black swan event. As organisations adjust to the new realities of the workplace, they need to prioritise the safety and well-being of their
employees. This can be achieved only if they adopt new work policies that would lay the foundation for a robust culture of trust, flexibility and transparency in the organisation.
The C-suits should lead with empathy as the emerging ecosystem demands that employee well-being isn’t just a platitude but also a realistic expectation that has to be met. In my opinion, the time has come for organisations to adjust to a new work landscape that will, as earlier, be led by farsightedness, ambition and strategy, but also by humaneness, understanding and compassion
(The given article is attributed to Sameer Chhabra is Vice President at T-Hub and heads the Business Operations function, which includes the Human Resources, Business Management, Marketing and Facilities departments and solely created for BW People)