Working For A Healthier Tomorrow

Working For A Healthier Tomorrow

For many organisations, Employee Health and Wellness has always been a key priority, but the events of COVID–19 meant that we had to wear a different lens…

It is very rare for a year to change and teach us lessons that last a lifetime. And 2020 has taught us many things and has forced us to modify our core beliefs about work and how we treat our people and the future of our workplace. The term ‘people-focused’ has now embraced the notion of health, wellness and employee wellbeing to a fuller extent.


For many organisations, Employee Health and Wellness has always been a key priority, but the events of COVID–19 meant that we had to wear a different lens when it comes to caring for our employees. Work from home has equally highlighted the importance of safeguarding the employees’ well-being and the company’s work culture.


As we look beyond the pandemic, it will be critical for organisations to continue to focus on employee wellbeing - create a culture of empathy while implementing policies that address employees’ holistic needs. Psychologists and Wellbeing Experts believe that our pre-pandemic ways of working was not an efficient model. Long hours, ‘always on’ nature of technology, and difficult commutes have contributed to stress and burnout, which impacted employees’ mental and physical health.


As we emerge from the pandemic, experts believe that if we go back to the old way of working, we have missed the opportunity to make the workplaces stronger, healthier, and more productive. Along with the chaos of 2020, came the blessings – a chance to come together for better good, reassess priorities and focus on what matters most while ensuring that we gave ourselves mental space to process it all.


The global pandemic has prompted many organisations to assess—or re-new—their commitment to ensuring the well-being of their employees. As we continue to puzzle our way through the crisis, what can we learn about the intersection of work, resilience, and well-being? And how can we make sure that we are using those lessons to inform our policies, processes, and norms in a way that meaningfully and positively impacts our people? According to Josh Bersin, well-being is no longer only about physical fitness and good health. Our mental health, financial fitness and family concerns also factor into our everyday experiences at work. So, what does this look like? What are the steps organisations can take moving forward?


Shifting Perceptions


There is a shift in perception of Wellbeing Programmes – from ‘nice-to-haves’ to expected. Regardless of how sophisticated or comprehensive the programme, Josh Bersin asserts, they all need to align to the business strategy: employees with a healthy handle on their mental, physical and social health perform better, cost less than well the employee wellbeing is not at its best. Not only is it the ‘right’ thing to do, but according to the Journal of Labour Economics (2020), addressing staff wellbeing can increase productivity by as much as 12%.


Below are a few key learnings from the past year, that can help support employees both today and in the future.


1. Understanding the Importance of Psychological Safety


Psychological Safety and Trust are of paramount importance in any workplace, and today, these are doubly important as we adjust to a mass pivot to remote work. Remote work can bring out the best in workers, but only if they feel they have the space and support to adapt to the new normal.


One of the biggest barriers to remote work is Trust – companies and managers have trouble trusting that employees are getting work done on their own, without any supervision. Many companies never developed remote work policies because of this reason – and now that their hands have been forced, are reacting in precisely the wrong way. On the other hand, there are organisations that have shown that we can trust our people to make the right choices in when, how and where they work.


2. Prioritise Your Values


In a 2020 study by Oracle, 71% of executives said 2020 was their most stressful working year ever, and 53% reported struggling with mental health issues at work. While companies advocate for ‘leaner’ structures to respond to revenue declines, they have missed out on a key aspect of high employee stress levels.


If you are serious about Employee Wellbeing, a good starting point would be to lean in on your values. For example, take a hard look at your benefits programmes, make sure your employees have access to not just physical health benefits, but mental health care as well. Relook at your policies and benefits, there are organisations that have introduced or expanded bereavement policy to two weeks, giving employees support in times of tragedy and distress.


3. How to Lead with Empathy?


Empathy is a critical part of many peoples’ jobs. It is the quality that allows a manager to give feedback in a way that is constructive and kind.


a. Leaders have realised that by making small changes in the way they communicate; they can build a culture rooted in authenticity. In the present times, there is also a point that empathy can tip over into excess.


When we feel other peoples’ pain too deeply, we can wind up exhausted and overwhelmed. The technical term for this feeling is ‘Empathy Distress’. Given the massive grief that people around the world have experienced in the wake of COVID-19, we may particularly be risking Empathy Distress these days. The best way to preserve continued empathy in ourselves and the workplace is to develop boundaries around it. Managing with Empathy requires a shift away from performance by inputs towards performance by outcomes.


4. Put Your Oxygen Mask First


You need to prioritise your mental health and self-care so that you can effectively offer support to those around you. You have to take ownership of your health and wellbeing. Acknowledge how difficult the last few months have been and reach out to people. The pandemic has been incredibly difficult for all of us in some way or the other, and it is helpful to acknowledge that with each other. Leadership transparency and vulnerability also helps in promoting a culture. For example, there was a CEO who openly spoke about his sense of loss and distress when losing a close family member and how he sought help in the employee counselling services. His willingness to share the story sent a strong message to his team that help is available and there is no shame in seeking it out.


We can no longer pretend that companies are islands, isolated from broader societal issues and impassive hosts to the employees that work there. In Deloitte’s 2020, Human Capital Trends report, Wellbeing was cited as the top-rated issue in a C-Level Executive’s mind. Organisations have felt the accelerated need to address a myriad of health and well-being challenges that their people will continue to experience in 2021 and beyond.


This is in part being dictated by an ever-evolving social contract, requiring organisations to pay more attention to the role they play in the lives of their employees – both inside and outside work. There is a close relationship between HRM practices and wellbeing. HRM practices that fulfil several psychological needs such as competence, autonomy and relatedness increase psychological growth and wellbeing. Organisations that wish to prioritise wellbeing need to pay attention to these aspects.




Dr. Manavi Pathak is Head - Talent & Leadership Development at Trent. She has professional expertise in area of Talent Management, Learning, Leadership Development & Executive Coaching. She has extensive experience in leadership and consultancy with global industry players across industries, PSUs and education/ social sector. She has been associated with Human Capital for the last 10 years.


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