While this darkness too shall give way to light, corporate India’s actions during this time will shape the way Indians reorganise their priorities with regards to the kind of firms that they would want to work for or even associate with.
Sandeep Sinha| June 07, 2021
This article originally appeared in ETHRWorld
We had all heard that the world can change overnight, but these past few months have made us actually live that! For a lot of us, our worlds have irreversibly changed within the span of a few days as we scrambled to find ICU beds for a relative; negotiate oxygen cylinders prices for neighbours and deal with the grief of losing a loved one. Unlike the first wave, this sudden onslaught of Covid-19 has dealt a blow that is closer to home. It’s knocked us off our feet and yet, in the name of resilience, we are expected to dust ourselves off and get back to work, simply calling it the ‘new normal’. While the overhauling of physical spaces with schools and offices shifted within the confines of our homes could be termed as the ‘new normal’, there is nothing remotely normal about the impact of this pandemic on our emotional and mental wellbeing. Work hasn’t simply changed address, but has also altered its definition in our lives. We’ve missed those sport’s days and anniversary dinners for important meetings, but this time it’s that corporate avatar that’s stepped up to help keep our personal lives afloat.
It is heartening to see corporates rise to the occasion and take steps, nay leaps, to show that they stand together with their employees and value them as individuals first. Whether it is increasing the insurance cover to include Covid related medical expenses or creating separate Covid related paid leave options, corporates are making all the efforts to ease the stress and anxiety that their employees are currently experiencing.
KPMG has set up a Covid task force manned by the senior most partners and associates to verify availability of beds, oxygen, ventilators and plasma, for employees struggling to organise these basic amenities. It is no secret that the logistics and failed systems are taking as much of a toll on patients and their families as the disease itself. Timely information in this case could actually save lives.
Borosil was amongst the first few indigenous organisations to announce that employees who succumb to Covid-19 will not only receive two years’ salary and perks, but the organisation will also pay for the education of their children. An act of compassion in itself, but announcing it at the start of the second wave, gave its employees two important weapons to fight this onslaught — hope and confidence. Hope, that they and their families will be taken care of and the confidence that they weren’t alone and that their firm was standing side by side with them as they fought this deadly second wave. It is no surprise anymore that the Covid-19 attacks the mind as much as it attacks the body. Thus, simple and timely gestures like these can go a long way in protecting the mental wellbeing of the employees.
Companies such as HCL Technologies and Wipro have increased the insurance cover for employees, as well as taken on the burden to reimburse medical costs that exceed the current cover. There is a need to re-look at existing policies and covers offered by organisations. For instance, redefining immediate family members who are covered under insurance, and covering costs related to mental and emotional wellbeing, will ensure that corporates are much better prepared to extend timely and appropriate support to employees. Testing and vaccination camps are the need of the hour. Besides, covering the cost for the vaccines for the employees, companies could look at covering the cost for the family members as well.
Communication continues to play a vital role in setting the tone during a crisis. Corporates must keep a continuous flow of two-way internal communication that boosts morale, adds hope and offers a safe space to express anxiety, stress and even grief. Senior colleagues should begin all meetings and interactions by asking after the health and mental wellbeing of the team members and their loved ones. It’s a simple gesture, but goes a long way in allowing employees to feel that they matter beyond the firm’s spreadsheet.
While the pandemic might have entered our lives unannounced and quite literally overnight, we all know that there is a very low likelihood of it will disappearing any time soon. It takes time to recover from a blow this big, and then there is always that fear of a third wave, hence there cannot be a more opportune time than this for organisations to also proactively consider long-term strategies to address the challenges posed by the pandemic
There is a need to consider adding a new title at the leadership level — The CWO or The Chief Wellness Officer. The pandemic has taught us that while HR might be best suited for the hiring and training needs of employees, there is a need for a specialised set of skills to oversee the holistic emotional and mental wellness of employees. A lot of organisations have tied up with wellness experts, psychologists and counsellors to offer workshops and even one-on-one session to employees during the crisis, including medical hotlines to offer counselling, such as the TCS Cares Services. However, there is a need to take a long-term approach and create a vertical dedicated to ensuring mental wellness for employees on a daily basis through regular meditation sessions, wellness workshops, courses aligned with established institutions and even wellness retreats. The scars of the pandemic will not fade away instantly. The grief of losing a loved one to an unfortunate and unpredicted calamity does not simply vanish in a few days, weeks or months. It is also about time that corporates addressed the general anxiety and stress that our new-age professional lives entail and included mental health as an important part of the staying fit mantra adopted pre-pandemic.
And finally, taking steps to build a culture of kindness and compassion is a necessity during these unprecedented times. Organisations must consider creating special leave provisions for a pandemic like situations. Employees struggling to recover from an onslaught of the virus or those running pillar to post finding ICU beds for their relatives, should not feel pressured to join back work. Besides, some days can be particularly grim and affect one’s sanity in ways that’s hard to explain in words, let alone write in an official email to HR. Firms such as Google, Amazon, Tata Steel, have created a special 14-day sick leave for those recuperating from the virus. Facebook India has announced three company-wide paid leaves to simply relax and recharge. There is a need for more such leave provisions to allow employees to regain their mental composure and peace.
They say that nothing lasts forever, and if happiness must end then so must sorrow. However, what stays with us is how we felt during those times. While this darkness too shall give way to light, corporate India’s actions during this time will shape the way Indians reorganise their priorities with regards to the kind of firms that they would want to work for or even associate with. Businesses have been given a rare opportunity to create a new currency of humanity and kindness. Organisations that seize the opportunity will be seen as the shapers of the new and evolved work paradigm.