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How Some Indian Employers Are Taking Initiative To Boost Remote Workers’ Health, Well-being

Extra days off, assistance with setting up a home office, and wellness programs are among companies' strategies.

In an effort to help prevent burnout for employees who have been working remotely for more than six months during the pandemic, PwC India and PepsiCo last week gave workers a four-day weekend.

The time off began with the Oct. 2 national holiday on the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. On Oct. 5, PwC India followed up with another Pens Down Day for employees, the first having been offered on July 23.

The four-day break is meant as a time for employees to “recharge and reenergize”, the company tweeted. “Our people have gone above and beyond during these times and taking some downtime is easier when others around are also on a break — that’s why we plan such breaks at regular intervals.”

With discussions about employees’ mental wellness ramping up with Human Resources since the pandemic began, employers are finding ways to help ensure a healthy work-life balance for staff.

Abhimanyu Saxena, co-founder of InterviewBit & Scaler Academy, an ed-tech startup, said, “To avoid employee burnout, we offer comp offs [time off] to teams and individuals that have hectic work schedules, especially for those working in sales, operations, customer servicing or community engagement. This is to ensure that no employee is overworked and gets ample time to rejuvenate, both physically and mentally.”

Coinciding with World Mental Health Day on Oct 10, the National Human Resource Development Network, a collective of over 9,800 HR professionals, is observing a mental wellness week from Oct. 5 through its Mind Matters program.

Calling employee wellness the need of the hour, Dhananjay Singh, director general of the National HR development network, said, “Poor mental well-being of employees had already become a growing concern in the last few years. The pandemic has only aggravated it.”

“We found that only 30 percent of organizations in India practice programs or offer benefits concerning the mental well-being of their employees. Companies must start acknowledging concerns of mental disorders.”

During the organization’s Mind Matters week, registered members will have access to training sessions and webinars on mental health awareness, mental disorders, tools to manage mental health, and more.

A recent survey by The 7thFold, a boutique HR and well-being firm, states that since the pandemic, 17 percent of Indian employees were suffering from physical health issues and 36 percent were experiencing mental health issues. It found that the work-life balance for employees working in a blended remote/in-office model was better than for employees working full-time in the workplace. Employees working full-time from home reported the worst work-life-balance.

However, 87 percent of employees reported that their employers provided benefits for their well-being. These included additional holidays each month, fitness programs and employee assistance programs.

Rajnish Kumar, co-founder and CTO of Ixigo, said in light of the company’s decision to work remotely until Dec. 31, it has offered employees assistance in setting up a home office.

“The policy covers items like ergonomic chairs, power backup, good quality headphones, bed tables, laptop stands, monitors, keyboards and wire extensions.”

Other companies have come up with several stress-relieving initiatives.

“We took a hyper-personal approach to ensure that all our employees’ concerns were addressed while leveraging the right technology to ensure that a social connect was maintained despite physical distancing,” said Srikanth Karra, chief human resources officer of Mphasis.

“More than at any time in the past, technology is enacting the role of a bridge-builder in these circumstances, helping create and retain strong relationships with employees, through employee-centric tools such as short surveys, wellness apps, mental health training, work from home wellness tips and … games that proved to be critical enablers in addressing stress and burnout during the remote work regime.”

Ixigo has initiated informal discussions, game Fridays and regular virtual office parties to encourage “comradeship between teams” for a more enhanced remote experience.

The pandemic-enforced work from home model, in many cases, has strengthened employer-employee relationships. While employees have received funds to support uninterrupted work from home, employers have seen lower operational costs and increased productivity and transparency.

About 69 percent of India’s workforce believes they are more productive working from home, and 88 percent favor the flexibility of working from home, according to a study by SAP Concur in July.

A lady performs yoga. Employee health and well-being has become a major concern for Indian employers (Courtesy: Jared Rice/Unsplash.)

Though the transition to remote work was not a smooth one for India’s 4.4 million  IT workforce, seven months into the “new normal,” companies are weighing adopting a hybrid model. Such a model would have only front-line staff in the physical workplace. RPG Enterprises, Flipkart, Essar Group and Indian Hotels Company Ltd. are among those considering the hybrid approach.

Government-run organizations, on the other hand, have moved back to in-office work despite the ongoing increase in Covid-19 cases in the country. In the Unlock 5.0 phase as of Oct 1, offices have been allowed to open at 100 percent strength and most restrictions on movement have been removed.

The Department of Personnel and Training did not respond to Zenger News’ request for comment.

While infrastructure costs have decreased for private organizations, those costs have increased for government, from Rs 5.46 trillion to 6.1 trillion year-over-year. The government plans to spend Rs 20,000 crores ($2.8 million) on its Central Vista redevelopment project, which includes 10 buildings to house all 51 ministries.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judy Isacoff.)

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