Corporations reimagine employee experience with empathy and compassion

Here’s how organisations have been revamping employee engagement initiatives in the pandemic with hybrid work models

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Published: Jun 1, 2021 8:44 AM  | 9 min read
corporates and employee engagement

The overwhelming scenarios created by the new strain of the virus have definitely exasperated fear and stress, majorly with fear of losing loved ones or losing jobs. At the time of unprecedented change and anxiety, motivating employees starts with supporting them – whether that is through technology, added flexibility or deepening connection and collaboration. Employee welfare has been at the epicenter of the situation; be it managing the physical health or mental stress of the employees. 

Many organizations have come up with various announcements to mitigate challenges related to employee engagements and coherently adapting to an enhanced employee culture in the organization. In this new story of the series, we look at such actions/ steps taken by corporations to show their commitment towards their employees.

Deadline versus the Virus: Effective support mechanisms at play

In the past one year, the pandemic has affected lives personally and professionally, however, the second wave of the COVID pandemic has been nothing short of the devastating phase that has left its trail of destruction. Not only has it taken away many near and dear ones within a span of a few weeks, but has also left employees dealing with physical, mental, and professional stress. Sahajanand Medical Technologies (SMT), took cognizance of this early on last year. The leadership along with HR team and regional heads strategized measures to ease professional and personal lives for its employees in these times. Since a lot of sales, marketing, R&D and quality assurance work needed to meet deadlines, Line Managers and HoDs were advised to map employee health and with deadlines. Each morning all HoDs/Business Heads are instructed to take an employee health update – be it the employee as a patient or attendant, check for their wellbeing and then map the work assigned to them so that flexibility and reallocation can be planned. The health firm also took stock of those employees who could fill in for a limited timeframe. 

Amazon feels that the collective strength of Amazon employee community is the key to good employee engagement. Amazon employees have stepped up to help colleagues in need. It began as heartfelt individual offers of assistance and has now turned into a full-fledged cause: a dedicated group of ‘COVID Warriors’ who are reaching out to offer aid and collaborate across the country to support colleagues who require urgent medical help. From helping to find hospital beds, plasma donors, oxygen support, ambulances and isolation centres, to addressing queries on claims, insurance, leave and salary advances, these Warriors are doing everything it takes to help fellow Amazonians and their loved ones. Today, there are 1000 such COVID Warriors across 30 cities, with an aim to expand this initiative to 11 new cities soon.

At Maruti Suzuki, employees share the workload by arranging team meetings at the onset of each day to review the daily tasks at hand. This helps to organize tasks basis priority. Apart from this, in this new work-life scenario, flexibility and adaptability are the keys that help employees reduce their stress. It also believes that establishing a comfortable working relationship with different teams helps them to discuss the projects they are working on. Maruti Suzuki has tried to maintain an open-door policy with its staff so that they feel free to go to the management whenever they are overburdened with work.

In addition, if any employee is not well or gets infected with COVID-19, she/he is allowed to take a 17-days pandemic leave.

Leading with empathy

One of the many by products of the COVID-19 pandemic is mental stress or anxiety exhibited in humans. Its devastating mental conditions have allured institutions as well as employees, on both personal and professional levels. The only remedy to reduce/ mitigate the crisis is by compassionate communication by the leadership. Leading with empathy towards the service of employees has been the basic KRA of a leader in an organisation.

For instance, Maruti Suzuki has set up a 24x7 help desk to address any concerns of employees. The HR team organises virtual sessions to focus on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees with health specialists. In addition to this, the company has provided employees with medical kits with all applicable medicines for COVID-19 positive employees. It has also procured oxygen concentrators and has set up RT-PCR testing camps at plants. It has gone ahead to arrange medical facilities and isolation centres for better treatment and management of Covid-19 patients at the Gurugram office.

Maruti Suzuki has also developed a ‘Wellness Mitra’ application that works in conjunction with the Aarogya Setu App developed by Government. All employees update their health status on the Wellness Mitra app every day. An employee can also seek ‘Emergency Medical Support’ through this app, if required. A similar app has also been developed for Maruti Suzuki’s dealer and vendor partners to cover the entire value chain. The company has also undertaken an initiative - MediMitra. It is an app-based facility to provide free tele or video consultation and tele-medicine services to employees and their family members.

PepsiCo India launched ‘Pep4U program’, under which it has a multi-pronged approach to ensure mental, financial and physical well-being of its employees through - Assessments & awareness, Self-care insights & self-care spaces and Interventions to know and dial up their energy.

Under the program, Pepsico India has organized Art of Living and Meditation by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, an online guided meditation session accessible via links. The session is free for all employees and will maintain confidentiality, well-being sessions with health providers, 1:1 Coaching sessions with psychologists to help manage the grief, stress and anxiety.  The company has also facilitated training and sensitization for managers to ensure as a corporate, it leads with empathy and compassion.

Other initiatives include COVID Care Webinar series with healthcare provider partner for patients and caregivers, no meeting guidelines and flexibility in working hours for “me time”; Ongoing listening surveys like ‘Take Care’, 360 feedback along with Org Health surveys to understand employee sentiments, launched a resilience-building app called meQuilibrium to help support the employees dealing with stress, 14 days COVID Leaves for Self & as a Caregiver in addition to medical leave and flexibility of salary advances for medical emergency support.

Amazon’s communications team has been a part of multiple initiatives and efforts, especially keeping in mind Amazon’s large employee base of over one lakh in India. The company remains focused on ensuring the teams' well-being, emphasizing on what’s urgent and immediately needed, prioritisation of work and goals and ensuring teams have the necessary time needed for their own and families’ well-being. Teams are encouraged to decide what are the most urgent and important tasks they have to carry out immediately, and which are the goals that can be deferred. There is also a heightened sense of empathy across the team. Teams are encouraged to have candid conversations with their managers and peers and reach out for support. The overall effort towards employee support by Amazon has also played a significant role in reassuring the team about how the company is looking after employees, making multiple resources available to them.

Given the stress caused by the pandemic, and the devastation particularly this second wave was having, at SMT, the leadership had instructed HoDs, Managers and team leads to take it easy, not putting additional burden on anybody. Employees have been asked to work as much as they can without undue stress. The news of pandemic spreading, or someone’s family member getting positive was overwhelming for employees. So, the company informally did away with the targets because it is just not right to worry about all that when people are fighting for their lives. Work continues but the focus has shifted to keeping the employees sane and healthy. Special Mental Health and Yoga sessions were also kept so that employees could beat stress. 

A sustainable work culture 

As we are moving towards amended world order, it is imperative to say that a revamped employee culture needs to be established in every organization for a better work atmosphere. A culture that is more sustainable, forward looking and acceptable in approach is the need of the hour. Rudimentary and older ways of addressing employees would become redundant in the years to come. 

Amazon has always enabled a connected working environment, powered by technology. And today, more than ever, it has scaled its mechanisms for maximising the productivity of teams while working remotely. Multiple tools and platforms for virtual meetings, project collaborations, information wikis, etc are enabling employees to communicate, organize and collaborate seamlessly and effectively. Further, simple things like no-meeting day help employees stay focused and close on their tasks, without any disruptions.

In these unprecedented times, Maruti Suzuki as an organization has tried to go the extra mile in helping colleagues balance their work lives. To ensure a sustainable work culture is followed, it organises several virtual sessions conducted by specialists to help employees with various aspects that can help them to cope with the pandemic. Along with this, there have been discussions about how spiritual wisdom can help counter COVID-19, relieve stress and anxiety, build immunity through yoga, effective parenting, and managing children, among others. 

At SMT, in addition to counselling sessions, a dedicated employee has been appointed who can act as the single point of contact for those stressed out and those in need of medical assistance. This was a kind of “Flu Manager” who could provide information and logistical support to employees impacted by COVID. Since, SMT has regional offices also, regional heads filled up to that role. This network helped significantly reduce stress and anxiety given the scarce resources during the second wave.

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