PR industry leads by example in ensuring employee welfare

From organising virtual team lunches to appreciating a job well done, here's how the industry offered a masterclass in putting their employees first during the lockdown

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Updated: Jun 12, 2020 9:10 AM
work from home

In a time of unprecedented change and anxiety, motivating employees starts with supporting them – whether that is through technology, added flexibility or deepening connection and collaboration.  The PR fraternity was quick to respond to the quarantined way of living, by adapting to work-from-home during the early months of the pandemic.

Employee welfare has been at the epicentre of the situation along with managing the mental stress of the employees. With individuals restricted within the four walls of their homes, mental health has taken a severe hit. According to the Rebooting 2020: A Story of COVID-19 and Shifting Perceptions survey by reputation management advisory, The Mavericks India, 61% Indians are experiencing mental health-related issues due to the lockdown, uncertainty, and looming financial crisis. Let’s take a look at how different PR agencies have been keeping their employees motivating and helping them in have a work-life balance.

Balancing the WFH life: the SPAG way!  

Shivani Gupta – Managing Director at SPAG informed, “At SPAG, we began working from home in mid-March and it came with its challenges. Many of our employees underwent a change in their emotional and physical well-being. Being in the profession of communicating and networking, it is often difficult to restrict ourselves to zero social interaction. However, over the last few weeks, we have taken some steps towards ensuring our employees don’t feel pressured in this new environment. “

She added, “Team lunches, activities like a fitness challenge, singing challenge, online training webinars are some of the steps taken by SPAG. “

“It is important to take out at least 10 minutes in your day to simply pause and reflect. We forget amid keeping up with technology and work to take a step back for ourselves. Therefore, we encourage our team to take breaks between work to breathe”, further added Gupta. 

Adding the X-factor: Adfactors PR

Samir Kapur, Director, Adfactors PR said, “We have undertaken several measures to boost our employees’ morale, such as the launching of several flexible learning modules and interesting workshops that employees can partake at their own pace and convenience while working from home. We keep organizing fun games, like dumb charades and quizzes, digital campaigns over video conferences.” He added, “The management and the HR department regularly interact with each and every employee from time to time so as to let them know that we care. We urge our employees to catch up on their lost hobbies and interests, spend quality time with family, and try out new things.”

Kapur acknowledged the role of senior leadership by adding, “Demonstrating exemplary leadership since the lockdown started, senior leadership have been communicating often and calmly, acknowledging the crisis at hand and telling what employees should know, feel and do, staying true to our core organizational values of inclusivity, humaneness and care. They have been interacting with employees and other stakeholders for over 12 hours a day seeking feedback and also making an all-important arrangement such as travelling back to home town (before the lockdown was announced), cleanliness, working from home, machines and tools, etc are available on easily accessible platforms." 

Waxing through the crisis: Weber Shandwick

Nikhil Dey, Vice-Chair - Weber Shandwick India, mentioned about “We Stand Together” initiative. He informed, “To keep the community connected across our APAC region, we introduced an initiative called 'We Stand Together', in which colleagues from around the region host learning sessions based on their hobbies - such as a group virtual workouts or yoga sessions, photography classes, or tutorials on how to be a DJ. These meetings go a long way to foster an ongoing sense of community.”

He added, “More locally, we also run a program called #ReadyToRise, which is a series of skill-based training, to ensure our people have all the resources to continue to stay ahead of the game. “

For ensuring the mental health of its employees, Weber Shandwick has provided access to Mindhouse- a mobile application that includes free meditation, yoga classes and more – to all their colleagues in India. Dey also said, “We have ensured that all our team members have access to professional counsellors should they feel the need. Our Employee Assistance Program is available to all employees and their family members for any emotional and practical support.”

For ensuring the interests of employees, the agency continues to work remotely to ensure the #StayHomeStaySafe message is not just promoted but also followed in practice. “As a firm, we invited our colleagues around the world to take part in a survey to share opinions on remote work and returning to the office, which is being used to inform plans on the office level.  The leadership team has also started to conduct online learning sessions for everyone across levels to ensure they are future-ready. Changes in the media industry, measurement and analytics tools, enhancing client experience were some of the topics covered. Our internal ‘WeSolve’ initiative is part of the regional Learning and Development calendar. The sessions are more skill-based, where best practices and relevant industry trends are shared”, added Dey. 

Restructuring WFH: Ruder Finn Asia

Atul Sharma, Managing Director India at Ruder Finn Asia informed, "We were amongst the first few agencies that decided to operationalize Work From Home (WFH), a week prior to the official lockdown.” He added, “To us, our employees’ safety is of utmost importance. Throughout the lockdown, we have refined our internal communication mechanisms to open all channels of communications. We have created a core team, that assesses our WFH policies on a weekly basis, filling in the gaps as and when needed. Apart from that, in an effort to replicate the real work scenario, we’re switched our monthly townhalls for bi-weekly informal gatherings, that are a healthy mix of catch-ups as well as fun activities. We’ve introduced e-learning and fitness series that have received rave reviews from RFers and we intend to keep them going."

Sharma also mentioned about encouraging his employees to utilize their leaves for some ‘Me Time.' “Given the current scenario of living with COVID, we’re leaving no stone unturned to ensure that every employee of Ruder Finn is firstly safe, healthy and happy”, added the MD. 

Prioritising People: PR Pundit

Archana Jain, Managing Director & CEO at PR Pundit acknowledged the importance of her people.  She said, “We have been maintaining active and open lines of communications with all team member to keep them motivated while working at home. Instead of audio calls to discuss routine work, we are encouraging video discussions, so as to emulate a similar ecosystem as if in office. In-house training by senior team members, developmental discussions, brainstorming sessions, weekly fun huddles that bring together employees virtually is being pursued actively.”

On managing the mental health of employees, Jain responded, “As a company, we have always practised an open-door policy for all employees. Our Leadership and HR team are in active communications with all our employees. We have been continually monitoring duress faced by any team member especially those who have been living alone in the lockdown.” 

Maintaining Communication Flow: Media Mantra

 Pooja Pathak, Managing Director, Media Mantra informed, “In order to motivate our employees, we have been conducting webinars led by industry veterans and also doing in-house webinars with team members in order to keep their spirits up.”

For ensuring mental health, Pathak stressed upon keeping in touch with the team and maintaining the communication flow with them. She added, “Discussion makes one feel that we are in this together. Appreciation mails are sent to team members in order to recognise their effort along with continuing WFH option across all branches.” 

Value Employee Well-being: Value 360 Communications

Manisha Chaudhary, Founder & Director at Value 360 Communications, explained how the agency has worked towards keeping its employees motivated and helping them adapt to the new normal. She said, “Through virtual connectivity tools, we started using ‘Workplace’—an enterprise connectivity platform, actively to work collaboratively with each other just like a normal business and to ensure real-time communication among the teams for seamless business operations.”

She added, “Teams were encouraged to share best practices and case studies virtually. We also introduced a productivity management software and employees with high ranking were sent appreciation mails, thanking them for their efforts in these turbulent times."  The agency had weekly fun activities planned wherein employees shared their Best COVID Moments, a glimpse of their new workstations at home, pictures with their mothers on Mother’s day, a surprise video for Value 360 Mommies featuring a message from their kid(s) and more.

On tackling the mental health of employees, Chaudhary informed different ‘Employee Engagement initiatives’ taken by the agency. She added, “We collaborated with various industry experts and health advisors to run awareness sessions for our employees and their family members.”

“In addition, employees were encouraged to take leaves and unwind, which helped them stay in a good state of mental and emotional health. Besides this, we also conducted regular Town Halls for leadership interactions and business updates to reassure our employees of their continued employment and better prospects in future once these trying times are over”, added Chaudhary.

Public Relations Consultant Association of India (PRCAI)

Nitin Mantri, President, Public Relations Consultant Association of India (PRCAI) commented, “The PR industry is relatively young and the PRCAI understands that working from home can be challenging for many. We have introduced several programmes including enlisting volunteers for counselling, running campaigns like #SupportEachOther and also several engagement sessions with mental health specialists. Several of our member PR firms have also introduced support programmes for their staff. Around 50 in-house corporate communications professionals have also joined the #SupportEachOther campaign and sharing their tips and suggestions besides sharing their experience. While challenges remain, PRCAI will continue to support the workforce in the industry to get through this tough time by regularly engaging with them through various initiatives."

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