Mental Health Day 2021: What Tech Leaders Are Saying?
The challenges and trauma associated with Covid-19 have put mental health front-and-center for employers like never before. According to research, 42% of global employees have experienced a decline in mental health since the pandemic began. Mental health no doubt has proved a hot topic across the tech sector, with research conducted by Harvey Nash earlier this year revealing that concerns among tech workers increased by 75% during the pandemic. Symptoms of burnout are also increasing among employees and leaders alike.
Good news is that addressing mental health and well-being in the workplace can truly make a difference to an individual and the collective workforce – helping them determine how to handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Moreover, there is strong evidence that workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive.
However, there’s still a long way to go! That’s an obvious reason why World Mental Health Day is celebrated every year on October 10. First recognized by the World Federation for Mental Health in 1992, it aims to raise awareness about the importance of mental health and wellbeing, and advocate against social stigma around the subject.
With this in mind, we take a look at how tech companies have been dealing with the matter of mental health, and the challenges that they are looking to overcome.
“At Accenture, we believe that mental wellbeing is critical to one’s overall wellbeing and has been a big focus for us, for some years now. We have been running extensive internal campaigns to create an environment where our people feel comfortable about having open and honest conversations about mental health. We have a dedicated mental wellness portal where we share advice on developing mental resilience.
On our internal social media platform, our people share their own stories and self-hack so that others may benefit from them. Since the onset of the pandemic in India, we have amplified our focus on helping our people and their families adapt and thrive in the disrupted environment through programs and tools focused on self-care and building resilience. In the last 18 months, we have had a number of eminent global and national experts conduct virtual ‘Ask Away’ sessions for our people on building mental resilience, staying happy, healthy and coping with the stress resulting from social isolation.
Through our leaders and people managers, we have mainstreamed mental health conversations, raised awareness on mental health topics, and created a circle of trust and psychological safety so that our people can reach out and ask for help or say “I’m not okay”.
Earlier this year, we upgraded our medical insurance policy to include mental health consultancy reimbursements for dependent family members as well. Advocacy plays a key role in driving positive change and we have developed a voluntary network of more than 1600 mental health advocates who regularly reach out to their colleagues so that everyone can have a colleague who is ready to listen and discuss mental health issues, and we can proactively provide support where needed. We are also adopting innovative ways to engage our people on an otherwise serious topic like mental wellness –recently, we had a famous stand-up comedian and a leading psychiatrist team up to conduct a virtual session for our people to raise awareness about mental health issues in the lightest possible way.” – Lakshmi C, Managing Director and Lead – Human Resources, Accenture in India.
“At Walmart Global Tech India, we have had a holistic focus on the wellbeing of our associates even prior to the pandemic – across physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Our programs reflect the voice of our associates captured through focus group discussions, a survey on the impact of working virtually, and tracking specific feedback for each program. We are providing differentiated experiences for a variety of associate personas, as we believe each person has unique challenges. We have also leveraged technology to reach out at scale and ensure a wider range of personalized options. Now that organizations and people have had a taste of the many benefits of tech-enabled focus on mental wellbeing, I see the adoption increasing substantially over the next few years.”
We have seen a fantastic response from our associates in availing our wellbeing programs. Some of these include access to Happy Minds, our Associate Assistance Program providing confidential and unlimited counselling services for associates and their families. Additionally, they have access to globally renowned wellness app Thrive, webinars and podcasts on related topics with industry experts, self-paced e-learning modules on mental health and even improve theater workshops! What has truly made a difference is our leadership reinforcing the message and encouraging teams to take initiatives to protect personal time, for example blocking out lunch hour or creating Zoom free time zones, and taking personal time off for physical and mental wellbeing. – Sudeep Ralhan, vice-president of people, Walmart Global Tech India
“Health is usually described as a state of being free from illness and injury, but we have really grown to understand mental health as much more than that. Life comes with its ups and downs, but for me having good mental health is a state of having an inner emotional and spiritual balance which enables one to solve for whatever situation arises. This pandemic has brought tremendous challenges for individuals globally. At the same time, for organizations, it has created opportunities for introspection on ensuring we take care of our people with a heightened sense of compassion. Providing optionality to our team members as they navigate this pandemic was an important core value for us. We always provided external resources for folks to reach out to if they needed to speak with someone about a personal situation which was causing anxiety or stress. At Nutanix, ‘Heart’ is one of our four core values because we understand the power of kindness and empathy, and know that this is what helps people feel safe enough to bring their whole selves to work.
The success of remote and hybrid models of work has definitely been an eye-opener for many organizations. Nutanix has used an employee-centric model of working since its inception, with many permanent employees working remotely even pre-pandemic. If productivity and innovation are the keys to success, then creating flexible work processes that really benefit the employee and teams should remain the goal going forward. Thankfully, there’s a host of collaboration tools and technology solutions available today (including cloud, virtual desktop infrastructure etc.) to help foster this in an effective way. In the future, trust and empathy will continue to play a big part in fostering mental wellbeing at work, and making mental health a part of company conversations outside of the human resources office is a good step in cementing it as part of the company culture.” – Sankalp Saxena, SVP and MD-Operations, India, Nutanix
“A good balance between the employees’ abilities against their tasks and responsibilities is the key to mental health at workplace. Once this balance is lost, it leads to a negative working environment that causes mental, even physical health problems. This can also lead to ‘learned helplessness,’ a condition where individuals experience stressful situations repeatedly. They come to believe that they have no control over what happens to them. As a result, they begin to feel and act as if they are helpless. This is a growing trend in today’s workplace, with employees being stuck in the uncertainty of the pandemic.
Organizations must encourage employees to examine their emotions and share how they are feeling at work. A workplace culture where conversations about personal challenges are encouraged is also important. On the mental health day, organizations need to make it a priority to understand the opportunities and needs of every employee and develop better policies for workplace mental health.” – Katarzyna Kern, Global Head of HR, ANSR
This pandemic has turned the spotlight towards mental health bringing it to the fore. Many lessons are to be learnt from the last one and half years. Creating a space of psychological safety and open environment where employees feel safe to discuss the mental health issues affecting their lives is immensely critical. Every interaction with employees (Townhalls, video messages, team meetings, newsletters) is becoming more important than ever. In fact, letting them share their own experiences will reinforce the importance of seeking care at the right time and help reduce stigmas around it.
Companies should encourage the work life harmony through regular Employee assistance programs (EAP), counselling and proper leave policy, conversations around employee mental health should continue even after the COVID-19 crisis. The benefits of addressing the whole deep and complex subject of mental health have also proven its value and results. Therefore, companies should ensure that all the systems, tools, processes, ideologies, behaviors and actions that have been put in pace should continue. Mental health should now start and continue be one of the key things that the leadership team members are also measured on when it comes to good leadership traits – the ability to create an environment that is psychologically safe, stress free, transparent and one that has empowerment. – Sahil Mathur, CHRO, InMobi Group
“There could be various ways one could interpret Mental Health. The simplest statement that I can think is that mental health relates to our emotional and psychological well-being, and could impact the way we feel and act. Perhaps it is do with conduct, becoming of zen-like!
Mental Health has always been important in our professional and personal lives – where things are changing is the appreciation one has for the early symptoms and the readiness to seek help early-on. The pandemic has only restated the obvious – we are all not wired similarly. There lies the complexity and the beginning of potential solutions – one size doesn’t fit all, and it is imperative that as a person and a corporate citizen, it is essential for me to be more empathetic to people and their concerns and bring gratitude and care as essential parts of my leader toolkit. We all have work-front pressures, but the 3Cs – i.e. Care, Concern, and Conversations provide a foam-bed for us to take a moment and give serious thought to finding solutions to deal with challenges. We must realize that happy employees form the soul of the organization, and assuring #mentalhealthawareness is key to growing together. The fact lies in co-existing in a manner where the employee-employer relationship doesn’t feel superficial, but rather more solid and long-lasting in effect.” – Arun Dinakar Rao, Chief People Officer, Birlasoft
“Workplace technology and corporate culture are intertwined, and their impact on employee mental health and wellbeing continues to evolve. We, as an organization, have always been mindful of the mental well-being of our employees. Therefore, we have launched a slew of initiatives to leverage technology towards advancing mental health and wellbeing. Our 24/7 employee assistance provides counseling and aid to employees, and HR chatbots automate responses to queries, leading to faster issue resolutions. Additionally, we have been conducting virtual mindfulness sessions and digital detox (digital quarantine) to enable employees to find the right balance amid their hectic schedules.
We believe that while the organization could march ahead with lots of accomplishments and milestones, the health and wellbeing of the employees are vital. Technology alone does not help as it cannot replicate the human touch and reassurance, it is important to provide the experience. Sometimes, a simple pat on the back can be good enough to alleviate stress and anxiety.
During times of uncertainty, it is crucial to lead with empathy. CSS Corp tracks the health status of employees constantly. Since the onset of the pandemic, I have personally spoken with more than 90% of the Covid-affected employees. This conveyed the support and reassurance to the employees in a direct personal way apart from ensuring a thorough understanding of the ground-level challenges they face. We also aim to proactively neutralize burnout, anxiety, stress, and the problems that emerge from working virtually over an extended time,” – Satyanarayanan Visvanathan, SVP and Head – HR (Global) and Head of Corporate Quality, CSS Corp
“As businesses in India debate the relative merits of continuing remote work or returning to the office, what’s apparent is that employee wellness remains an imperative. At a time when digital burnout is a real concern, it’s necessary for business leaders to pay particular attention to the holistic wellbeing of employees. Since the onset of the crisis the need to be in tune with employee wellbeing needs and pivot towards support mechanisms has been more pronounced than ever. At Zendesk, for example, we offer employees mental health support through apps like Calm and personalized care through Modern Health. This is supplemented by initiatives like ‘Recharge Fridays’ where employees are given Fridays off to unwind and accommodate work-life balance in the new paradigm.
One of the particular characteristics of this prolonged state of crisis is that its impact on individuals can be very varied. This is why organisations need to be careful not to adopt a uniform approach to supporting employee wellbeing. Rather, it’s important that the organization understands the range of challenges employees are facing, establishing channels for these to be heard, understood and effectively addressed. Taking into account the unique and protracted nature of the current situation, it’s important for companies to foster a culture of empathy and ensure psychological safety at work,” – KT Prasad, MD & RVP, India and SAARC, Zendesk.
“At ThoughtWorks, we have an ongoing commitment to educating, raising awareness and advocating against the social stigma related to mental health. We will continue to build a culture and environment where it’s safe to speak up about mental health and wellbeing, and safe to ask for help when we need it.
Recognizing the significance of that statement – since the pandemic struck, ThoughtWorks has proactively acknowledged the growing fear, uncertainty and loss. We have offered employees augmented support, and through it have realized support needs to be customized to individuals’ personal contexts and the role they play at the organization, and in their personal capacity. For instance, we are empowering managers to lead with compassion and empathy.
We are helping teams sustain their interpersonal; albeit virtual connect, with trust through consistent engagement. To be understanding and decisively ‘do with compassion’, ThoughtWorks has launched several office initiatives specifically designed for employees to embrace openness and safely discuss issues around mental health.” – Tina Vinod, Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Thoughtworks
“We believe the important of mental health was, is & will remain prime before, during or after pandemic. We human cannot functional fully & properly without a sound mental state, be it in personal space or in workplace. Considering the fact the employees spend a considerable time with colleagues and on work, it is imperative for the organizations to support & promote mental health. Regular dialogues, conversation and communications are the key. Organizations must provide a conducive environment where employees feel free to express their concerns and seek help at right time. Promote awareness on importance of mental health through various ways like coaching, seminars, townhalls, trainings, one-to-one conversations and break the stigma around mental health by incorporating element ‘mental health’ in all aspects of the business.
Every organization should create, promote and maintain various open & confidential channels like counseling, mentoring that help employees approach the right forum for their concern at the right time without feeling of fear, shame or hesitation. Fortunately, we, as an organization, have always stressed upon the importance of mental health and have been able to implement some of the above mentioned programs & initiatives. These initiatives have helped multiple employees during the pandemic and before that too and proved to be life-saving as well in some cases.” – Shefali Mohapatra, Chief People Officer, Atria Convergence Technologies
“Over the last few years, emotional well-being and mental health have been key areas of focus in organizations and this was accelerated by the onset of the pandemic as lines between work and home became blurry. Organizations are radically rethinking every aspect of well-being through various support measures while staying connected with their employees as the pandemic retreats and the hybrid work environment sets in.
“Our wellness programs are part of our benefit offerings, and so understanding how our employees think, feel and act while on the job has always been an integral part of our Intuit culture. Some of our enhanced offerings like Well-Minds, Well-being for Life Program, Employee Assistance Program and Mindfulness During Covid-19 and beyond are strong examples of how our employees are benefiting from 1000+ self-paced tools, professional support and guidance, and annual reimbursement to cover well-being expenses.
“Although increased use of technology has put employees in sync with their teams and strengthened internal collaboration, it has disturbed work-life balance owing to indefinite on-screen time. Organizations embracing hybrid work will see visible changes in their employees’ morale and productivity.” – Jharna Thammaiah K, Director and India Site People & Places Leader, Intuit
“Adapting to the new normal has been a challenge for employees in trying to create an ideal work-life balance. Companies are recognizing this and adopting measures to curb the psychological and emotional impact of this on their workforce. Businesses need to create an open culture by encouraging conversations across levels on new and emerging challenges, the toll it takes on individuals mentally, and how to address them.
On this World Mental Health Day, it is crucial that we work together to highlight the importance of mental health and to do away with the many taboos associated with it. At AFour Technologies we have a large and distributed workforce of over 350 employees. The mental and emotional well-being of members has always been a focus and we have implemented various initiatives to keep our employees engaged in a positive and vibrant work culture,” – Mahesh Kulkarni, MD & Co-Founder, AFour Technologies.
“There is so much uncertainty and so much risk around practically everything. The lockdown extensions and stay-at-home has put everyone on an emotional rollercoaster. With socializing being discouraged as the need of the hour, the number of cases related to anxiety and depression has gone up. It is about time we accepted this reality and addressed this issue on the work front by ameliorating the mental health support services provided by organizations towards the betterment of the mental health of their employees.
We need to challenge the stigma attached to mental health. Creating a community and a healthy workplace will not only enable everyone to thrive individually but also increase overall productivity. With the retail workers being hit hard financially and emotionally, it is vital for the sector to take the lead in driving everyone out of this crisis and build hope for them. The country now needs an economic impetus to drive consumption but also a sentiment and feel good impetus,” – Prem Kumar, Founder & CEO, Snapbizz.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on our lives. Many of us are facing challenges that can be stressful, overwhelming, and cause strong emotions. Public health actions, such as social distancing and remote working are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but they can make us feel isolated and lonely leading to anxiety issues. Learning to cope with stress in a healthy way will make us, and those around us become more resilient. Let’s also acknowledge the importance of discussing mental health openly in workplaces. The phenomenon of always-on-work, particularly in the tech sector, has put a lot of strain on the employees.
As offices choose to open with flexible workplaces there is a need to look at mental health more holistically. Offices need to build trust with employees by ensuring healthy indoor air quality and comfortable workspaces. I believe, in today’s time, making mental wellness a priority is of utmost importance for everyone to flourish in their roles and reach their highest potential.” – Gaurav Burman, VP & APAC President, 75F India.
“The topic of mental health continues to be important now more than ever with a large chunk of the world’s population being affected in one way or another. Though acceptance of seeking mental help is at an all time high, there are still those who unfortunately have to deal with it silently. This will come to an end only when it is realized that mental health is as important, if not more important than physical health.
The Real Estate Industry is extremely fast-paced. Agents tend to have long work hours to meet demanding deadlines. With this slowing down during the pandemic, we are reminded to take a step back and look at our general hygiene, but also to do the same thing to our mental health. Thanks to this approach, a number of initiatives are being implemented to raise awareness of mental health. But what is most needed is a collective effort to make a difference. We all have a responsibility to drive positive change and how we approach mental health,” – Shashank Vashishtha, Executive Director, eXp India
“Businesses all over the world are grappling with the phenomenon that is termed the great resignation. One of the reasons attributed to this is the mental fatigue faced by employees in adapting to the new normal. On this world mental health day it is crucial to bring the conversation about mental health to the forefront. Businesses need to introduce strategies to raise mental health awareness across the board, promote healthy emotional well being and to create an environment that motivates and uplifts employees. As a remote-first company with distributed teams across four continents, prioritizing employees and their wellbeing has always been at the center of our journey.
We emphasize work-life balance and try our best to align our team members with work that creates positive energy both in their personal and professional life. We create clear goals and open up the pathway between management and teams with weekly check-ins to ensure this balance is maintained. We strive to create a healthy work environment which neutralizes burnout, stress, anxiety and other problems that are part of a fast paced industry,” – Mark Milastsivy, Founder & CEO, FirstBase.io
“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been increased discussion around the importance of mental well-being for individuals, especially considering the repeated lockdowns and prolonged work-from-home policies. The need of the hour is to break the stigma associated with mental well-being and mental health and to address it like any other healthcare issue associated with the human body. At Ennoventure, empathy is at the core of employee relationships. We practice a culture of openness where employees are encouraged to communicate their concerns, paving the way to identifying and providing personalised need-based well-being solutions. Today, we believe such an approach coupled with flexi working culture would help in fighting out work related burnouts, provide a work-life balance and help one recharge mentally.” – Padmakumar Nair, CEO & Co-Founder, Ennoventure