Article: Embrace employee well-being as a non-negotiable priority: Shweta Mohanty, VP & Head of HR at SAP in India

Employee Relations

Embrace employee well-being as a non-negotiable priority: Shweta Mohanty, VP & Head of HR at SAP in India

Understanding the significant impact of prioritizing employee well-being is essential for every organization, irrespective of technological progress, says SAP in India's VP and Head of Human Resources.
Embrace employee well-being as a non-negotiable priority: Shweta Mohanty, VP & Head of HR at SAP in India

In a thought-provoking interview, Shweta Mohanty, VP and Head of HR at SAP in India, pointed out that for organizations to adopt a care-plus approach, they must move beyond conventional practices. She stressed the importance of prioritizing collaboration, conducting thorough workplace evaluations, and seamlessly integrating these elements into the employee value proposition.

Here are the edited excerpts:

Q. In your view, how has the recent shift to return-to-office policies impacted the work dynamics at SAP in India, particularly in terms of the work-life balance for employees? Why is there a growing emphasis on organizations prioritizing the holistic well-being of their workforce, esp. in the current landscape?

The ongoing transformative shift is centered around flexibility, a facet that was not a viable option during the pandemic but has now become an integral part of people's lives. The concept is highly personalised, whether viewed as work-life balance or integration. Some individuals, despite working longer hours, effectively manage their personal lives, encompassing health, family time, and social engagements. Conversely, others working fewer hours may grapple with similar aspects.

Work-life integration should be considered a highly individualized topic, not necessarily applicable uniformly across an organization. However, organizations should exhibit support by offering flexibility for employees to adjust their pace or focus on family, learning, or other priorities when needed. The focus should be on providing opportunities for employees to manage their time effectively.

At SAP in India, the emphasis is on hybrid work, allowing employees to balance personal and professional needs. The organization recognizes the importance of social collaboration, understanding that in-person interactions contribute to a healthy work environment. SAP in India firmly believes in a hybrid work format, balancing the benefits of remote work with the importance of social connections and collaboration.

Amid discussions about flexibility and remote work, SAP in India underscores the importance of holistic wellness, a crucial aspect sometimes overlooked in the current discourse. The organization is advocating for a wellness-centric value proposition, acknowledging the significance of caring for employees' overall well-being. SAP in India's mission is to evolve into a CARE-plus organization, elevating care to a central position alongside compensation, career, and culture. 

The organization is leveraging technology to be predictive and proactive in health and wellness. The focus extends beyond reactive support to offering preemptive measures, ensuring employees receive the necessary care and resources before issues arise. SAP in India's commitment to being a CARE-plus organization is evident in its multifaceted approach, addressing physical health, mind-body connection, social well-being, and resilience.

A moment of disconnect can be valuable in mental rejuvenation be it through music, podcasts, or connecting with family and friends. The pandemic underscored the significance of mental health and the need for deliberate practices to foster disconnection, particularly in the hybrid work environment.

Ultimately, SAP in India fosters a culture that values caring for employees, acknowledging that well-being is a multifaceted concept encompassing various aspects of life. The organization's proactive and holistic approach positions it as a CARE-plus organization, prioritizing the fourth "C" of Care alongside Compensation, Career, and Culture.

Q. In your experience, how can leaders contribute to fostering a culture of well-being and care within their organization? What strategies ensure high levels of employee engagement in wellness programs?

Leadership plays a pivotal role, not just in articulating the need for health and wellness but also in modelling the right behaviours within the team. Many leaders at SAP in India integrate mindfulness practices into their routines, starting meetings with a brief mindfulness period to help everyone center themselves and approach discussions with renewed focus. In addition, some leaders actively manage meeting durations, opting for slightly shorter blocks to allow for transitions and mental breaks.

Managers at SAP in India have instilled certain workplace practices, such as meticulous meeting planning. They emphasize the importance of clarifying the meeting's purpose, decision points, and necessary attendees to streamline communication and prevent unnecessary participation. These practices, though not uniformly applied across the organization, have become ingrained in the SAP in India context, contributing to the organization's ethos of being a CARE-plus organization.

Leaders at SAP in India also foster a culture of health and wellness through initiatives like runners' clubs and affinity groups, encouraging team members to participate. The concept of "Focus Fridays" has been introduced to prioritize personal development, learning, and self-care, with managers ensuring minimal meetings on these days.

The leadership team, including figures like Sindhu Gangadharan and Kulmeet Bawa, actively champion initiatives for employee well-being. Their support and commitment to causes related to health and wellness set the tone for the organization, making SAP in India a CARE-plus organization where employees' overall well-being is a top priority.

Q. In transitioning to a more holistic approach, how can organizations measure the success and impact of their well-being programs on employee satisfaction and performance? Can you share some examples at SAP in India of this approach?

We track and measure our employee surveys, conducted twice a year - a comprehensive flagship program covering broader parameters and a shorter survey towards the year's end. In each, the Business Health Index gauges aspects such as work-life balance and overall health to assess our workforce's well-being. Despite a dip during the pandemic, these scores have consistently improved over the past few years.

A source of pride for us is our focus on mental health through Project Yellow Circle. Leveraging technology, we encourage employees to input their daily feelings on iPads at our offices. This real-time data enables us to gauge the collective mood. For instance, if a significant number report feeling low during a particular week, we target employee engagement initiatives accordingly. This data-driven approach provides a quick indicator of our organizational well-being.

We also emphasize physical health with mandatory health checkups covering not just employees but their dependents as well. While we don't access individual data, we gain insights into potential risks, allowing us to proactively support employees at risk of lifestyle diseases. This comprehensive approach ensures our efforts are rooted in data, from surveys to awareness sessions to the mind-body connection focus of Project Yellow Circle.

Constantly checking and improving based on these metrics, our goal is to create an engaged workforce contributing to the best of their health. The impact of these initiatives is visible in the positive trends we observe over time.

Q. Can you share insights into SAP in India's initiatives, including Yellow Circle Conversations and the Employee Assistance Program, and how they contribute to supporting the holistic well-being of employees? Additionally, how do these initiatives align with the broader strategy of building a 'CARE-Plus Organization', and what key learnings from SAP in India's journey might be beneficial for other companies considering a similar shift?

The origin of our flagship program Yellow Circle dates back to last year, post-pandemic, when employees frequently approached us, expressing struggles including, personal, return to work, challenges in learning, and upskilling. While we had an employee assistance program partnering with a global service provider for counselling, we observed that mental well-being remained a taboo topic in the workplace. Many employees associated counselling services with addressing breakdowns, and there was a stigma attached to discussing mental health openly. Despite successful counselling programs offering emotional and psychological support through phone, email, chat, and video, employees were hesitant to reach out, perceiving it as a last resort for mental well-being issues. To break this myth and destigmatize mental health, we introduced an innovative approach — an employee resource group of mental health ambassadors. Over 40 employees volunteered, having personal experiences or connections with mental health challenges, and underwent rigorous training to become mental health first aiders. These ambassadors can recognize signs, address issues, and act as first responders in critical situations, facilitating connections to counselling services if needed. This initiative has successfully destigmatized mental well-being conversations in the workplace. Employees now feel comfortable discussing their feelings with unbiased individuals, fostering open communication. 

Our success metric is not solely based on the number of individuals utilizing these services but rather on providing a supportive option when needed. Since the launch, we've witnessed an average of 10 to 15 conversations monthly, indicating that people have someone to talk to when required. This proactive approach aims to encourage other organizations to prioritize mental wellness. Mental health is a sensitive topic, and proactive intervention is crucial. Destigmatizing mental well-being at the organizational level is the need of the hour. We aspire to change perceptions so that individuals feel comfortable expressing sadness or mental distress and seeking support.

Project Yellow Circle at SAP in India has demonstrated initial success, offering a trusted support system for employees to talk openly about their mental well-being. It complements our broader Care Plus initiatives, including health checkup reports that assess mental wellness. We hope other organizations recognize the opportunity to address mental health proactively, fostering a culture that supports employees' overall well-being.

Q. What are your thoughts on the ongoing debate surrounding menstrual leave in the workplace? How do you perceive the implementation of menstrual leave and its implications for understanding and supporting women in the workplace?

Menstrual leave is an equally important need that our employees should express, just like all the other aspects and needs. This specific leave will only be effective if our employees express a need in addition to our existing self-supportive leave policies. Currently, we operate in a hybrid setup, and if any woman employee feels uncomfortable commuting due to menstrual reasons, they can avail themselves of the work-from-home option on that day. Menstrual issues are no longer taboo in the workplace, and we encourage open conversations. Female employees can inform male managers about their situation and avail themselves of work-from-home. We have sufficient sick leave that they can use during that time. Introducing a separate category for menstrual leave hasn't been suggested by our workforce, particularly our women employees. However, if employees feel the existing leaves or flexibility isn’t sufficient, we may consider it in the future, but it's not a priority at the moment. Our focus is on more urgent health and wellness issues.

We are training leaders to support their team members in taking leave when needed and fostering open communication. We aim to create an environment to support employees in openly discussing these topics. This openness approach stems from our healthy holiday and sick leave policies, where employees don't feel restricted and don't perceive a need for additional leave categories.

Q. As we look ahead, how do you see the role of holistic well-being evolving in the workplace, and what are SAP in India's plans in this regard? Additionally, what advice would you give to other organizations looking to prioritize the holistic well-being of their employees?

Earlier, when you considered employee value propositions, people used to focus on topics such as compensation, career opportunities, and company culture. The crucial elements of care and wellness in employee engagement and retention were not fully recognized, marking a significant paradigm shift in recent years. I encourage organizations, including those in their initial stages or setting up offices, to proactively incorporate these considerations from the outset.

Prospective candidates now inquire about facilities, benefits, and insurance coverage, emphasizing the importance of these aspects. The loss of productivity due to neglecting these elements can be substantial. According to surveys by the World Health Organization, millions of workers—approximately 7.5 to 7.8 million—may miss work due to health-related issues.

While there is widespread discussion about productivity and efficiency, the impact of existing workforce losses due to health issues often goes unnoticed. Organizations tend to focus on the number of hours worked rather than the losses incurred due to health-related absences. It's crucial to shift focus towards the well-being of employees and recognize the transformative journey needed to create a caring organizational culture.

The concept of being a care-plus organization is crucial in this transformative change. Rolling out standard benefit programs and leave policies is no longer sufficient; organizations must stay attuned to the workforce's evolving needs. Mental wellness challenges, particularly among young generations, are significant, and organizations should address them.

The prevailing stereotypes regarding emotions and gender-specific challenges, such as mental wellness issues faced by men, need acknowledgement and resolution. A CARE-plus approach involves looking beyond traditional paradigms, embracing collaboration, evaluating the workplace comprehensively, and making these considerations integral to the organization's value proposition. While technology plays a role, all organizations need to understand the profound impact of prioritizing employee well-being.

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Topics: Employee Relations, Benefits & Rewards, #MentalHealth, #Wellbeing, #HRCommunity

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