Article: Rethinking work and wellness for the workforce of the future

Employee Relations

Rethinking work and wellness for the workforce of the future

Employee wellbeing needs to be at the core of any workplace discussion around policies, procedures and practices, and this focus on well being needs to cascade from the top.
Rethinking work and wellness for the workforce of the future

Over the years, the notion of the “workplace” as the place where work gets done has come under challenge. An employed individual typically spends over 8 to 10 hours a day at work, whether on premise or remotely, and if we consider the time someone spends thinking about a work problem or a solution to a challenge, the actual figure may be higher. As per the National Sample Sample Survey Office (NSSO)'s first periodic labour force survey (PLFS), the average working hours for people in India were among the highest globally. If we look at the employment figures – according to NASSCOM, as of March 2021, the Indian IT-BPM sector alone employed over 4.5 million people – we gain a perspective on the number of hours millions of people in India spend at their workplaces. 

Given this, the role of organisations and of the workplace in aiding health and wellness – physical and mental – is only becoming more important. Clearly, this is as much of an opportunity as it is a responsibility. Consider this:

  • The proportion of time spent on work and with colleagues is becoming disproportionately high, as compared to time spent with friends and family.
  • Stress and mental disorders are on the rise, with the WHO estimating that 7.5% Indians suffer from some mental disorder.  
  • Numerous studies have shown how being valued and respected at work is a key part of feeling that one “belongs” and this in itself fosters a sense of wellbeing.

We have long been accustomed to thinking about profit maximisation as the primary goal of corporations. Which is why it is interesting that at a roundtable held two years back, a group of America’s most powerful Chief Executives said that we need to abandon the idea that companies must maximise profits for shareholders above all else. Instead, they stressed that business leaders should commit to balancing the needs of shareholders with those of customers, employees, suppliers and local communities. 

Staying true to this purpose

Organisations – whether for profit or not – need to be efficient to derive the best benefits from capital and resources. Having said that, our employees are probably our most critical resource and any efforts to get them to deliver their best leads to superior business outcomes. If nothing else, doing the right thing, by getting our people to feel we value them and are ready to empower them, can also be the most effective way to deliver on outcomes expected of us by all our stakeholders. Empowering our people includes giving them the tools to do their jobs, ensuring a workplace where they are free to air their views, and setting deadlines and expectations that are reasonable and fair yet also challenging. This may seem like a small ask, but it’s worth introspecting on how often this basic requirement is overlooked. At the very least, our people need to feel that we care about their success, and that we are committed to doing what it takes to make that happen.

This also means that employee wellbeing needs to be at the core of any workplace discussion around policies, procedures and practices, and this focus on wellbeing needs to cascade from the top. Mental wellness needs to be prioritised on par with physical wellness and reflected in workplace practices.

Critical role of organisational culture

A diverse, inclusive workplace is inherently a much more open one, creating long-term value. It is also vital to create a workplace that encourages employees to be their authentic selves and one where they feel free to express themselves. It should be okay to stumble. And okay if a job is not done perfectly – one cannot deliver perfection at all times and that too at the cost of one’s mental wellbeing. That is the assurance our people sometimes need. These simple steps along with giving a safe space can go a long way in fostering a culture of trust and transparency.

An employee-friendly culture also enthusiastically celebrates those who try, those who may not excel but do make a sincere effort. Setbacks and failures are a part and parcel of our lives, including the workplace, and a supportive workplace allows its people to navigate these troughs and crests without feeling dismayed.

Recent interactions with some of my younger colleagues have made it quite evident that their priorities are changing. Today’s employees are increasingly seeking deeper meaning from their work. In addition to metrics and analytics, they want to understand our purpose and how we are contributing to larger issues facing the world today. When we can help our people align their own purpose with that of the organisation’s’, it creates a sense of trust and a feeling of wellbeing. Trust in one’s organisation and its leaders is a core element of an individual’s sense of wellbeing. 

Our young workforce wants to be associated with brands that are employee centric and have a clear societal and sustainability agenda embedded in their strategy. 

The role of empathy

During the pandemic, most workplaces demonstrated deep empathy and were proactive in understanding and responding to the needs of their people. In fact, according to one of the recent reports, 91% of Indian CEOs said that their response to the crisis took into account the physical and emotional needs of their employees. Addressing the anxieties of their people, keeping their morale high and transparent communication were the top priorities for most businesses during the pandemic. A lot of employee engagement initiatives centred around mental and physical wellbeing were instituted such that the employer and employees together navigated the crisis and emerged stronger. We should ensure that the emphasis on these initiatives is here to stay. While we all recognise the importance of a performance-focused culture or recognising outstanding contributions, it’s also important to celebrate a wider set of contributions and respect everyone for who they are and what they bring to the table.

Fostering one’s own mental wellness

While the organisation has a huge responsibility when it comes to wellness, employees also need to be proactive about making optimal use of the initiatives, facilities and opportunities available to them. After all, any investment, be it of money, time or effort, is only worth the value derived from it 

It is also important to recognise that mental and physical wellness go hand in hand. For instance, mindful, clean eating and exercise are extremely important, and very closely linked to mental wellbeing. Effective time and stress management are equally crucial, and hence the growing buzz around reducing digital screen time. A “grateful mindset” can bring about a powerful shift in perspective. – in fact, a counsellor who conducted a session on wellbeing for us recommended maintaining a gratitude journal. Other steps can help too –  even ten minutes of deep breathing or meditation can have a profound impact on one’s well being. As the saying goes, health is a state of body, and wellness is a state of being. 

As we grow older, we tend to lose touch with the simple things that used to bring us so much pleasure. Rediscovering an old hobby can be one way of finding balance, and carving out time to catch up with old friends can be more rejuvenating than we think. At the same time, it is important to retain one’s passion for new experiences and learning new things. This keeps our mind agile, and not all skilling has to be work related!

Even as we pursue our dreams and aspire as a society and economy to grow and build a strong future for ourselves and our loved ones, let’s commit to mental wellness as a critical foundation for our individual and collective future.

Stay attuned to a rapidly-evolving space of people and work. Join the People Matters Total Rewards and Wellness Conference 2021 to brainstorm on Great Connection- a new rewards template for the new normal that aligns business & employee expectations.

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Topics: Employee Relations, #GuestArticle, #WellbeingByDesign, #PMTRWC

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