Article: The future rests on healthy minds: MD, International SOS India

Talent Management

The future rests on healthy minds: MD, International SOS India

Neeraj Balani, Managing Director for International SOS, India talks about the focus on mental health amid a return to the workplace, top three employer brand essentials for today’s workforce and charting an EVP for the new world of work.
The future rests on healthy minds: MD, International SOS India

Neeraj Balani is Managing Director for International SOS, India since 2018. 

Neeraj has over 20 years of experience in Business Management and Sales Management and has worked in India and USA. Prior to working with International SOS, Neeraj was the Vice President for Sales, Solution Design and implementation in Mahindra Logistics Limited (MAHLOG) where he was instrumental in driving the organisation transformation across the above functions which delivered a consistent yearly revenue growth of over 35% since 2015. 

Neeraj also was the Vice President & Global Sales Officer (GSO) (India & Middle East) with Capgemini, where he was instrumental in setting up the sales function of the Local Business Unit in India. Neeraj has worked with HCL Technologies during 2006 – 2008, where he headed IT sales for HCLT’s India business. He was responsible for driving ERP business across Government and Corporate customers. He played a leadership role in combining HCLT’s offering in the India market, across Application and Infrastructure.

A Chemical Engineer from University of Mumbai, Neeraj completed his MBA in Finance & Operations, from University of Georgia, USA, and is now based out of Mumbai.

In this exclusive interview, Neeraj talks about the focus on mental health amid a return to the workplace, top three employer brand essentials for today’s workforce and charting an EVP for the new world of work.

How has the corporate landscape evolved in the past two years when it comes to mental health outlook?

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create challenges for organisations, mental health issues are predicted to be the biggest employee disruptor in 2022, escalating absenteeism and continuity issues.

The impact on individuals – employees and their dependents, communities and healthcare systems presents an opportunity for organisations to proactively support their people’s mental health and well-being. Mental health conditions among corporate employees were already prevalent pre-2020. The pandemic has only aggravated the problem further with many employees dealing with health anxiety including that of dependents, stress due to staffing shortages at work or attempting impossible work-caregiving juggles.

Boards and CEOs have made 'Employee wellbeing' a key business enabler to create: a more resilient workforce, retain and attract talent, fulfil their Duty of Care responsibilities and reduce overall costs. Today International SOS is a strategic partner to many Indian multinational organisations in developing holistic and tailored mental health and well-being programmers to ensure a healthy and productive global workforce.

Do you think the focus on mental well-being would take a backseat once workers return to the workplace? How can organisations embed a conscious approach to enhancing mental health in daily workflows?

In 2019/20, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health. While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create challenges for organisations, there is a risk that this single focus is creating a blind spot which could soon lead to mental health and lifestyle disease epidemics. Workplace closures, home schooling, community lockdowns, isolation and chronic uncertainty have resulted in much higher levels of stress, burnout, anxiety and poorer psychological outcomes for many people.

Physical and mental ill-health can strike at any time. Addressing issues in the workplace is vital to ensure employees are present and capable of performing their roles, and to reduce the rising cost of medical expenditure.

Return to workplace will ensure that employees get a change from workplace isolation which has plagued them for the last couple of years. However, a return to workplace also means that employees have to juggle their roles of employee and caregivers. Workers who travel for longer durations at work are immensely prone to such anxieties. This is compounded by the fact that the long term efforts of COVID infection are still being researched with many people complaining of multiple symptoms including shortness of breath, physical stress etc. Taking a longer-term view, there needs to be a stronger emphasis on the whole person: on an individual's mental and physical well-being. This includes the management of lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and cancer. Integrated workplace preventative programs can really help to build awareness and address the problem in the longer run.

What does the employee value proposition encompass for International SOS in the new world of work? What do you think are three top factors that a company needs in its employer brand today?

Caring for the health and well-being of our people is a key pillar of our Duty of Care philosophy at International SOS and we see this as an emerging trend worldwide. It is central to who we are, our values and our culture. We do it extraordinarily well for our clients and we must do it for our own people. The pandemic provided a lever for us to further promote a health-conscious culture across our organisation. We built a solid long-term health strategy for our own people. Our health and well-being initiatives and actions recently led us to win global recognition from the ‘Franco-British Business Wellbeing in Crisis’ Awards. 

The future rests on healthy minds, and every organisation needs to reinforce its brand values to include its employees’ health and well-being, aka employee resilience.

Well defined duty of care agenda built on sustainable business practices. It helps organisations to think about the impact of their operations on, not only current but also future generations of employees and the communities they serve in. According to me, the three top factors that any organisation needs in its Employer branding are:

  • Employee health and well-being
  • Organisation health and well-being aka resilience.
  • Community health and well-being, especially in a country like India where corporate sponsorship will play an important role in building our community resilience.

For many organisations, EVP emerges as an afterthought to rising attrition. What are your thoughts on this?

EVP is what a company gives back to its employees, including the compensation. In the post pandemic world, organisations have realised that to attract top talent, compensation is not the only criteria – caring for employees and their ecosystems, especially on the health and well-being front has taken a front seat in the boardroom, especially for a country like ours.

Today, we see that organisations are hiring experts, especially from the medical and well-being area of expertise to help their leaders understand the best in class EVP policies and design, which will be aligned with the organisation’s values and culture. For any organisation, its leaders need help to understand what initiatives make sense for its employees and what gives the highest ROI, those initiatives to be designed and adopted.

We see well-thought initiatives around health and well-being, which are being rolled out by the organisation for its employees at regional and even global levels.

Once these EVP initiatives are adopted, they need to be communicated and showcased by the leadership as an extension of the organisation’s value and culture. If these initiatives are left as a tick in the box – they are bound to fail.  

What is your advice for organisations seeking to reimagine their EVP? What can they not miss and what should they be wary of?

We recommend a simple approach:

  • Get an expert who can help design your EVP program, especially for the elements which touch the employee Health and Well-being. Remember, only a doctor can do - what a doctor can do
  • Think of EVP as an extension of your values and culture, hence these cannot be too localised
  • Do less but deliver more. i.e., don’t try to do everything without a focus on quality. Instead, do less with a focus on international standards. I always ask CEO’s – if you are setting up a clinic for your employees or hiring a mental expert, will you use the same clinic for yourself and your dependents? If the answer is NO, then you are just executing a tick in the box
  • Communicate the EVP via the leadership – in alignment with your values and culture
  • Governance of the EVP program
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Topics: Talent Management, #RedrawingEVP, #MentalHealth

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