Reimagine leadership with a human side: Sachin Khurana, Happiest Minds Technologies
Organizations that can navigate and succeed in times of change have one thing in common—they are resilient.
When the pandemic struck, companies across the globe were forced to adapt to a new work model- remote. Millions of employees resorted to their kitchens and garage to find privacy, collaborative tools replaced boardrooms. Productivity and resilience took on new meanings.
Every organization is on a journey to respond to the crisis, recover from it, and reimagine their business—and no two organizations will look alike. Employee safety and wellbeing, and ensuring business continuity are immediate priorities for every organization. As organizations move from the response to the recovery phase, they should focus on adjusting quickly to the new realities on the ground.
However, the juggle is real and the cost to people’s wellbeing is not sustainable. According to a recent study by Microsoft, over 30 percent of firstline and information workers said the pandemic has increased their sense of burnout at work.
Microsoft, which is at the forefront of innovating workforce collaboration through their products like Teams conducted a study, ‘The work trend index’. Microsoft analyzed trillions of signals from meetings, emails, and chats to identify patterns and trends while safeguarding personal and organizational data. This data, alongside surveys and interviews with workers across the globe, offered insights about how productivity is impacted due to the pandemic and how wellbeing and burnout at work are the major drivers behind deteriorating an employees’ productivity index. The study suggests that to thrive amid great change, we need organizational cultures that make it easier to recharge, connect, and do our best work.
The findings of the study gave us an opportunity to delve deeper and hence People Matters and Microsoft brings to you The Wellbeing Week that aims to make employees thrive at work and more resilient work culture by directly bringing lessons and experiences of leaders who are leading this change.
Supporting the wellbeing week, we have Sachin Khurana, Chief People Officer & Vice President at Happiest Minds Technologies. Sachin is a people-oriented leader who has a proven record of creating, nurturing, and executing industry-leading people management practices; building a highly motivated and empowering work culture and unwavering organizational growth. All through his journey, he has believed that the best kind of success stems from teamwork, collaboration, and the trust people put in one another.
In this exclusive Tête-à-Tête with Sachin, we talk about how amidst the new normal, organizations can seek resilience, what it means to be productive and how we can look at helping our workforce take care of their wellbeing. We also took his perception of the various findings from the Microsoft study- The work trend index.
Here is a look at some of the insightful takeaways from the interview:
Burnout is becoming a pressing issue in the new world of work
Uncertainty, anxiety, and change are the key drivers for this increased burnout. What adds to the complexity is that the entire world, every institution, organization, political system are experiencing similar feelings. It is everywhere! After decades, people have experienced a problem at this scale and nobody has any quick resolution for it. This burnout thus is reflecting in the businesses, large corporations, leadership, and the entire working population.
Sachin shares, “I think the situation was tough initially when we saw a spike in the number of meetings, ad-hoc calls, and an extensive overlap of work and home time because everyone was on the same boat, experiencing the unknown and struggling to overcome it. This has led to increased burnout, even at the leadership levels. In my opinion, currently, we are somewhere in between the Decision & Integration stages of the Kubler-Ross Change Model.”
Making people thrive at work
When we asked Sachin whether he thinks that increased communication and blurring boundaries are leading to more workplace stress and burnout. He shares “At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, most companies weren’t able to meet the needs of their workforces because they were unprepared. And we cannot blame each other because none of us has experienced a disruptive force like this in our lifetime. However, with time, we have found learned how to work in the new situation and integrate the change into our daily schedule.”
And this is true. While initially the remote work, consistent hours on virtual meetings overwhelmed people, today a lot of employees have started to acknowledge this unique circumstance which has accelerated the blending of work and life – which has further soften dynamics of the workplace forever.
Quoting the survey findings from The work trend index, “While balancing childcare with remote work may be temporary, it may change how we feel about our co-workers long-term. 62% of people who participated in the survey said they feel more empathetic toward their colleagues now that they have a better view of life at home.”
However, it wasn’t just the time. There are a lot of factors that make people seamlessly integrate this new working model. According to Sachin, to make people thrive at work, organizations have also redefined their processes for WFH. He also feels that wellness initiatives are helping the members to adapt to the new world order, unique patterns, and guidance on work timings, communication programs, and more. I feel people now have better control over their routines and are saying no to meetings when not necessary.”
Here Sachin mentioned two key points that really are key drivers on making people thrive at work:
- Better communication program
- Saying no to meetings when not necessary
In a world that’s moving to more remote work, people find remote collaboration more mentally challenging. A Microsoft study found that brainwave markers associated with overwork and stress are significantly higher in video meetings than non-meeting work like writing emails. Further, due to high levels of sustained concentration fatigue begins to set in 30-40 minutes into a meeting. Looking at days filled with video meetings, stress begins to set in at about two hours into the day. The research suggests several factors lead to this sense of meeting fatigue: having to focus continuously on the screen to extract relevant information and stay engaged; reduced non-verbal cues that help you read the room or know whose turn it is to talk; and screen sharing with very little view of the people you are interacting with.
Having said this, one of the ways by which we can avoid burnout due to increased communication or meetings can be investing in technologies and tools that allow employees to schedule breaks and reserve time for the work which is a priority for them that make them skip unnecessary meetings. For example, Teams has introduced a feature called, focus status that lets your team know you need to set aside time on your calendar for focused work. You can also set quiet hours and quiet days to silence notifications in Teams when you’d like.
Minimizing distractions not only impacts productivity but avoid frustrations and anxiety arising due to sitting late at work.
Recharge, focus, connect: The Happiest Minds Technologies’ way
As the conversation progressed, we delved into the initiatives taken by Happiest Minds Technologies’ which has consistently been ranked as a Great Place to Work. Here is what Sachin has to share”
Workers burnout and stress is a high priority agenda for us. Leaders accept that the absence of socializing opportunities and intense demand from work leads to higher burnout and stress. We are mindful of this fact and have created highly focused wellness and engagement programs. Any event should cover various attributes/roles of one's life as an employee, parent, son/daughter, spouse, friend, and more. At Happiest Minds Technologies, we organized parenting month, with sessions on managing excess screen time for kids, raising emotional intelligence, and so on. Other initiatives were for kids to engage them in meaningful ways, learn new skills, and channel their energies in constructive ways. Programs around WFH enablement like Ergonomics, Self Care, Fitness, Stress Management, Productivity programs using unique interventions like Laughter Yoga, Taichi, Music Therapy, Mindfulness, Counseling, etc. were conducted. Other than Wellness initiatives, corporate interventions on leadership communication, employee connect, and individual reach out were top priorities. Leaders were authentic and transparent in their communication, recognized employees' efforts, agility in decision making, staying connected with members, releasing announcements of policy, and benefit changes in quick succession. All of the above activities helped create a positive work environment.
Managers need to pick up the role of a coach
According to Sachin, while there has been an increase in wellness initiatives and its acknowledgment at work. He feels the initiatives would not brig returns until both managers and employees take ownership.
He shares, “Companies can run great wellness initiatives, but participating and deriving value from these initiatives is ultimately employee responsibility. We have a program like mindfulness training, emotional counseling, teleconsultation, stress and Work-life balance sessions, financial planning, and more. However, if the employees do not participate, they will not appreciate the benefits of these programs.”
He further adds, “Another aspect beyond the purview of wellness initiatives is hows your work environment on a day to day basis. How's your relation with your manager, communication at work, how is your manager treating you, is there a trust deficit, or is there something bothering an individual that the manager cannot address. In these scenarios, no wellness initiatives can help until and unless the manager is coached to support his/her team members in more constructive ways. “
Sachin’s thought on managers needs to be coaches to support their teams really echoes with the Microsoft study. Through multiple indicators, the study learned that managers are bearing the brunt of the shift to remote work. Senior managers are collaborating eight or more hours per week.
Belonging is a core human need and that feeling a sense of connection is an intrinsic motivator. This is why work relationships are so important—strong social connections help employees feel happier and healthier and build stronger networks. Hence, it is imperative for managers and employees to track each other experiences. With technology becoming more advanced, people can further strengthen their relationship. For example, With personal productivity insights in Teams people can strengthen relationships with important people in their networks, seamlessly schedule a time for 1:1s, stay caught up with key communications, and carve out time for important tasks and uninterrupted work. Further with organizational insights, Teams give leaders visibility into how work is evolving and impacting the people who propel their business into the future. By answering questions like, “Are employees at risk for burnout? Are people maintaining strong internal connections?
The emerging resilient workforce
As we arrived at the last leg of our communication, we asked Sachin how one create a resilient workforce. He shares his personal journey and shares a prized lesson he learned during the last few months on organization resilience.
Here is what he has to say:
There is a sudden surge in awareness around individual wellbeing. People who wanted to lose weight for ages have got it done in the last six months; more people are exploring cycling, trekking, solo walk, and run. So much so that supply of cycles and sports gear cannot cope with the enhanced demand. This is a significant shift, and I hope it is a permanent one. Various studies confirm that a healthy person is a more productive and engaged worker. It's a WIN-WIN. Various wellness initiatives in organizations are now focusing on building long-term habit formation, which is the right direction.
On organizational resilience, this pandemic taught us a prized lesson of "Reimagine Leadership with a Human Side". The organizations with leaders who could empathize, be honest, express gratitude, skip layers, connect with employees, build trust, and rally the team out of this crisis, all safe and healthy, is what the new leadership the world wants to recognize. We saw the priorities changing and want leaders who can shift gears, be agile, and adapt quickly, keeping people at the core of their decision-making. - Sachin Khurana
Thanks, Sachin for such wonderful insights and takeaways that will help the community to build more sustainable workplaces and help employees thrive at work. Your insights and journey have definitely helped us integrate the ongoing changes that will be key to organizational resiliency in the months and years to come.