Since the onset of COVID-19 forced offices to shut, Angie* left Rajasthan and continued to work remotely from her hometown. Now with normalcy slowly setting back in, the 24-year-old policy analyst has been summoned back to work from the office again. “Apart from not providing any sort of policies (to support us during the pandemic), the organization that I work for has pressured me into coming back,” she says.
Her employers have also extended the work timings. “Currently working out of the office, we are also expected to be fully available over the weekends, which is extremely brutal,” she remarks, expressing her frustration. While many other organizations set about creating new policies to support their employees during these unprecedented times, Angie’s workplace rescinded existing benefits as well. “They threatened us with a loss of job or pay if we speak out about this,” she added.
The collective sense of uncertainty brought about by the pandemic has been made worse for many people whose workplaces have not kept employee well-being at the core of their operations. While optimizing productivity could be the main goal for such organizations, not having systems and policies in place to support employees’ physical and mental health could result in the exact opposite.
According to the RoundGlass Wellbeing at Work Survey 2020-21, more than 50% of organizations offer benefits such as health screenings and health awareness or meditation sessions to their employees.
However, a large proportion of leaders said that they found it challenging to engage employees in such plans, with only 24% having an average employee participation rate (EPR) of more than 50%.
More often than not, there are several gaps in these programs due to the lack of communication among different levels of employees. Scheduling ‘catch up’ sessions during weekends, providing yoga classes during workdays without providing actual time off to enjoy it is counterproductive. More than helping employees in reality, it becomes an easy PR move for employers, something that top management can boast about on LinkedIn.
Implementing policies that work
“We get access to therapy from work and they pay for therapy if we'd rather see our private therapists,” said 25-year-old Labanya Maitra 25, a Delhi-based producer at a media organization.
“Therapy isn't very affordable so just having the option for self-development [when] your employer is taking care of it is a huge relief,” she remarks. Some of her colleagues have also taken weeks off from work to navigate their mental health, which is only possible because the organization is accommodating. She added they also provided COVID-19 insurance for the employees and their families.
Knowing that you can expect support from your workplace during a tumultuous time like this came as a relief for Maitra. After losing her uncle a few months ago, she felt that it was a “huge load off” knowing that she could take time off to grieve and run important errands. “That takes away a lot of the anxiety,” she emphasized.
Job insecurity and missing work-life balance
One of the primary mistakes that companies are making, according to the RoundGlass survey, is not using data from health screenings to plan their well-being programs. The involvement of employees in the creation of these plans was also limited across companies.
Furthermore, it points out that over 50% of companies revealed that they have meditation and mindfulness training, while over 60% said they have awareness programs for stress, anxiety, and depression. Contrast this with data from a LinkedIn survey showing that over 40% of Indians felt that their mental well-being was being impacted by job and income insecurity.
Respondents also felt a strong need to regulate working hours as remote conditions had led to an increase in time spent on the job. Another survey by 7th Fold revealed that 50% of Indian employees are worried about an uncertain future.
The findings from the RoundGlass survey stand testament to the fact that companies need to dig deeper to learn why employees are not engaging with their well-being program. Instead of suggesting short-term solutions that are like bandaids over a bleeding wound, it is high time that organizations create an environment where workers feel more secure with a more sustainable work-life balance.
*Name changed to protect privacy.