How Redefined HR Policies And Leadership Skills Can Influence The Mental Health Of Employees In The New Normal

Experts Column

As I start penning my thoughts, the first thing that comes to my mind is a statement made by Hon. Colin Powell, 65th United States Secretary of State- “Leadership is all about people. It is not about organizations. It is not about plans. It is not about strategies. It is all about people-motivating people to get the job done. You have to be people-centered”. And to walk the talk, what better companion than HR. With economies crashing, the worst affected are the people- people who build the nation.

The current scenario has ushered in a new normal - for employees, for employers, for CXOs and for the frontline – and the HR function has been no exception. As the “People” function in organisations, HR has been quite literally at the helm, leading the organisation’s charge into the new normal, in fact even defining it. Gig workers, flexi-working, hybrid culture, people + bots – the People transformation has been on many fronts. Arguably, Work-from-Home is here to stay and getting 100% staff back to office may be a distant reality. Does this impact the mental well-being of an employee? Do employees feel burnout, stressed, exhausted & uncertain? Are employees missing out on ‘social’ benefits of a physical office space, of in- person interactions, of building informal bridges & grapevine? And if they are, what is the net impact on their mental health and on productivity? These are difficult answers to find, the true impact difficult to gauge in the short term. The strategic business partners of the organization need to pre-empt some of the potential adverse impact by looking at ways to re-define employee value proposition.

Taking a pragmatic approach, leaders should look at being collaborative and transparent. Openness fosters trust and trust builds loyalty. Sharing the facts with employees will help reduce the anxiety and mental trauma that they may be experiencing.

Even as the pandemic continues to play out, listing out few of my personal takeaways which can support employees well-being.

“Leadership is all about people. It is not about organizations. It is not about plans. It is not about strategies. It is all about people-motivating people to get the job done. You have to be people-centered”

Life Style Management: By life style management, I am referring to not just the mental health of an employee, but the holistic physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Employees are missing the chai breaks, corridor chats, catch-up breaks while working from home. HR should encourage employees to mandatorily take a break from work and indulge in meditation, yoga, gardening or pursue a hobby of choice. This will extend into happiness and job satisfaction resulting in greater productivity irrespective of from where they work.

Data: With more and more processes going virtual, data is and will be one of the key insight which leaders can rely upon for improvement and business continuity. With predictive analysis, human behaviour can be forecasted and preventive measures taken to safe guard the well-being of employees. Intuition, gut or guess work may not alone stand the test of time. With hybrid culture, measuring employee productivity, alignment of goals at strategic levels, mapping policies to implementation, can be possible with the use of HR intelligence and Artificial Intelligence together.

2E’s- Empathy & Encouragement: “Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.”- Oprah Winfrey There is hardly any family left untouched from the virus as of today. Either an employee or a family member has got infected or has experienced a personal loss. Leaders have to give a listening ear to the team and address their fears. Leaders have to encourage employees to reach out and seek help. HR policies are getting redefined to adapt to the unprecedented change like introducing Leave with Pay for an employee who is infected, or attending to an infected family member or a friend; Financial aid to family members of deceased employee; Sponsor kid’s education; Employment opportunities to spouse or ward, etc.

3R’s- Review, Recalibrate, Reskill & Upskill: CEOs for the past one year are reviewing the current market trends and reformatting the way they do business. Business models & day-to-day functioning have moved from offline to online mode. Employees realized that they need to equip themselves with a whole new set of digital skills, almost overnight. HR needs to facilitate rapid reskilling and upskilling processes for employees and help them through this transition with minimal anxiety. This is the time HR should step up and look at multi-tasking and role enlargement. Employees should redefine their KRAs and KPIs and performance assessment based on OKR’s.

4C’s- Communicate, Continuous feedback, Counsel, Culture: Each employee is stressed about the way their performance will be evaluated. Since leaders are unable to physically see what the team is doing, regular conversations will give them insights. Delay in meeting deadlines should not be attributed to inefficiency. Annual appraisals are getting replaced by continuous feedback mechanism. Employees are being counselled at the right time resulting in minimal errors. Increments are getting delinked from recognition and praise and instant gratification taking precedence to build employee’s morale. These small steps will bring in a radical cultural shift in the organization.

It’s a VUCA World!!! An acronym talked about for more than three decades, experienced in plenty over the past fourteen months beginning with CEO to the junior most resource of an organization. What looked like a few days’ menace turned out to be a nightmare for more than a year. What began with pay cuts, layoffs and revenue losses continues into human losses with families getting wiped out. This is not the end and we are clueless as to how and when this will end. The only way to be healthy, focussed and productive is to Stay Positive, Think Positive, Be Positive.