Experian's Chief Executive Officer for APAC, Ben Elliott

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Talking about mental health is the first step in removing the stigma around it. Experian's CEO for APAC, Ben Elliott, is doing just that, through initiatives such as:

  • APAC-wide wellbeing day off to help employees disconnect,
  • 16 weeks of consecutive resources like podcasts, senior leadership vlogs, etc.,
  • 24/7 confidential helpline (with local language support) with free access to counsellors,
  • Employee relief fund to support those experiencing financial hardship, most recently benefitting those from the second wave in India.

Read all about Experian's progressive work in caring for employees' mental health, and its hybrid working model, in this interview with Aditi Sharma Kalra (and inputs by Arina Sofiah). 

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Q How do you think the pandemic has impacted the mental health of workers around the world, and what role do companies have to play in safeguarding this?

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has had a great impact on the mental health of employees around the world. In addition to dealing with the fear and uncertainty that surrounds COVID-19, navigating remote working has blurred the boundaries between work and home, and made it difficult to socialise. In 2020, a researcher at Stanford found that face-to-face meetings are essential to maintain motivation and focus, and 50% of participants who worked from home indicated feeling isolated, lonely and depressed.

Experian recognises that our employees make this company what it is, and we value each and every one of them. We’ve implemented a hybrid working model, which gives our employees the choice, freedom, and flexibility to work either at home or in the office so they can choose what benefits them most. Whether that’s ensuring sufficient time-off, a balanced workload, or providing support in difficult times, companies need to protect the mental health of employees because they are our greatest asset.

Q Experian provides a 24/7 confidential helpline available in local languages, with free access to counsellors & other resources. This being such a unique idea, could you elaborate more on this helpline? How did the idea for it come about?

Our Employee Assistance Programme is a confidential hotline that is available to employees and their family members, and can be accessed anytime, anywhere. We understand that mental health matters, and we want to create a safe space for our employees to get the help whenever they need, without any additional cost. Additionally, we want to reassure our employees that privacy is a key priority. This is why we sought external support by professionals who are completely independent of Experian and bound by confidentiality standards to protect the identity of individuals who have contacted the service.

We also decided early on that language shouldn’t be a barrier to receiving support, so we’ve ensured that it is made available in local languages in every market that we are in.

While the intake call may be in English, the caller can request a call-back in their language or engage with a translator. The programme includes wellness resources that are easy to find, and also provide short-term professional counselling, telephonic support and video support, toll-free telephone numbers, and can be accessed through a mobile app, web or email.

Q Did you and the leadership team face any concerns gaining stakeholder buy-in?

We had no issue gaining stakeholder buy-in for the Employee Assistance Programme. It has always been our goal to provide support to our employees and their families across the region. We believe this is a great way we can support them in their own space and their own time, especially during challenging times like this.

Q Apart from the language medium, how else does the helpline cater to the needs of employees in individual markets?

We ensure the counsellors in this programme are well-trained professionals and based in the same country as the market that this is implemented in.

This is important to ensure the counsellors understand the nuances each market presents and can relate accordingly. Experian employees can also request for a counsellor with specific cultural background if needed.

Q I understand Experian is providing a series of webinars on coping strategies. What are some topics employees can look forward to in this series, and what has the engagement rate in this series been since its launch? 

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, we have rolled out multiple wellness resources in a variety of formats, including webinars. Our main goal is to support employees in whatever ways we can. Some of the topics we’ve covered during these webinars include preventing digital burnout, effective stress management, ergonomics and healthy movement at work, and health mind toolkits. These webinars are well received by our employees. For instance, one of the webinars we organised focused on inspiring managers to motivate their team during remote work was attended by 145 managers and received great feedback.

Beyond these webinars, we’ve also provided 16 weeks of consecutive resources like e-booklets, podcasts, senior leadership vlogs, playlists and engagement activities to support our employees. We’ve also provided access to the MindFi mindfulness app that has been actively used by employees; mindfulness sessions led by an expert in this field, Scott Doughty, that received plenty of positive feedback; and Connect 4, which are monthly 30-minute sessions where colleagues across APAC are randomly matched for a casual conversation.

We are glad to see that these initiatives are helping our employees worldwide. Based on our Employee Engagement survey in February this year, we found that 78% of our employees noted they are feeling physically and mentally well, and 82% feel they received the right level of support from Experian.

Q Experian recently gave employees in APAC a wellbeing day off on 8 Oct. What sparked this decision, and what was the rationale behind this day?

In today’s always-on work-from-home set-up, it’s so easy to forget that we need rest. We recognise how difficult it is to set aside time for ourselves, or feel like it’s okay to switch off and prioritise our mental health. Hence, we wanted to give our employees a day to intentionally focus on their wellbeing with work being the last thing on their minds.

We made the decision to pick a specific date for all our markets across the Experian Asia Pacific because when everyone is off on the same day, there would be no work meetings or calls.

Q Last, I understand Experian also set up an employee relief fund to support those experiencing financial hardship. Tell us more about this, and how many employees have benefited from it thus far.

The Employee Relief Fund (ERF) is a unique initiative to Experian. It was launched in May 2019 to help employees during challenging times, especially when they need financial support. They can apply for a grant and don’t need to repay it.

The fund is managed by an independent fund administrator and completely confidential, and Experian does not have influence over the grant decision.

So far, all of our eligible employees have benefited from it since the launch of the fund.

When the second wave of the pandemic hit India this year, our APAC and global employees rallied together in a 48-hour donation drive with the funds raised going to the Employee Relief Fund, aiding employees in financial distress, and to various charities helping people most impacted by COVID-19 in India. Together with our corporate donations and Experian’s matching of employees’ donations, we managed to raise SGD$1 million.

Q Overall, how do these initiatives tie in with your existing employee wellbeing initiatives?

We want to provide our Experian Asia Pacific employees with a holistic and well-rounded approach to wellbeing. This means having the support they need whenever they need it, and not just providing resources on how to cope with work better, but how they can live, rest and play better.

Our Employee Assistance Programme and Employee Relief Fund (ERF) are definitely ongoing initiatives that our employees can expect to receive support from in the coming years. As we move forward, we will also continue to look out for the best ways to support our employees and their unique struggles in this uncertain landscape.

Q What do you think are some essential practices that companies should adopt to protect wellness and mental health at the workplace?

Consistent engagements and check-ins are key to building strong relationships. As part of our culture at Experian, we encourage leaders and all our employees to regularly reach out and engage with their team members beyond work matters. Across the company, we have hosted fun and engaging virtual activities during team meetings or townhalls including online games, Kahoot quizzes and more.

We even organised 'walking meetings' so that everyone had an opportunity to get some fresh air while collaborating in a fun manner.

Q Personally, why is mental health so important to you, and how are you taking steps to prioritise your own mental health?

Mental health has been a taboo subject for many years and talking about it is the first step in removing the stigma around it. Only then can we slowly address the issue at its core. The pandemic has impacted all of us, including myself, and mental health has become more important than ever. It’s been challenging not being able to see my family in Australia due to border closures, but I stay positive and have had countless conversations with them over video calls and in our family chat group. My secret weapon to dealing with digital exhaustion is my dog, Charlie, who sits right by my feet throughout the day for companionship.

Lead image / Provided (Experian's CEO for APAC, Ben Elliott)

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