Soorya Themudu, SVP Human Resources, APMEA, Sodexo, believes that companies should take a holistic approach to mental health and wellbeing. This includes considering employees’ mental, physical and emotional needs to create a safe environment where mental health is brought up.
In a chat with Themudu, who, based in Kuala Lumpur provides direction to the HR & DE&I function in the APMEA region, covering over 15 countries with a total workforce of approx. 90,000 employees, HRO's Aditi Sharma Kalra finds out examples of high-impact mental wellbeing interventions that are both easy to implement and inclusive.
Interview excerpts below:
Q Why it is important for companies to prioritise mental health and wellbeing in today’s workplace environment, or risk losing out on the best talent?
The pandemic has put mental health and wellbeing at the forefront of most people’s minds. According to a recent study by Deloitte, mental health is one of the top priorities among Gen Z and millennial job seekers. Not only would they like to receive support when needed, but they also expect a culture that encourages open discussions about mental health. For companies looking to attract the best talent, creating an environment where mental wellbeing is promoted and supported will go a long way.
At the same time, prioritising mental health will also help companies retain their existing workforce. The Great Resignation is showing no signs of stopping, with one in five workers globally planning to quit in 2022. Workplace and mental health concerns and burnout are one of the top reasons why respondents left their jobs in the last two years. Thus, companies must continually reassess their workplace culture to ensure that employees’ mental health and wellbeing are protected.
As a food services and facilities management company, Sodexo works closely with our clients to curate hybrid work experiences that considers employees’ holistic wellbeing.
Q How can companies take a holistic approach to promoting mental health in the workplace? What are we currently getting wrong that we need to improve upon?
Companies today have a unique opportunity to break away from the archaic ideas of wellbeing and adopt a holistic approach that encompasses employees’ mental, physical and emotional needs.
Today, 61% of employees are uncomfortable discussing their mental wellness issues at work for fear of being perceived differently or losing opportunities. To overcome this, companies and leaders must destigmatise mental health and create a safe, judgement-free environment where people are comfortable sharing their mental health struggles or concerns.
To enable this, Sodexo employees have access to programmes such as Sodexo Supports Me, which provides 24/7 access to confidential, professional counselling and mental health resources for employees and their families. We also hold various webinars on how to build personal agility, tackle anxiety, and more to help employees manage their stress and emotional wellbeing.
Finally, companies should offer guidance about tangible self-care habits like exercise and a nutritional diet.
For example, we organise mid-week stretches and wellness activities in the office to promote a healthier lifestyle, which is proven to boost mental health.
Q Could you share examples of high-impact mental health interventions you've experienced, and how they have made significant changes?
“It’s okay not to be okay.” We’ve all had our struggles with transitioning to work from home during the lockdown. As a mother of two, the line between work and family blurs at home. Sodexo has empowered me to manage my schedule and responsibilities flexibly so that I can prioritise what is important. Flexible work arrangements and modifying work schedules enable work-life prioritisation.
As managers, we need to create that trusting environment with our team. A safe and healthy working environment supports mental health, and good mental health enables people to work productively.
Rigorous and systematic training and interventions improve mental health literacy, strengthen skills to act on mental health conditions at work, and empower employees to seek support.
Through the wellbeing webinars that the team has organised, I’ve also picked up helpful reminders such as the importance of self-care. We need to constantly refuel our tank so that we can go the distance and avoid burnouts. For instance, I enjoy exercising in my free time to disconnect from work.
Q Finally, please share with us some tips for leaders and employees to protect their mental health and well-being at work.
Globally, stress levels among workers have heightened since the pandemic – increasing from 38% in 2019 to 44% in 2021. In addition, remote working arrangements have blurred the lines between work and personal life, causing many employees to struggle to switch off. Hence, leaders and employees must protect their mental health and well-being to avoid burnout at work.
Here are some of my top tips:
i. Set clear and healthy boundaries
It is very easy to get caught up and work past the set office hours when working from home. Thus, employees need to establish clear boundaries to differentiate between their working hours and personal lives. Employees should avoid scheduling work meetings or answering emails after hours or during their leave, where possible.
Sodexo APMEA has introduced a 'No Meeting Day' on the third Friday of every month to allow employees to set aside some time for uninterrupted work or learning. I also find that turning off email notifications on my phone allows me to enjoy my evening without being distracted by new emails coming in.
ii. Seek help if you need it
Many people struggle with seeking help as they think it is a sign of weakness. Some may also be reluctant to ask for support for fear of 'letting others down'. However, asking for help when needed is important because not doing so may lead to missed deadlines, a negative impact on productivity, or create further issues down the line. As we juggle our professional and personal lives in this hybrid environment, it’s important for managers and team members to help spot the signs.
iii. Creating a safe environment for our people
In current times, leaders need to create a healthy, empathetic workplace culture to attract, retain and satisfy this rising generation of talent. This includes ensuring meaningful impact and empathetic engagement in workplace mental health efforts through implementing organisational policies, initiatives, and resources as well as strategies for prevention and mental health awareness.
Sodexo prioritises the health, safety and wellbeing of our employees, and mental health is just as important as workplace safety. Hence, HR leaders and employers must destigmatise mental health, promote open dialogues and foster a company culture that values wellbeing and zero harm.
Restart, recharge, reconnect at the fourth annual National Counselling & Psychotherapy Conference (NCPC 2022), a wellbeing conference dedicated to topics such as innovations in mental healthcare, mindfulness-centred practice, couples’ goals and staying connected post-pandemic, art therapy and children with special needs, and more. Find out how you can attend here.
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