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Wellbeing priorities are becoming front of mind for the HR community, especially since Covid-19 hit the globe. While it is hard enough to come up with ways to optimise the health of employees in the long term, the pandemic is further taking a toll on their mental health. Whether it’s due to the blurring of personal life and work, the remote working arrangement, or pandemic fatigue, it is a cause for concern.

In Hong Kong, as revealed by Randstad’s report in October 2020, about two in five respondents (42%) did not feel supported by their employers, either mentally or emotionally.

In this feature, we highlight some of the initiatives led by three companies who began their employee wellness journey way before Covid-19. They also shed light on ways to kick-start wellbeing in the workplace.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise: A leader-led company culture revolution

One common misconception about employee wellness is that employers can only influence employee wellbeing through formal wellness programmes, according to Rohini Sachitanand, Asia-Pacific HR leader for Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).

“We believe that creating a company culture that fosters a sense of belonging and inclusion is incredibly important to employee wellness and productivity, and we are very deliberate about creating an unconditionally inclusive work culture where our people can thrive,” Sachitanand says.

HPE’s efforts in employee wellbeing can be traced back to one big adjustment in 2018, when Antonio Neri was appointed as the president and CEO. Soon after his appointment, Neri named culture as one of his top priorities and set the tone for leaders that driving impactful wellbeing programmes to support employees would be his leadership direction.

In last year’s internal company survey, 91% of HPE employees globally reported that they agree that their health and wellbeing has been the company’s top priority.

“At HPE, we believe that work should fit your life, not the other way around. That is why we have created a culture that encourages team members to invest time in their personal lives and prioritise their wellbeing,” Sachitanand says.

The company provides free counselling support services for employees and families and introduced a series of wellness perks including offering a minimum of six months paid parental leave for both new mothers and fathers, providing new parents the choice of working part- time for up to 36 months, debuting ‘Wellness Friday’ where employees are encouraged to leave work early on a Friday each month, and allowing employees within one year of retirement to work part time to smoothen their transition to post-working life.

Additionally, in response to the Covid-19, HPE scaled up its existing behavioural health and wellness programme targeted at employees and their families called ‘For Real Life’ in a bid to encourage employees to make time for families, foster a sense of community connection to combat isolation and connect them with resources and trained experts.

For instance, to offer free subscription to the meditation app Headspace, organise special webcasts hosted by wellness experts, debut home gardening programmes and expand virtual fitness offerings globally.

“Our robust global Covid-19 plans are informed by the expert guidance and advice of HPE’s in-house public health nurse and outside medical consultants who ensure our protocols follow the latest advisories of global health officials,” she adds.

AXA: Pandemic-oriented healthcare initiatives
At AXA, employee wellbeing is about creating a culture where employees can bring their whole selves to work and employers support them through various initiatives that encompass both physical and mental health needs.

“The pandemic has increased the awareness of people’s healthcare needs in the workplace, whether in the office or at home. With staff health and safety being AXA’s first priority, we took quick action early on to ensure our staff had suitable protection in place, including health checks for all staff and upgrading the team’s insurance coverage,” says Peck Yeow Gan, human resources director for AXA Asia.

On top of AXA’s existing wellbeing initiatives, the company recently launched a global programme to improve the health and wellbeing of its employees through two pillars. To improve prevention and access to care, every employee benefits from an in-person or digital medical check-up, receives a flu vaccination annually and is invited to information and awareness days. Secondly, to better support employees who encounter difficulties in their professional or personal life, the insurance provider is giving employees access to an employee assistance programme that provides psychological support and guidance.

“We are seeing growing appreciation that it is time to push mind health up the leadership agenda. There is a clear need for practical support to safeguard mental wellbeing in the workplace as companies return to work,” Gan says.

Additionally, AXA announced launching a Smart Working initiative, effective 2021. This new initiative will re- envision the role of the office as a hub for interaction and engagement, while partial remote working offers flexibility for employees to find the right work-life balance. All AXA branches will move to smart working by the end of 2023.

Edelman: Listen to employees’ feedback first
When asked about the bottom line on employee wellbeing, Adrian Warr, APAC employee experience leader and CEO of Hong Kong and Taiwan at Edelman, says, “The key is to get continuous feedback and act on that feedback. To address employee wellbeing, you need to first understand how your employees are feeling, what they’re struggling with and what they’re happy with. Once you get a better understanding of where the gaps and opportunities lie, develop a human-centric approach to tackle them, focusing on employee experience throughout the process.”

Edelman regularly rolls out an employee engagement survey to monitor the pulse of how employees arefeeling at work, and how this might change based on time and events.

For example, the communication firm learnt from the most recent results that employees are looking for increased support around mental and physical wellbeing. As a result, Edelman launched new programmes under Livewell – an existing global wellbeing initiative designed prior to Covid-19 – to support struggling employees and encourage employees to live a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle. The latest addition to the initiative includes a partnership with the global wellbeing app, Calm, for resilience building and mental fitness to help employees and their families relax, focus and sleep. Additionally, Calm designed sessions specifically for children to help them find peace.

“Dan Edelman, our founder, always referred to the three legs of a stool when he used to meet with talent. The three legs being work, exercise (or wellbeing and) community. They were, he said, the key to a productive life and if any leg became unbalanced, you would fall,” says Jasmine Bahen, chief talent officer, APAC from Edelman.

Bahen emphasises employee wellness is not just about offering yoga or gym memberships or even apps. Instead, it is about creating a workplace that integrates a wellness model into every aspect of business practice, from company policies to everyday work.

“Another key point to remember is that it is not ‘one and done’ – it is something that needs ongoing attention and focus,” she advises.

This is one of the articles from the Safe Work - Flexible Work section of Human Resource’s 40-page Corporate Health Insurance Guide 2021. To download the full guide, click here.

Highlights of the guide include:

  • Market analysis: Expert insights from Aon’s Medical Trends Report
  • Industry viewpoints: Insider knowledge for corporates, SMEs and start-ups
  • HR perspectives: The pros share their wisdom on boosting employees’ healthcare benefits
  • Handy overview of Hong Kong’s top medical insurance providers