Article: Time to embrace ‘Employee First’ philosophy in workplace design: ICRA’s Group CHRO

Employee Relations

Time to embrace ‘Employee First’ philosophy in workplace design: ICRA’s Group CHRO

Sheetal Sandhu, ICRA’s Group CHRO shares with us her take on what organisations can do to incorporate well-being by design to reimagine work holistically.
Time to embrace ‘Employee First’ philosophy in workplace design: ICRA’s Group CHRO

READ the October 2021 issue of our magazine: Well-Being By Design

The new reality of the world of work has brought forth an acute awareness of health and well-being, calling on corporations to devise innovative ways to integrate employee well-being into the flow of work to help their staff perform optimally. There is a clear opportunity for companies to leverage workplace design to nurture holistic well-being for people at work. Employees will increasingly look for work environments that provide user control, natural elements, and ergonomic seating arrangements to meet their physical and psychological health. Several studies have shown that a focus on employee and workplace well-being can result in improved engagement and productivity, as well as innovation and retention. 

So what can organisations do to incorporate well-being by design to reimagine work holistically?

We spoke to Sheetal Sandhu, ICRA’s Group CHRO. ICRA is a Moody's Company catering to the financial services sector with its core line of business in credit ratings, consultancy and process outsourcing business in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Sheetal holds Group CHRO roles and responsibilities of Group Companies of ICRA (ICRA India, ICRA Nepal, ICRA Sri Lanka, iMacs and ICRON) and is responsible for 1,200+ employees across the group.

Here are a few excerpts from the conversation.

Today, organisations are reimagining almost all aspects of work and are looking at employee health holistically to better support their workforce. So, how can they incorporate design features and amenities to prompt well-being at the workplace?

It is important that organisations follow an 'Employee First' philosophy in everything they do and workplace design is no different. Earlier many employees were working from home but with offices opening up gradually, many companies have redesigned their offices to ensure overall safety and well-being for employees.

These include measures such as regularly monitoring and controlling the air quality to ensure the right kind of environment for employees and introducing air-purifying indoor plants that not only please the eye but also give a sense of being closer to the natural environment. Similarly, open spaces in the cafeteria, along with the pictures of recent off-sites, workshops to give a sense of warmth and happy memories for employees is another way to impart a sense of well-being.

Companies are also ensuring that all the areas are well lit and appropriate signage and floor markings are provided to ensure that all the social distancing norms are adhered to. In addition, small things which enhance the overall health of employees like easy accessibility of sanitisers and napkins, no-touch soap dispensers, and dedicated water bottles for employees, and displaying informative posters on social distancing and COVID-19 appropriate behaviour are some of the ways through which companies are ensuring that the office environment is a minimum touch environment

What are some of the focus areas when it comes to the well-being of employees?

The overall well-being of the employees – physical, mental and financial- should be the key HR concern of organisations. 

Physical well-being: Organisations should ensure that the employees stay healthy and vaccination drives are organized for employees for getting the vaccine dose. 

Additionally, during COVID-19 second wave – many companies have provided home care services, concentrators and organised regular Yoga classes for employees.

Mental well-being: Being healthy is not merely an absence of disease but it encompasses mental and social well-being as well. Companies added specific “wellness day off” to the leave balance for employees during the second wave which was used by employees to rejuvenate and take care of themselves. Employer assistance program was initiated with 24*7 helpline to support employees in times of crises or stress and it was completely confidential.

Financial well-being: This is very critical to ward off the unnecessary stress of being sick. Some measures in this regard by the companies include offering enhanced insurance plans for employees and reimbursement of the vaccination doses, expenses related to COVID-19.

How should HR leaders partner with tech leaders to ensure that technologies, workflows and processes are designed in a way that enshrines worker well-being?

In the post-pandemic phase, work has been intertwined with technology and hence, impacting the overall wellbeing of an employee. Technology is the essential means to seamless delivery in these times. The HR and Technology leaders must work together for an organization to have better workflows and processes by monitoring and altering the individual behaviour. The key drivers of this movement are:

  • Transparency about the employee and manager expectations
  • Regular communication about the challenges
  • Reinforcing and optimizing healthy behavior through an online integrated platform for appreciation and recognition
  • Facilitating on-demand and online learning modules for employees, so that learning never stops, wherever they are
  • Performance management: to cascade the organization goals in a manner that everyone is aware of the expectations and their goals are aligned to the organization’s vision

What are some of the technologies/platforms that can be invested in to ensure employee well-being?

Employee well-being is a function of various factors and organizations are equally responsible for ensuring that the employees are free from all the unnecessary stress and burnout as the majority of their day involves managing their work commitments. Moreover, a higher engagement leads to better well-being as well. 

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Platforms that enable collaboration while delivering results should be the focus of technological investments. The core of such investments lies in improving the workflows and operational efficiency paired with minimal costs. 

Internal communication is the key when the workforce is scattered across various locations, or working in a hybrid model. Technology is a means of making those conversations more effective and constructive.

How would companies justify the business case -- in terms of adaptability, innovation and employee experience, for investing in well-being? Wellness can be developed as a skill. How do you practice it in your organizations to advocate it?

Wellness directly correlates to the enhanced adaptability, innovation, and employee experience as it greatly reduces the absence from work, which leads to higher productivity and engagement. Research shows that a higher engaged workforce has 30-40% lower absenteeism rates and better productivity and engagement. A healthier workforce also decreases insurance claims, productivity losses, etc. for the organization in the long run.

Gamification is a great way to develop wellness as a skill within the organization. For example, company-wide step-challenge encouraging each employee to complete a certain step every day and thereby enabling him/her to contribute to the overall target of the organization within a stipulated time is a great way to encourage employees to walk and take care of their health. 

We at ICRA have also included many training modules like time management, expanding circle of influence, collaboration within teams, for developing our employees and in turn moving towards better employee wellbeing.

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Topics: Employee Relations, Leadership, Employee Engagement, #WellbeingByDesign, #MentalHealth

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READ the November 2021 issue to know from global leaders how to integrate well-being at work