Article: Tailor your mental health initiatives and policies for the best outcome, says Bajirao Nawale of Sodexo

Talent Management

Tailor your mental health initiatives and policies for the best outcome, says Bajirao Nawale of Sodexo

Mental health has gained greater recognition as a business imperative, and organisations are increasingly expanding their initiatives based on the unique needs of their workforce and location.
Tailor your mental health initiatives and policies for the best outcome, says Bajirao Nawale of Sodexo

In an era where the significance of mental health in the workplace has never been more pronounced, People Matters spoke to Bajirao Nawale, HR Director for Malaysia & Singapore, Sodexo to understand how global companies have taken significant strides in championing mental health initiatives in the workplace, recognising the tangible benefits it brings to both employees and the bottom line.

 What are your thoughts about advocating for mental health on a global scale?

Advocating for mental health on a global scale is essential, but it should be approached with a recognition of the diverse needs and contexts of different countries. For example, different cultures and societies have their own unique stigmas, beliefs, and attitudes surrounding mental health. The availability of mental health resources also varies greatly between countries. Hence, tailoring mental health initiatives and policies to the specific challenges and opportunities in each country is crucial for making a meaningful impact and promoting mental well-being.

At Sodexo, we make sure to tailor our initiatives to suit the needs and wants of employees in different countries. For example, in Singapore, we focus on four key pillars to support the emotional and physical needs of our employees: emotional, community, physical, and social well-being. Within each pillar, we implement initiatives that fit employees’ needs.

One such initiative is ‘No Meeting Day’, which falls under our social well-being pillar. At Sodexo, we gathered feedback from our employees and found that during the pandemic, the lines between home and work were blurred, which took a toll on their mental well-being. From this response, we introduced No Meeting Day, which takes place every third Friday of the month. The initiative allows for a more productive day as employees can engage in deep work without interruptions.

Another programme we rolled out is our Volunteering Leave under the community well-being pillar. We established this programme as volunteering has proven mental health benefits, including reducing stress and combating depression. The programme also reinforces our Employee Value Proposition pillars (belong, act, thrive) as it fosters a culture of belonging, boosts employee morale and physical and mental health, and allows our employees to act with purpose, and thrive at work. It further supports Stop Hunger, our very own non-profit network to help local communities permanently escape hunger and malnutrition.

Apart from these approaches, we also conduct global and regional webinars on various topics related to mental and physical well-being.

What are the top factors that in your view make mental well-being a business imperative?

Now more than ever, mental well-being has become a major business imperative. In Singapore alone, poor mental health has cost the economy roughly $16 billion a year.

In addition, a whopping 85% of Singaporean-based employees have expressed that they feel at risk of burnout in 2022, with one in five already sharing that they feel de-energised at work. Such challenges can lead to sickness, ‘quiet quitting,’ or even resignation.

On the other hand, studies have shown that improved employee mental health is good for business, such as enhanced employee attraction and retention. For example, in a study by the University of California, Riverside, organisations that invested in well-being (both physically and mentally) witnessed a 5% increase in productivity. Furthermore, each dollar invested in wellness programs saved $2.73 million in absenteeism costs.

The numbers don’t lie: mental health continues to benefit businesses and is a critical aspect of company success.

How has the perception of mental health in the workplace evolved in your organisation in recent years?

Mental health initiatives in the workplace have evolved from a nice-to-have to a business imperative. This is not just for Sodexo, but for many other organisations within the region and beyond. In the past, neither employees nor organisations had much open dialogue on the matter.

However, the pandemic cast a spotlight on the importance of mental health and propelled the conversation further. Employees began discussing the topic more openly and managers were more understanding of their role in supporting the well-being of their team members.  

When the pandemic hit and lockdowns ensued, one of the main things we focused on was ensuring the well-being of our employees. This focus led to the implementation of Sodexo’s APAC Health and Well-Being Hub, where employees could access an intranet portal that provided practical resources to help them cope with uncertainties in the new normal.

What other trends do you see emerging in the way people talk, think, and act around mental health in the workplace?

There is a growing awareness and acceptance of mental health issues in the workplace. We are seeing employers and employees alike acknowledge the importance of addressing mental health concerns openly and compassionately.

In the same vein, more organisations are prioritising mental health as a fundamental component of their overall employee well-being strategies. Mental health is no longer viewed as a separate issue but as integral to employees’ overall health.

As a result of this mindset shift, more companies in Singapore are expanding mental health and wellness benefits for employees. Whether offering corporate insurance coverage for mental health, paying for self-care app subscriptions, or providing round-the-clock access to counselling services, companies recognise that looking after employees’ well-being is non-negotiable and can also bring benefits to the business.

What role should the HR department play in promoting and protecting the mental health of employees within an organisation?

The HR department plays a crucial role in advocating and protecting employees' mental health within an organisation. First, HR can actively shape policies that serve as strong pillars for mental health support. These encompass anti-discrimination measures, flexible work arrangements, and leave policies tailored to accommodate mental health requirements.

Additionally, HR should ensure that employees have access to mental health resources like Employee Assistance Programmes and counseling services, providing a safety net for those in need.

Perhaps most significantly, HR can lead in cultivating an atmosphere where employees feel empowered to speak openly about their mental health concerns without fear of judgment. This may include setting up confidential channels for reporting and support to protect employees' privacy.

In your experience, what are some of the most common challenges employees face when it comes to mental health in the workplace, and how can HR leaders address these challenges?

Addressing mental health stigma is one of the biggest challenges. An alarming 60% of employees refrain from discussing their mental health due to fear of being perceived differently. This underscores the importance of fostering a culture of trust and inclusion where employees feel safe talking about mental health.

At Sodexo, we focus on cultivating a positive workplace culture and continually strive to create an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their struggles and know that their voices matter. We equip our leaders with valuable resources like 'Sodexo Supports Me' to initiate mental health conversations with their teams. We also actively listen to concerns and take meaningful actions.

Moreover, we provide 24/7 access to confidential, professional counseling and mental health resources for our employees and their families. We aim to break the stigma, promote dialogue, and ensure comprehensive support, fostering a workplace where everyone can flourish personally and professionally.

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Topics: Talent Management, #Wellbeing, #MentalHealth, #HRCommunity

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