How agencies are helping their employees take care of their mental health amidst a global pandemic
We reached out to a few digital, media and creative agencies to find out what measures they have taken to help their em...

How agencies are helping their employees take care of their mental health amidst a global pandemic

We reached out to a few digital, media and creative agencies to find out what measures they have taken to help their em...
  • With the increasing number of Covid-19 cases every day and job layoffs, it is becoming extremely difficult to stay calm and keep working for a lot of people.
  • A lot of agencies have upgraded their policies to help their employees navigate through this tough period and to push them to take care of their mental health.
  • From sharing their chai time to appreciating their personnel’s cooking skills to playing online games, agencies have put their best foot forward to fight together, despite being miles apart.
As of April 29, there are 29,435 positive COVID-19 cases in India. To top that, an air of despondency is looming around because of the fear of the unknown, blues of working in isolation, pressure to overperform in a dismal atmosphere, lack of job assurance and security, and salary cuts.

And those who were already battling with mental illness such as OCD, anxiety, depression, or autism—have found their stress levels kicking through the roof and struggles intensified.

In such a challenging scenario, it is quite normal to feel dejected and lost. Therefore, there is an urgent need for better HR policies, counselling sessions and human contact today more than ever before. It is critical to check on their mental well-being rather than seeking updates on their daily tasks.

Agencies are coming up with creative solutions to help their employees to cope and stay upbeat. From digital Antakshari to making sure they see each other virtually every day during their chai time to one-on-one sessions with medical professionals, experts have left no stone unturned to ease out their employees’ struggles. They claim that they feel closer to their employees today than ever before.

We reached out to a few digital, media and creative agencies to find out what measures they have taken to help their employees look after their mental health and asked to share a few tips on what we need to do as an industry to make sure we don't forget our teams' mental health amidst a crisis, and here is what they said:

Anupriya Acharya, CEO, Publicis Groupe South Asia:

How agencies are helping their employees take care of their mental health amidst a global pandemic
Talent has always been our top priority and focus and we have consistently engaged with employees on health and wellness through various modules on yoga, meditation, fitness routines etc. Furthermore, we are launching an Employee Assistance Program that will offer 24X7 counselling and wellness solutions. This will help employees deal with various work-life challenges.The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated our efforts in this direction. In order to address the isolation and uncertainty that employees may feel in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is our effort to create a safe space for them… Where people are free to express their fears and anxieties and to give them the courage to carry on against all odds. We have facilitated a lot of remote learning and engagement programs so as to keep people stimulated and connected and to not feel the sense of being alone, remote. This includes fun and play, fitness, meditation and music sessions along with a lot of knowledge-sharing and interactive webinars. We frequently check in on each other and are in fact more connected than ever through virtual meet-ups. We are also, at local levels, doing one-on-one connects via listening posts to help employees with their grievances, queries, and are taking suggestions on making this new normal way of working, both productive and comfortable.

Rohit Ohri, Group Chairman & CEO, FCB India:
How agencies are helping their employees take care of their mental health amidst a global pandemic

Isolation, the fear of contagion and the uncertainty can be nerve-wracking for anyone. And everything that we are doing through these times for our people is towards their emotional and mental well-being. Our focus is on ensuring that our teams stay connected and bonded and have multiple outlets for stress relief, even as they work remotely

  • We are constantly emphasising self-care. Both physical and mental. Every day we send out a tip on self-care #lockdownbreakout with easy to access resources, whether it is exercise, meditation, self-reflection or other techniques in positive psychology.
  • We provide opportunities for people to virtually connect over recreation activities right from group yoga to Bollywood dancing to a weekly My Happy Hour which is a platform for talented employees to stage an hour soiree on Instagram Live of their talent whether it be singing, dancing or stand-up etc. This engagement encourages all employees to take time from their busy work schedules to come together to support and be entertained each week through the love of creativity.
  • We put out a curated list of things to do every week in the space of learning and entertainment Cool Sh*t To Do. One thing the lockdown, globally, has created is opportunities for all of us to enjoy artists across the world and nationally online. There is so much happening every week, other than streaming your favourite shows, that our employees can check out. This gives them the opportunity to discover new things from cooking, engaging seminars or even the opera.
  • We have ensured there are processes in place by which our leaders are constantly communicating with their teams through virtual meetings and town halls and addressing their issues and concerns. Open channels of communication are critical at times like these.
  • Most importantly, we have made sure that our teams have access to any sort of medical help from home through an app Doctor 24x7. This is an app-based service which provides our employees the opportunity to speak with doctors and health specialists across the country at any time. We understand the challenges faced with physically seeking help medically right now, so we wanted to open a channel for employees to feel like they can be looked after through this partnership. The app also has a section dedicated to mental health with qualified therapists readily available.
I think mental illness in times like these is an outcome of fear and insecurity. And while it is important to be open, honest and transparent, we as an industry have to be cautious of the messaging that we put out, especially through the period of lockdown. Constant negative coverage spreads anxiety and apprehension. This is the time for us to be supportive, show empathy and inspire with positivity.

Anand Chakravarthy, Managing Director, Essence India:
How agencies are helping their employees take care of their mental health amidst a global pandemic

Most businesses require a close collaboration of different functions, and years of working together out of an office cannot be completely replaced overnight with remote working. One of the key challenges of entire teams working remotely from home is the dip in energy and engagement, which can be easily sensed by one another in an office but not in a remote working environment. This can lead to reduced productivity in uncertain times. To help mitigate such situations and ensure that we are able to positively impact the mental health of our teams, we introduced initiatives in three areas of focus:

  • Driving engagement
At Essence, we have always had our voluntary affinity group, Pirates, who are the culture champions within the agency. During this remote working period, they have been constantly innovating to create a new initiative each week to keep our teams in good spirits. These include online quiz sessions, an online music concert, sharing of pictures of our home workspaces and pets, and even online Zumba classes!

There is also our global ‘Essence Olympics’ which takes place throughout April 2020. Employees can take part in the four categories of distance, daily workout, nutrition and mental power. They thus have something fun to do and look forward to on a weekly basis, keeping spirits and energy high while working from home.

Additionally, we have a series of town halls conducted online, where both our India and global leadership address entire teams, give prompt updates and answer questions. This process of continuous communication in a very dynamic environment has been instrumental in keeping all employees informed and engaged.

  • Ensuring mindfulness and empathy
Extended weeks of working remotely does take its toll on everyone. It is certainly not easy to be working like before while being at home, especially with our varying personal and household responsibilities. We encourage everyone to maintain a daily schedule, just like working from the office, by starting and ending the day on time and avoiding late calls or working on the weekend.

Globally, we have weekly ‘Mindfulness Moments’ live streams, which are designed to help employees take time out to pause, breathe and find a centred place.

Our global ‘Connect’ newsletter serves as a guide to staying connected during times of social distancing. It is updated weekly to provide the latest information on policies, remote working tips and tools to bolster employees’ physical, emotional and mental health.

To support employees and their line managers, we also put together a series of workshops called BRIDGE and TRAVERSE to provide practical tips on how to approach remote working and manage work, while still recognising challenges people face. The aim is to help employees thrive in the face of this new status quo, stay connected no matter the distance, and continue to deliver on our mission to our clients, all while taking care of their own well-being.Access to counselling is available to all employees as well, should they want to speak to a professional counsellor about how they are feeling.

  • Enhancing productivity
Technology has played a key role in enabling remote working, and fortunately at Essence, we have always been using Google Hangouts for internal meetings across our India offices and with teams in other countries. Using technology effectively has contributed really well to staying connected and productive.

The second space is in the area of upskilling and training. We have devised and launched a series of training programmes across different disciplines that employees can opt in for.

-Organisations should have existing systems and processes in place to ensure the holistic wellness of their employees. Essence has an established employee well-being ecosystem that supports staff through both professional and personal challenges.

Encouraging more open dialogue around mental well-being is an important first step, as it impacts the productivity, physical and social well-being, as well as the quality of life of employees. There is more that can be said and done about workplace mental health, and organisations need to take it upon themselves to make it a strategic imperative.

Gautam Reghunath, CEO, Dentsu Webchutney:
How agencies are helping their employees take care of their mental health amidst a global pandemic

Our industry is such that we frequently delight in the joys of work and life – new pitch wins, awards, celebrations for things big and small and more. We’re inherently celebratory, both for work and life achievements. Our hope for Webchutney has always been that we try to bring our whole selves authentically to work and that includes us not shying away from the hard stuff, such as anxiety, grief, burnout and stress, especially during situations like the one we find ourselves in now.

To help us with this, we’ve been partnering with an institution called HNI, a not-for-profit that provides services in mental health, workplace stress management and other individual and organizational needs. They’ve been our partners for nearly a year now, first with a pilot in Bangalore and now for all our offices recently. These are completely confidential one-on-one interactions as would be with any therapist or counsellor, with the advantage that over time we’ve also helped HNI’s team understand the nature of our work and workplace better. Their long-term role will be to help us build an open & progressive work environment where individuals can thrive and perform, and where one needn’t come at the cost of the other.

More than anything we need to remind each other that it is okay to not always be okay (my favourite piece of wall art from the Bangalore office is below). Webchutney has been lucky to experience tremendous highs over the past year, and as we try and continue in the same vein despite current limitations, work can often ask a lot of an individual. And dealing with these work pressures, managing personal commitments & relationships especially in this current climate now is guaranteed to be tricky and stressful. We need to encourage everyone to talk openly and show compassion. It may be as small as recognizing when others are going through a tough moment and allowing them the time and space for themselves. It may be listening and about having each other’s backs. It’s an ambitious industry by nature but there’s a lot more that advertising can achieve by slowing down occasionally.
How agencies are helping their employees take care of their mental health amidst a global pandemic

Rohan Mehta, CEO, Social Kinnect:
How agencies are helping their employees take care of their mental health amidst a global pandemic

During a crisis like this, it is common for everyone to experience increased levels of distress and anxiety, particularly as a result of social isolation. Luckily at Kinnect, it didn't take a crisis for us to understand the importance of our employees' well-being. As part of our #GetALife program that encourages work-life balance, we facilitate one-on-one sessions with a mental health professional on a bi-weekly basis. An external professional conducts these sessions, and we ensure confidentiality. Keeping in mind the current situation, in March and April, the sessions were facilitated through calls/video calls.

All leadership is mandated to do team catch-up calls every day, preferably starting the day with a video call. Thus enabling them to stay connected and build better team relationships. We have a designated team that reaches out to all Kinnectors, and discusses at length about their health and work from home scenarios. I make sure to interact with the leadership every week and keep myself updated about each of their team member’s health. We also do virtual engagement activities and training. We encourage our employees to take up activities or learn a new skill, to grow personally as well as professionally in a time where they might feel stagnant. #KinnectFridays are a mainstay as part of the #KinnectCulture. Keeping with our tradition of a monthly #KinnectFriday, we recently did a virtual #KinnectFriday BYOB version where we had our team members across Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore strum instruments and sing along to uplift spirits.

Agencies have young employees, specifically millennials, and they are not used to being around family for extended periods, making the situation unique to them. At a time like this, it is imperative to integrate and streamline digital infrastructure. Interaction is the key. Communicating regular updates to your staff, keeps everyone calm and creates trust among employees. Consider including a daily update on their health and well-being in your on-call meetings. Communicate clearly, and be always available to listen. Understand their current work settings, and acknowledge that working around family, and a combination of working and supervising children can get tedious. Hence, maintain some semblance of a structure while allowing that this is an unprecedented situation. Help them plan their work schedules around their homes, and most importantly show kindness and patience toward others as well as ourselves.

Harshil Karia, Founder and Managing Director, Schbang:
How agencies are helping their employees take care of their mental health amidst a global pandemic

  • We have collaborated with MindHouse to give our Schbangers a 3 Month Subscription of their Application which gives them unlimited Access to Yoga and Meditation. This allows our Schbangers to relax and recharge and stay mentally healthy. Preventive Mental Health is the need of the hour.
  • In addition to that, we have initiated lots of Clubs: We have a Cooking Club called Schefs of Schbang. From Schefs - some of the recipes have already started seeing the light of day.
How agencies are helping their employees take care of their mental health amidst a global pandemic

We have a band called Schband and we're working on something very cool and musical to release. We have 2 Fitness and Meditation Tracks - 1 for the Morning and 1 for the evening

Below is also a screenshot of our Internal Portal which has them easy for all to access:
How agencies are helping their employees take care of their mental health amidst a global pandemic

  • We also recently collaborated with Humans of Bombay where we took shots from our Schbangers and included them in a video.

Now we are collaborating with Humans of Bombay to come up with a version of the #DontRushChallenge. See it here:

  • We have catch ups with the team via Hangout and then we have some extra special catch ups. We recently had Ranveer Allahbadia popularly known as BeerBiceps catch up with our Top Managers on a Video Hangout where we discussed everything from Meditation to the state of Influencers to how he's staying positive in these times.

You can see how our Schbangers are staying conected come 5 PM over Chai: