How these workplaces protect employees’ mental health

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Employees at the Canva Philippines office pre-pandemic. Photo courtesy of CANVA PHILIPPINES

The visual image of a typical workplace most probably involves boring office cubicles, hierarchical and bureaucratic processes, and overworked employees. After all, movies and television shows love depicting offices that way. People are made to understand that the office is a place for serious business. Anybody caught doing something else is an unideal employee. Dreadful. Terrible. Awful. Bad, bad, bad.

But in reality, things are changing. Few, if not many, employers no longer just teach employees work skills — they teach wellness and resiliency skills now, too. They even encourage them to have hobbies and interests as people are appreciating the value of work-life balance. Younger people, especially, are understanding that it is no longer good to have your job as your life; it is now more important to have a life outside of your job.

Needless to say, this has become more important in a global health crisis, which has also raised a mental health crisis: a 2021 report by the American Psychological Association showed that 71% of employees typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday. People, also, now feel that they are more overworked yet underpaid; 56% said that their low salaries are affecting their stress levels and 50% said they have too heavy of a workload in 2021 — higher than the 49% and 44%, respectively, in 2019.

This is not a new phenomenon. The COVID-19 pandemic only emphasized the existence of these mental health concerns in the workplace “because of the changes in the work routine or the habits,” said Cat Triviño, head of content and communications at MindNation, a mental health and wellness company, in the Oct. 15, 2021 episode of CNN Philippines’s “The Exchange.” The episode was dedicated to the discussion of mental health in the workplace. “We are also dealing with different kinds of pressures; we must now deal with new working conditions as well as having to balance family life and other responsibilities as well.”

Canva's in-house chefs provide easy-to cook recipes that the Canvanauts can follow at home. Photo courtesy of CANVA

Given this burgeoning focus on employees’ mental health, organizations must now acknowledge that they have a bigger role in protecting the psychological safety of their key members. According to Triviño, “The mental health concerns and even the loss of productivity can cause organizations up to ₱7 million per year. This does not yet include the physical manifestations of mental health that can occur with the employees because of the mental health issues.”

COVID-19 revealed just how much people mean to employers

Not surprisingly, prioritizing their people’s health and well-being are already the top concern of three employers that CNN Philippines Life spoke to for this story: for the graphic design platform Canva Philippines, consumer goods brand Nestlé Philippines, and business process outsourcing company TaskUs, acknowledging not only the hard work but also the human concerns of their employees is key to genuinely championing and safeguarding their people’s mental health.

“We are collectively living through an unprecedented life experience and it is more important than ever that employers are considerate of the variety of emotional experiences their employees are going through. In practice, this means companies may need to evaluate policies and procedures that address psychological health and safety,” said Rachel Lutz-Guevara, TaskUs’s Vice President of Global Wellness & Resiliency. “If they have not done so, now is the time for employers to strengthen their respective wellness and resiliency efforts in the workplace.”

When the pandemic hit, Nestlé Philippines, for instance, opened their Kumusta Ka? hotline to encourage their employees seek professional counseling and consultation whenever they feel the need for help in managing their mental health; launched a global online curriculum for their employees that aims to build strong foundations of physical and mental health to help them cope with the stress brought about by the pandemic; and rolled-out a broad and holistic menu of webinars with topics ranging from strategic and mindful pauses and mental health first aid, to parenting and financial wellness.

"Employee well-being and mental health are perhaps more important now than ever before... We know that the outbreak may be stressful for people; fear and anxiety associated with the pandemic can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions," said Ilyana Vita Lim, head of Nestlé Philippines's Talent and Organizational Development department. "Therefore, as a company we acknowledge this and aim to help employees identify individual ways of coping with it."

Canva Philippines, for its part, provided support to their employees by giving allowances for improvement or upgrading of their people’s remote workspaces, as well as for food and utility provisions. They also have a Vibe Team, whose mission is to keep Canva’s vibe alive by engaging their people in remote activities — from virtual cooking classes, work-out sessions, trivia nights, and music nights, among others — that continue to keep them all connected despite the distance. They also provided their employees with 13 free sessions with an Employee Assistance Program provider who they can turn to when they want to consult personally and professionally.

Yani Hornilla-Donato, Country Lead of Canva Philippines said, “The simple truth is that people do great if they feel great. Wellness these days isn’t limited to just the physical dimension but mental health also requires special attention because people are still affected immensely by the changes brought by isolation and distance working because of the pandemic.”

Life coaching, interest groups, and wellness trainings

But initiating workplace wellness efforts is not new to these employers. This is not something that they have just started when COVID-19 pandemic. As Triviño of MindNation said, “It is important that we recognize the importance of the [workplace wellness] programs within the workplace. The Mental Health Act, actually, is mandating all organizations and employers to have these programs and to activate their Employee Assistance Program to take care of psychological issues and concerns.”

Triviño is referring to the Republic Act No. 11036, or the Mental Health Act. Section 25 of the bill specifically states that employers shall develop appropriate policies and programs on mental health issues, correct the stigma and discrimination associated with mental conditions, and identify and provide support for individuals with mental health conditions to treatment and psychosocial support.

TaskUs, for one, has a Wellness & Resiliency Department even before the pandemic hit. This department is separate from their human resources department and is focused entirely on the well-being of their people. They have initiated workplace wellness efforts such as 24/7 psychological and psychiatric services, digital courses on wellness, yoga and meditation, among others.

TaskUs provides a variety of wellness programs such as 24/7 psychological and psychiatric services, digital courses on wellness, yoga and meditation, and in-house life coaching, among others. Photo courtesy of TASKUS

They also take pride in their long-existing in-house life coaching program, in which in-house life coaches are available 24/7 to attend to an employee’s concerns. As Lutz-Guevara explained, "Employees can present a variety of issues — from relationships with their colleagues and personal struggles to professional development and career advice,” and the life coach can provide a listening ear and professional advice, among others.

“Keeping the vibe alive,”also, has long been an existing culture at Canva Philippines. Even prior to the pandemic, they already have different efforts that promote creativity and collaboration: they have different interest groups that their employees can join in, and Slack channels for some tricks-and-tips and how-tos, among others.

Their employees are also encouraged to take leaves, too. “While we are doing our best to create an inclusive environment, it is still important to acknowledge whenever someone feels they need to take a day-off to either spend time with their families or friends or just by themselves,” Hornilla-Donato added. “So, we have a generous leave package that affords all of us the break that we need especially for employees like working mothers.”

Nestlé Philippines's approach, meanwhile, is always based on the feedback that they receive from their periodic team kamustahan, their people managers’ check-ins, and their EAP data. All feedback from these channels provide them with the common concerns and triggers that they would take into consideration in their next steps.

Nestlé Philippines hosts regular webinars on mental health and wellness that their employees can participate in. Photos courtesy of NESTLÉ PHILIPPINES

"For this year, our mental health webinars are a mix of topics on mindfulness pauses, keeping the peace at home, parenting and dealing with our children’s emotions, dealing with resilience and adversity," said Lim. "We have our employee-led online events that give them the opportunity to talk about personal hobbies and physical fitness, among others, as a way to cope with anxiety and stress."

How a proactive approach yields happy employees

An employer with a proactive approach to workplace wellness, as it turns out, a well-loved company.

Canva Philippines, for example, emerged as one of the top three companies in the "Philippines Best Workplaces" list in 2020 and 2021, and the top Best Place to Work in Asia this year in the small-medium category. This resulted in having a 370% increase in their job applications and a 96% score in the question "Canva supports my health and well-being during this time" in a recent company pulse survey.

Canva Philippines provide health programs and activities in their office pre-pandemic to make their employees to be on top shape. Photo courtesy of CANVA PHILIPPINES

TaskUs recorded a 91% satisfaction rate with their in-house coaching sessions and reached 10,000 sessions in the Philippines from September 2020 to September 2021 alone, which also contributed to the 94% employee well-being score that TaskUs recorded recently. Comparably, a leading workplace culture and compensation monitoring website, also honored TaskUs recently with the "Happiest Employees" and "Best Compensation" awards.

On Glassdoor, meanwhile, 89% of Nestlé Philippines employees would recommend working at Nestlé to a friend, while 97% of them approve of their CEO.

Lim of Nestlé said that their employees appreciate the intentional pauses — whether it is to join a webinar or global live podcast, or to sit in a quick team huddle discussing non-work topics — more than ever.

“We recognize that in our busy schedules at work and at home, as a company it is our main goal to carve out a specific time to pause, connect and reconnect with each other, and build the foundations of being resilient employees and leaders in Nestlé,” Lim said.

Everybody, in their own little ways, can also practice self-care. Jasmine Vergara, a psychiatrist and the technical officer for mental health and substance abuse at World Health Organization Philippines, has advice for employees who are still having a hard time adjusting to the remote work setup: “Mental breaks have become even more important; it should no longer be just an option but a must. It is important to practice mindfulness, do meditation, or even just listen to music that can reduce your stress.”

There is no shame in seeking professional help if these proactive self-care efforts are no longer working. Vergara said, “If you are seeing that you are no longer functioning the way you used to, if you have been having a hard time sleeping, or if you have been feeling that sense of helplessness, it would be advisable to seek professional help already.”

Editor’s note: Juju Z. Baluyot works as a Communications Specialist at TaskUs and is a frequent contributor to CNN Philippines Life.