Sonica Aron, Founder and Managing Partner, Marching Sheep

Sonica Aron is the Founder and Managing Partner of Marching Sheep, an HR advisory firm specializing in Strategic HR advisory, Diversity and inclusion interventions and capability building. An XLRI post graduate, Sonica has worked with companies like Pepsico, Vodafone, Roche Diagnostics and ICI paints. She started her career with a sound understanding of business where she went route-riding with Pepsico and was part of the team that launched Pepsi 200 ml at Rs 5. She was the first lady HR Manager stationed at a factory in Upcountry UP and there the seeds to her diversity practice were born.

 

The last 15 months have been turbulent to say the least. Life as people have known it, has changed significantly. Not only the way of working, which in itself has been a significant shift, the way people view life has undergone a significant shift, particularly after the second wave of the pandemic hit. The second wave has been far more lethal and wide spread than the first one. This time around, it has impacted the middle generation, and lives of many families have changed permanently in a span of a few weeks. 

The whole country is in shock at how fast things have changed. The unpredictability and the magnitude of the second wave has shaken one and all.

In all this, people are working. Most organisations are working completely from home. However, in some cases, like essential services, people do have to go to work. In either case, given the context of what we are all going through, employee wellbeing has to be top priority for organisations. Employee wellbeing is not just physical wellbeing but also includes mental and emotional wellbeing and this pandemic has taken a toll on both. Constant worrying, fear (not just of covid but now ofmucormycosis or the black fungus which many recovered covid patients are coming up with), prolonged social isolation, frustration with the availability(or lack of it) of healthcare infrastructure, increased workload (either due to stretch targets or due to unavailability of team members who might be medical leave), grief over loss, all are a recipe for mental fatigue, stress, and anxiety. 

The emotional fallout of this pandemic will have far reaching impact on businesses, economy and society as whole unless we take cognizance now, and everyone has role to play. So what can organisations do about it?

Role of Leadership

Leaders play an instrumental role in setting the tone of the culture in the organisation. At this time, and in times to come, they will need to drive and prioritiseemployee well-being, transparency and trust in the organisation culture so that employees feel comfortable and psychologically safe in sharing their concerns and needs, feel heard, and taken care of. Transparent sharing of their own issues and sharing their own vulnerabilities will help build trust and confidence among employees. Some of the recent cases where organisations have shut down operations with meaningful intent to protect their field employees from infection or to help their employees heal and recover are excellent examples of leadership taking a firm stand of ‘employees first’.

Role of Managers

Managers can play a pivotal role by overcoming the barrier between professional and personal lives. It will not be easy as we have all been conditioned to keep them separate. But now with work from home and hybrid working models becoming a long term reality, the line between the two is blurring. A manager who can build a relationship with their team members built on curiosity, empathy, transparency and trust will nurture a resilient team. For this managers will need to engage in authentic conversations with their team members and start with their own disclosures, earn trust, demonstrate vulnerability, invite openness, offer support when needed and be a good listener.

Role of HR

Employee resilience will need a sustained systemic approach and not a topical one and hence, going deep into policies, processes, way of working which impacts employees and their relationship with work will be needed.

HR plays aninstrumental role in coming up with real time solutions to real concerns and lived realities of employees. They need to ensure that policies and processes that are rolled out are implemented in both letter and spirit. For example, if a company has rolled our meeting free Fridays, is it really being followed? Are employees and managers truly leveraging the flexible policies which have been put in place for their wellbeing or are they being flouted in pursuit of deliverables and targets. If mandatory leaves per quarter have beenput out in leave policy, are employees really taking those leaves. If they are, how many end of working while on leave. One to one check-ins with employees will be needed to grasp the reality and then address them.

HR also needs to partner with business to relook at the way of working now and going forward. Are there specific routines and structures that are causing additional stress. For instance, Monday morning reviews leading to teams working on weekends? Can there be an alternative to this?

Individual capability building- Emotional resilience

End of the day, resilience comes from within and each individual will need to be enabled. It is important to note that each person is different and responds to situations and events differently. For each person, there are different stress triggers and their emotional response to stress triggers will be different and so will be their coping mechanisms. It is important that each individual identifies their own stress triggers, emotional responses and coping mechanisms. This is a life skill which can be built with simple tools and enhanced with practice. This is the need of the hour for each and every individual today. Resilience is not the absence of stress triggers but the ability to manage emotional response to those triggers. Being able to channelise emotions, what they are feeling, articulate them and manage them will not only empower the employees in their personal life but also make them more resilient and productive professionally.

We also need to remember that there is nothing more resilient than the human spirit and that has been visible in the way different people have come together, come forward in the darkest days to help those in need. People have helped strangers, CSR cells of companies have been in overdrive, funds have been raised to set up oxygen plants and what not. All this gives hope that we shall all overcome and heal together.

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