It’s another workday. Depending on what you feel about your job, you’d either utter these words with gusto or with gloom.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it complex factors that are causing or magnifying the pressure and anxiety people feel towards their jobs, no matter how much they love what they do. A 9-to-5 job every day can be overwhelming as it is, but the threat of the virus and the fear of pay cuts or dismissal have taken work stress to a whole new level.
The work-from-anywhere policy worked, at least during the first few months of the pandemic. But the longer employees stay in their homes, the thinner the boundary of their professional and work lives has become, adding weight to an already burdened shoulder.
In this era of anxiety, many Vietnamese companies have stepped up in supporting their employees and ensuring a positive work environment.
Not business as usual
Flexibility in how, when and where to work has long been a hot topic for debate among employees and employers even before the pandemic began. With the current workforce now consisting mostly of young professionals, Vietnamese companies have already started allowing staff working from the comfort of their homes or from coffee shops where they don’t feel trapped in the mundaneness of a white-walled office.
“In our Gen Z research from last year, we saw that not having to commute was a key reason for people to enjoy working from home. Travelling to a large HQ somewhere (far) away from home just doesn’t make sense, and it’s not fair to people,” shares Daan van Rossum, Chief Experience Officer at Dreamplex, a co-working space in Vietnam.
For Daan, personalization at work has been shown time and time again to improve happiness and engagement. People who can exercise more choice over when and where to work are much more likely to feel positive about their jobs and the company they work for.
Dreamplex does allow this flexibility, letting employees (depending on their roles) to work where they feel the most productive. Don’t want to brave the unbelievable Saigon traffic? Solved.
But the health crisis enabled companies to realize that it’s more than about an employee going to the office or staying at home, nor just about design and architecture. It’s about creating an environment (tangible and not) that promotes a stress-reducing culture.
Dreamplex, which has around 50 staff, holds regular workshops for employees to understand their purpose (core to their sense of well-being), build resilience, adapt in the job, time and energy management, as well as hands-on yoga and meditation classes.
“We also run weekly surveys on how our team members are doing across all aspects of their (work) life. This included their well-being, how busy they are, if they feel positive about their job and team, their sense of recognition, etc. Based on this, we have an understanding of how well they are and specifically, where we need to improve,” explains Daan.
For big companies such as VNG, monitoring more than 4000 employees’ mental well-being can be complicated. Offering work local flexibility with respect to the company’s mandated working hours helped lessen the risks of contracting the virus. Some were also allowed to stay in their hometowns to avoid the dangers of long-distance travel on public transportation.
“We do realize the situations of burn out that many employees face in their jobs, and hence last year we had announced a sabbatical leave policy for all employees who have achieved milestone years of 5, 10, 15, that they will be eligible for 2-4 weeks of paid holiday. We believe this will help employees to rejuvenate and come back a lot more refreshed, says Abhishek Mathur, Vice President, Chief People Officer at VNG Corporation.
In the last 10 months since the policy has launched, many VNG employees have utilized the time to pursue their hobbies, traveled around Vietnam, or spent quality time with their families.
“This has had a positive impact on their mental health,” adds Abhishek.
For those at the office, a world-class gym, a large swimming pool and scattered “rest” spaces are always available for use, encouraging employees to lead an active and healthy lifestyle through yoga or a 20-minute run on the treadmill, or relax on the ultra-comfortable bean bag.
“While we do not have an active program to check the mental well-being of our employees, our HR Business Partners are available and approachable for our employees to come and talk to. They do lend a listening ear for our employees whether they have professional or personal challenges,” explains the VP of Vietnam’s first ever unicorn start-up
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Take care of your employees, and they'll take care of your business
How employees deal with stress can positively or negatively affect their work, and eventually the company.
According to LifeSpeak, depression has become the leading cause of disability across the globe, and it’s estimated that 172 million workdays are lost due to depression a year. Stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues compound this problem, leaving people less engaged, focused, and productive.
While “mental health” is not commonly stipulated in employment contracts, it has become, in one way or another, an employer’s responsibility — whether it’s through giving more flexibility or reserving a space for an office yoga studio. A group wellness retreat or a Friday happy hour, perhaps?
This would be an addition to company expenses, for sure. But for companies that value their employees, they know that their greatest and most valuable investment is their people.
“For all companies, people are one of the most important ‘capital’ that needs to be invested wisely to get optimal return,” says Abhishek. “Mental wellness is something that we all need to take care of as management because it affects the organization as the employee will not be as productive if he/she is affected by any mental illness. Apart from the productivity, it will also have an impact on the team’s morale and eventually the overall engagement of the organization.”
As the pandemic drags on and employees’ anxiety are at high levels, it is imperative for companies to recognize how vital mental well-being is in the workplace. And even after COVID-19, attention to conversations surrounding mental health will be essential. A full dental insurance coverage won’t anymore suffice. Prioritizing employees’ health — body and mind — will become the cornerstone of every organization’s success in the future.
If we can make work great, we can make life great,” says Daan. He is right.