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Healing touches

Healing touches
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First Published: Tue, Apr 10 2007. 12 25 AM IST
Updated: Tue, Apr 10 2007. 12 25 AM IST
Last July, soon after the Mumbai train blasts, Merrill Lynch Technology Services (MLITS) called in a psychiatrist to its office and asked him to offer trauma care advice to all its employees.
This January, a large Bangalore-based software consulting multinational company (MNC) held a week-long health awareness drive on its premises, driving home the message of prevention through a series of posters, flyers, promotional brochures and emails. It roped in a group of volunteers from among its employees who went around educating others on hygiene, checking each and every facility and highlighting the best practices, even seemingly mundane ones such as weekly drying of utensils in the sun by the cafeteria staff and so on.
These are just two small examples of how corporate India is moving towards a new mindset as far as the well-being of its employees is concerned. From the “treatment or curative” approach that was largely restricted to reimbursements for medical expenses to the preventive mindset of today that includes executive check-ups, insurance and talks on stress management, it’s taken a long time for this attitudinal shift to happen. But now, the good news is that companies are going beyond preventive action and getting into what Dr S.M. Shanbhag, president, Indian Association of Occupational Health, terms as a “promotive” mode by addressing issues of fitness, hygiene, pre-employment health check-ups and so on.
With more and more companies increasingly becoming conscious that they need to address more than just the physical well-being of their employees, Employee Assistance Programmes are gaining popularity. As Dr Samir Parikh, chief, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Max Healthcare, points out, companies are now addressing the “missing factor” in their organizational behaviour chain—looking at the individual psyche. And as companies try to instil “coping skills” among their employees, this has led to a host of “pre-emptive” actions.
Take the case of a large MNC, which was recently in the midst of a massive restructuring exercise, and called Max Healthcare’s organizational psychology department with an unusual request. It wanted a team of psychiatrists to be stationed full-time at its office during the downsizing exercise as it wanted to avoid undue mental trauma among its workforce. Such services are fairly common among companies in the West, but a relatively new phenomenon in India.
Indeed, Vishal Bali, chief executive officer, Wockhardt Hospitals, points out how most of the wellness programmes emanate from the MNCs, as there has been a lot of investment in wellness worldwide. Now, the practice is percolating down to their Indian counterparts.
Talk to the corporate hospitals and they will give you countless examples of companies approaching them with unusual health-care needs. Mukesh Shivadasani, executive director, Max Healthcare, describes how a number of corporates have, in recent months, approached it with requests relating to teaching employees basic life-saving skills so that they could handle emergencies in office, conducting stress audits, and maintaining monthly medical updates on health hazards such as dengue and bird flu, which they can email to all their employees, especially those who travel a lot on work.
Bangalore-based Wockhardt Hospital reports that it has been approached by corporates asking for tie-ups for emergency services. It has also received requests for regular vaccination camps to be conducted at the corporate’s office premises, open to all employees and their family members.
And as more such requests pour in, corporate hospitals are fine-tuning their offerings and coming up with innovative products of their own. For instance, the basic executive health check-up package is now undergoing a lot of customization. As Vishal Bali, chief executive officer, Wockhardt Hospital, says: “Everything is now industry-specific.” So, for IT companies, Wockhardt does an executive check-up that looks into osteoarthritis, musculoskeletal disorders and repetitive stress injury (RSI), while for the call-centre industry, it conducts lifestyle modification workshops on sleep hygiene and so on. Max Healthcare, for its part, has customized check-ups for call centers, which will look into issues like hearing loss and problems relating to posture.
With corporates also increasingly becoming gender sensitive and looking into the special needs of women executives, several packages customized to the requirements of women have come up. Says Bali: “Women face a much larger need for work-life balance as they typically take on too much on both fronts.”
So, Wockhardt offers special sessions aimed at helping women executives as well as customized health check-ups for them.
According to Bali, 30% of Wockhardt’s revenues today come from its corporate clientele and this is the segment that is going to grow as the focus on employee well-being increases. Shivadasani of Max, for whom 20% of revenues are generated from corporates, says he expects these to double soon. He also points out that within this segment the maximum action is going to come in the area of mental health. As he points out, companies are today gearing up to address the physical, mental and spiritual needs of their employees and Max wants to offer its services in the first two segments.
Not surprisingly, both Max’s Organization Psychology Initiative, headed by Dr Samir Parikh, and Indraprastha Apollo Hospital’s department of psychiatry, are getting busier. At Max, the first level of involvement with corporates is interactive workshops on stress management. The second stage is stress audits—detailed surveys as to what is causing stress among employees, followed by counselling for those who need it.
The most evolved offering is the counselling implant—where an expert visits the company every three weeks, stress audits are conducted once a year and one interactive seminar is held every three months.
At Apollo, programmes like “coping with retirement” are also gaining popularity.
According to Dr G.K. Kulkarni, editor of the Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, companies are increasingly realizing that there is a thin line dividing the problems at home and the problems at the workplace. Employees having problems in their marriage, with their in-laws, or those who have to deal with health or behavioural issues relating to other members of the family, are often inattentive at work and have problems in their interpersonal relations in the office. So, employers are now realizing the merits of counselling services at work.
Puneet Jetli, vice-president, People Function, MindTree Consulting, says: “We found that there were several issues that a line manager was just not equipped to handle and this is where professional counselling helps.” According to Dr Parikh, in most cases stress is generated less due to role issues and more due to interpersonal issues, which is why it makes sense for the HR department to work in tandem with a psychologist. “That is the way forward,” he says.
Dr Kulkarni also points out how chronic fatigue syndrome or burnouts, that are increasingly a common occurrence at corporate workplaces, are the result of new business dictates such as performance-based incentives. Stress audits conducted at various workplaces where detailed surveys were done to arrive at the root cause of stress—was it the boss, was it the work culture—revealed that the fear that they should not lose out on incentives as being a big factor.
ome companies are also experimenting with the idea of offering health-based perks. V.R. Chandramouli, chief executive officer, LifeCell, describes how several firms are tying up with them for cord-blood banking services for its employees. Starcom India and Hindustan Lever Ltd (now Hindustan Unilever Ltd) have picked up the Rs70,000-plus tab involved. Then, there have been instances of a large Indian software company and several banks picking up the bills of Lasik surgery and certain other cosmetic surgeries that their employees have undergone.
Initiatives like the one taken by MLITS are also coming to the fore. The company now covers hospital expenses for its employees’ in-laws too. With about 450 employees on its rolls, the company offers this benefit to every single employee, cutting across hierarchy.
The rationale: to discourage employees from false practices like trumped-up medical bills to claim their reimbursements. “I will not entertain food/entertainment vouchers passed off as medical expenses,” says Murali Subrahmanyam, managing director and chief operating officer, MLITS. In the bargain, it’s also a strong loyalty tool for the company as such perks are cherished more by employees than, say, a travel incentive like a European sojourn or a Kenyan safari.
Ultimately, it all boils down to economics, says Max’s Shivadasani, pointing out how all these preventive and pre-emptive measures are beneficial—either in terms of having a more productive workforce or as a powerful tool of employee retention.
Employee Assistance Programmes
Employee Assistance Programmes, or EAP, as they are popularly called, are old hat in the West, but a relatively new phenomenon in India. An EAP is essentially a custom-made programme providing confidential, professional assistance to employees and their families who are experiencing problems which affect their personal lives or job performance. It’s a voluntary programme and the details are kept strictly confidential.
Puneet Jetli, vice-president, People Function, MindTree, describes how it initiated this programme seven months ago. It was not an easy one to introduce, as he points out, because of the negative reaction that the term counselling evokes here.
Says Jetli: “The challenge was how to position this programme positively. So we branded it internally as “Be Positive” and designed a specific logo for it, to make it proactive and a positive service.”
In order to avoid any suggestion of “sickness” to be associated with the programme, MindTree also consciously avoided associating itself with hospitals or organizations like the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences for this service, instead opting for a company specializing in employee-assistance programmes—in this case, 1to1help.net. “We also insisted on an anonymous service, telling the service provider that we did not want any individual data,” said Jetli.
He feels that all these steps have paid off in making the service popular as more than one-third of MindTree’s employees have used the counselling service.
Texas Instruments, IBM India, HP-GDIC, i-flex solutions, Metlife Insurance, GE-ITC, Dell International Services, EMC2 , Oracle and L&T Infotech are some of the other companies where EAPs are running — in many of these places it’s an offshoot of the global programme.
As more and more Indian companies go in for EAPs, it’s attracting global service providers in this area like PPC Worldwide, which made its entry into India last year. Typical counselling issues covered include relationships, substance abuse, family matters, health issues and performance issues.
Another counselling-based programme gaining currency among Indian corporates is “Trauma care services”. Essentially, help is sought when a traumatic incident occurs in or around the workplace, such as an industrial accident, a restructuring programme, a case of fraud. A team of mental health activists conduct debriefing sessions on site, do crisis counselling and are available for consultation and follow-ups.
(Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com)
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First Published: Tue, Apr 10 2007. 12 25 AM IST
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