How does one discuss work over a cup of coffee? How can work get done when one is casual with the boss and does not have to worry about observing protocol at work? These were the questions that stumped Amit Nigam, 30, a senior production manager, who shifted recently from a Fortune 100 company to Aditi Technologies, a mid-size company in Bangalore.
“When I joined Aditi Technologies nine months ago, I was struck by the cultural differences. The work culture is very casual here. At my earlier workplace, there were elaborate processes in place which one needed to follow in order to get a resolution,” says Nigam.
The initial confusion about the different working styles gave way to some clarity when Nigam met with Aditi Technologies in-house psychologist, Azeem Bolar. “On joining, I had received an email from the human resources department stating that a professional counsellor visited the office twice a week. Meeting Mr Bolar helped, for he put a neutral perspective to the issue I faced,” says Nigam. “I met him almost two-three times a month during my initial days and did what he suggested—which was to allow myself more time to soak in the new culture. After that, it was easy to get used to the environment here.”
Helping hand: Talking with Azeem Bolar (left), an in-house psychologist, made it easier for Amit Nigam to fit in with the corporate culture at Aditi Technologies, Bangalore. Hemant Mishra / Mint
Aditi Technologies decided to hire a professional counsellor in 2008. “Like most IT companies, we attract a lot of young talent from all over the country. Most of our employees stay alone and away from home. This, along with work pressure, brings challenges that people haven’t been exposed to before. Therefore, we thought counselling could help our employees stay on course,” says K.C. Nair, vice-president, people department, explaining how the company came to have Bolar on board. “The visible changes (since Bolar has joined) may be very subtle to the organization... We see this more as a pre-emptive and proactive step, before things ‘blow up’.”
Bolar, taking for granted that employees have issues, calls himself the “employee’s stress buster”. He functions independently from the company, his main task being to discuss anything that the employee wants to talk about. He does not offer solutions. “I hold up the mirror for the employee. I ask them a few questions and leave them to think for themselves.”
The neutral buffer
The usual practice in most companies is to leave counselling duties for new employees (and even old ones) to the human resources (HR) department. Yet, ask the employees and most will say they are not comfortable discussing personal and professional issues with HR. More often than not, employees view HR as “a biased party”, inclined to favour employers or management.
Graphic: Raajan / Mint
“One can never be sure whether one’s opinions, views or pleas will be used against oneself at a later stage,” says Nigam. It is here that a qualified professional counsellor can provide the required buffer between an employer and an employee, with no hidden agendas (dispelling employees’ fear of being discussed with bosses, their comments being used against them, etc.).
“There are some aspects of psycho-behavioural therapy like confidentiality, unbiased Socratic listening, risk analysis for an employee to suggest support development, and psychometric analysis, which are possible only through the services of a qualified professional counsellor,” explains Anshoo Gaur, head, Amdocs India, Pune, a customer experience systems innovation firm, which also has an in-house counsellor on board.
Seek professional help
At Amdocs, assignments are given team-wise. Each team has a dedicated mentor for guidance. It was decided that a counsellor should be brought in if an employee’s issues could not be sorted by the mentor and escalated to a level where professional help was necessary. “The counsellor at Amdocs, thus, augments the support provided by the mentor,” says Gaur.
He cites an instance of an extremely aggressive employee who was a team leader. “This employee’s fastidious approach resulted in her becoming rigid towards the team’s work. Gradually, team members started getting offended by her and some even began to contradict her way of working. This disconnect began affecting the overall team dynamics.”
It was then that the employee approached the counsellor attached to the team and voiced her concerns voluntarily. “Analysis revealed that she had performance anxiety and high stress levels,”explains Gaur.
After a few sessions, the employee went back to successfully leading her team. “‘The counselling sessions have equipped me with a better understanding of how to prevent and deal with such situations,’ the employee told the management,” says Gaur.
Nowadays, companies are also willing to invest in counsellors who can lend expertise to employees not just on the professional front, but also help them deal with personal stress. Since counsellor services are free, employees can seek help without worrying about their wallet or trying to juggle work and find time to seek help. “We have successfully addressed some major issues with employees—work motivation, emotional instability, anxiety disorder, marital difficulties, etc.,” says Shalini Bhambhani, head, employee counselling, MphasiS, Bangalore.
This was done as part of the company’s efforts to promote better work-life balance—to provide emotional support to employees to help them cope with the stress of daily life, encourage them to take informed decisions in their personal and professional lives, and improve productivity at work. “The intention is to help the employees become aware of their own resources in order for them to have a more balanced lifestyle,” says Bhambhani.
Prithvi Shergill, lead human resources, Accenture, Bangalore, says: “We understand that our people have not only professional, but also personal concerns (loans, children, relationships, etc.) that might result in stress and anxiety. We have started the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that focuses on helping our people cope with both personal and professional issues. Accenture has teamed up with a company which offers clinical psychology, financial advisers and legal experts for employees seeking advice and counselling on any personal or professional issue.” Employees are given information on EAP when they join the company and subsequently, through regular emails.
Still, not all employees are comfortable walking over to meet a counsellor on the office premises. Some employers have, therefore, factored in the “shyness” of employees, and enabled counselling on email or over the phone.
Motilal Oswal Financial Services Ltd, Mumbai, provides employees a phone-in facility to call Independent Counselling and Advisory Services (Icas) and speak to a trained counsellor or psychologist, because the company felt counselling retains a stigma in India. The employees get a helpline number they can call. Counselling can also be done via email, and if the counsellor feels he/she needs to speak face-to-face to an employee, the company arranges for a meeting near the employee’s residence or office.
Motilal Oswal has around 1,500 employees across 25 offices in the country. “At an approximate investment of Rs8,00,000 per annum, we assure our employees of confidentiality,” says Sudhir Dhar, vice-president, HR.
Counselling is sometimes extended to employees’ families too. For instance, NetApp India, a storage and data management company in Bangalore, has a professional counselling service programme for employees called Spoorthy. This has been designed as an all-encompassing service that meets the needs of employees as well as their dependent family members. The feedback from employees and their families has been “positive”, says S.R. Manjunath, senior HR director, NetApp India.
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