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Addressing mental wellbeing with empathy during uncertain times

The second wave of the pandemic has crippled countries like India, Brazil and Ecuador. Delhi, Sao Paulo and Quito’s hospitals are brimming with patients desperate for oxygen and life saving medicines. Infact, when it came to infections, as of April 2021, India and Brazil were at par.

The latest news stories reveal how countries like Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan are seeing case numbers setting new records, a rise in infections across Cambodia and Laos, and a slew of strict new restrictions being enforced in Singapore.

Apart from the significant physical anguish that comes from the infection, this wave of COVID-19 has also brought with it a significant spike in mental health concerns. Not surprisingly, WHO is known to have said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stark reminder of the importance of integrating mental health into preparedness and response plans for public health emergencies.” 

Photo by Matthew Ball on Unsplash Woman holding open shirt to reveal t shirt that says mental health matters

Recognizing the significance of that statement – since the pandemic struck, Thoughtworks has proactively acknowledged the growing fear, uncertainty and loss. We have offered employees augmented support, and through it have realized support needs to be customized to individuals’ personal contexts and the role they play at the organization, and in their personal capacity.

For instance, we are empowering managers to lead with compassion and empathy. We are helping teams sustain their interpersonal, albeit virtual connect, with trust through consistent engagement. 

To be understanding and decisively ‘do with compassion’, Thoughtworks has launched several office initiatives specifically designed for employees to embrace openness and safely discuss issues around mental health. These include:
  • Session on leading with compassion and empathy for team leads is a facilitated session designed for team leads to help their team members who might be in the midst of extremely difficult personal situations and recognising the role of trust and engagement during these times
  • The basics of peer-to-peer counseling sessions are run for Office Managers, HR and functional leaders to provide better support to our employees
  • The care program supports professional and personal development and well-being by prioritizing integral health in the workplace. The key tenets of this program are self-care, content sharing, support and assistance
  • A series on  battling COVID-19 are zoom sessions where Thoughtworkers narrate their personal experiences of having either contracted the virus or of caring for someone else. These sessions go over what works, the challenges and how to prepare for either scenario
  • Inclusive Teams Social Contract is an exercise for teams to revisit their ‘ways of working’ and help new joinees adjust to the new normal while addressing aspects like work-life balance, asynchronous communication, extended zoom meetings, prolonged pairing etc
  • 1:1 personalized counselling/coaching sessions are sessions run by trained mental health professionals/ counselors. Some offices have an assistance hotline that employees can use
  • Focused sessions on wellness for teams involve experts focusing on different areas of wellness, where content and modules. This is offered to individual teams to be run in an intimate and personal manner
  •  De-stress bytes - stretch, relax, refresh are short virtual yoga, meditation, breathing exercises and simple stretches sessions
  • Circle of trust on mental health were virtual sessions where Thoughtworkers with different roles and responsibilities came forward to share their personal experiences of going through mental health issues or being a caregiver to someone going through mental health issues 
  • Destigmatising mental health is a key priority for Thoughtworks and centers on open communication, sensitization and creating awareness around mental wellbeing. Efforts that support this objective include:
    • Forming wellbeing groups that regularly discuss occasions of unique needs and support required allowing Thoughtworks leadership and people teams to effectively plan responses in advance
    • ​Proactive discussions featuring Thoughtworks leadership at multiple internal forums – country-wide town halls, regular mail comms, and office and function-level meetings
Over and above revenue and profits, it’s an organization’s culture that binds the employees together - not unlike with a family. 

And, during extremely difficult times like these, organizations with inclusive and demonstrative cultures are more resilient (or rather culturally resilient) which should let them come away from crises like the pandemic – unified and stronger.

Such resilience could be made up of small positive micro moves that we exhibit both as individuals and leaders or larger organization-wide initiatives of support. 

A good example is a recent note that the Thoughtworks CEO sent asking all Thoughtworkers to pay special attention to their own physical and mental health. He stressed on setting boundaries between work time and everything else. And, that there’s nothing more important than good health and mental wellbeing, especially during these times of anxiety. 

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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