Agata, over the last year you have introduced a very interesting benefit program for your employees related to health on the market. It seems to be the beginning of a long-term trend in HR. How did you come to this?
From the perspective of the HR department, the pandemic had a very positive impact on jump-starting the serious discussion about the mental health of employees. Until the pandemic, mental health was a taboo, which led to negative consequences for incumbents and businesses. For example, it had often led to stigma against the affected. Today we are talking about providing mental care as much as we are talking about healthcare. It is simply another very important benefit for employees.
During the pandemic it turned out that many people suffered in isolation. Our reaction as companies was only: "manager, your job is to take care of your people." In fact, we have shifted this burden onto them. This was a big challenge for many leaders, who did not know how to help their employees; they didn't even want to ask questions to employees about their well-being, because they lacked the knowledge on how to react to these answers.
It turned out that organizations are not completely prepared for this and the level of education in these areas is very low.
Have you found a way to help them?
Yes, maybe not solve the issues but relieve them.
We have created an educational program for managers - Mental Health First Aiders, which trains and prepares for psychological first aid. It is a global program.
We entered into cooperation with several organizations but we were primarily looking for a systemic support. Our partners in this project made selections and out of 100 people (of 800 employees in the company) who applied for the program, 20 were selected, trained, and certified.
These people are in the first line of help. They do not so much solve problems, but rather show our people where/how to find professional help.
How did your employees react to this?
Very well indeed. Though, as might be expected, not everyone utilizes the program to the same extent. However, the representation is so large that it also gives an insight into general and cultural problems within the company. We have an additional benefit in the form of identifying watchouts. We have also introduced 3 additional days off for psychological well-being.
Surely you are at the forefront of this change in the market, aren’t you?
Fortunately, our global CEO Wendy Clark attaches great importance to well-being, hence we have her support in this matter. Companies are beginning to expand the range of options for taking care of mental health. When it comes to the availability of psychological or psychiatric care, the statistics, especially in our part of Europe, are alarming. That is why such help must be developed. This is obviously an additional burden for companies, yet the trend is right and there is probably no turning back.
You say the topic was caused by a pandemic, but could it also have anything to do with other aspects of our lives?
Of course, with the whole geopolitical situation and lack of stability and predictability, etc. Additionally, the "snowflakes" generation is growing. They are extremely sensitive, emotional people who are not prepared for what they are about to find in the outside world. Then, what is a strong point may turn out to be a weakness and vice versa. Disagreeing on certain things in the company’s space is young people’s forte, however, the pandemic seems to have hit them very hard.
You say that the issue of employee benefits is changing. What other trends are you following?
Taking care of one’s career and competences of the future. Still few organizations deal with career counselling and re-skilling. This will be a very important change due to the rapid development of AI and digitization. We know that some professions will disappear, although, we cannot predict when it will happen. We are not yet faced with this challenge, but it may surprise us very quickly. It is necessary to do an in-depth analysis of what will disappear, what will appear, whether we have education in specific areas, or whether we can search for talents in other countries. Thus, it will certainly be another challenge that companies, especially HR departments, will face.