With May being celebrated as Mental Health Awareness Month, we talk about how Voiro is dedicated to creating a culture and environment that takes care of its employees’ emotional and mental health well-being.
British author Matt Haig, who has written extensively about mental health, once said, “Mental health problems don’t define who you are. They are something you experience. You walk in the rain and you feel the rain, but you are not the rain.” Indeed, our mental health and emotional well-being impact all areas of our lives. One area our mental health impacts significantly, is our work. One of the events that brought the conversation about mental health struggles at work from conversations around the water cooler to the executive tables, was the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the key findings of a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, ‘Tackling the Mental Health impact of the COVID-19 crisis’ was how cases of depression and anxiety increased from March 2020 onwards, and in some countries, even doubled. Organizations and employers began to take note and hammer out policies that take care of their employees’ mental health as well as physical and emotional well-being.
Voiro recognised the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of its employees early on and took proactive measures to ensure that it offered the much-needed support. Kavita Shenoy, CEO, Voiro explains what led the organisation to onboard Kaha Mind, an online platform. “I think it was back in 2020 when we all were grappling with this whole concept of a lockdown, and we didn’t know how long it was going to last and nobody had any experience with it. We found out about Kaha Mind through one of our friends and how it was helping organisations deal with this bizarre situation and we decided to give it a go. Because we had a lot of managers grappling with issues on how to handle their subordinates during the lockdown. We decided to hire professionals to help us manage this situation because all of us fundamentally believed in the concept of counseling,” she said.
The pandemic impacted lives and threw the concept of a “normal work environment” out the window. Kaha Mind, an online counseling platform, that has worked with several organisations as their mental health and emotional wellness partner recognised a few of them.
Balancing Work and Home: Abisha Fernandes, a therapist with Kaha Mind, pointed out that along with anxiety and stress about the pandemic, a common issue most faced with remote working initially, is balancing work and home life. “Before, there were very clear boundaries between work and personal life. With the pandemic, the lines started to blur a little, because the bedroom also became the office. It got a little overwhelming because the set routine and structure went out of the window. This caused distress and burnout, as well,” she explains.
Grief and Isolation: The second wave of the pandemic created havoc and disrupted lives across the country. And it hit closer home for many. “In the second wave, a lot of people were taking care of family members who were getting infected. Some even lost dear ones. Grief, along with isolation because of remote working, impacted a lot of people and their perception of work. There was a disconnect,” Abisha points out.
Anand Gopal, COO, Voiro, along with the other founders at Voiro, believed that the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic was a problem bigger than what they could solve. “A startup is a high-energy environment. We end up drawing a lot of energy from each other. To suddenly have that come to a standstill led to fear, confusion, and stress. It was a confusing time to work in. The biggest advantage of a startup is that the feedback loop is very small. So, we discussed it and felt that Kaha Mind checked all the boxes and we got them on board in 2020,” he explains.
One-on-One Sessions with Specialists: Kaha Mind offers all Voiro employees one-on-one sessions with a therapist and there’s no cap on the number of sessions that people can have. There is complete confidentiality, so they can talk about work or relationships. They can even talk about things they want to learn, and skills they want to develop. And these sessions are free of charge.
Learning Workshops: Employees can learn different skills whether it’s improving their communication skills or learning about self-care. There are also sessions on taking care of physical and emotional health. “We also do leader-specific sessions, to help them figure out the kind of leader they want to be and give them the tools to support them on their journey,” Abisha points out.
Community Support: “During the pandemic, it became extremely important for a team of coworkers to turn into a community of coworkers. People who were committed not only to deadlines and task lists but also to each other’s well-being and sense of belongingness. It was important to bring Voiro together now more than ever. However, we also realised that the pandemic has robbed people of the opportunity to meet strangers at a cafe or bump into an old friend at the grocery store. We decided it was also important to help people create connections outside their workplace, which we did by organising events and programs which connected the team at Voiro to members of our other partner organisations,” Abisha explains. There are also monthly programs designed to help people learn how to connect and find support from a community space.
The founders of Voiro believe in creating a work culture that is devoid of toxicity and red tape. “We wanted to create a culture where everyone is deeply cared for and are professionally respectful of each other’s time. We wanted to make sure that mental health carried no stigma. One can take many initiatives, but if you do not have the fundamentals in place at work, nothing can save you,” says Anand. Aside from Kaha Mind, Voiro also conducts team-building activities and events in which employees can voluntarily participate to keep the morale up. “It’s completely voluntary. Every person has their own way of unwinding. For some, it is to completely disconnect from work and that is valid too,” he explains.
Talking about work-life balance in this new normal, Kavita explains that honesty is crucial to having harmony at work. “Work-life balance is not 50-50 or 60-40. It’s not a particular percentage. It is in constant motion. So, you have to keep working on it. The three biggest tenets of our company are honesty, ownership and constant learning. So being honest about what works for you and your situation, makes it easier for everyone around you. Today, we have the luxury of not being physically present, yet being productive. This is such a big boon. We should respect that and juice it to the maximum that we can,” she concludes.
At the end of the day, taking care of your mental health is as important as your physical or emotional well-being. And destigmatising the concept of counseling or therapy goes a long way in that direction. “Over the years we have all associated counseling and anything to do with our brain as ‘something is wrong with you’,” says Kavita. “But that stereotype is changing. Kaha Mind was early to the market and they got a lot of younger organisations to talk to each other as well. So, they de-stigmatised the concept of counseling and mental health and mental wellness at work. Two years on, it has become a part of our lives,” she signs off.