With the second wave of COVID-19 raging across the country, India Inc’s top priority is to ensure that employees and their families are safe.
Companies are focussing big on medical facilities, vaccination drives and also emotional support via external therapy sessions.
While employees across non-essential services are still working from home, the idea is to ensure that help reaches staff on time. This includes doctors, quarantine facilities as well as home care.
At present, corporates are using a mix of medical facilities, counselling services and extended remote working settings to ensure that employees have minimal risk of exposure.
Medical sops for staff
Kristyl Bhesania, Executive Vice President & Head of Human Resources, Tata AIA Life Insurance, said that the company has tied up with digital healthcare provider Practo, so that employees can access 24/7 free teleconsultation with specialist doctors.
“Our employees can use Ginger hotels and other 45 isolation facilities across India for quarantine support. There are also Care@Home packages from Fortis Hospitals to support employees during home quarantine, and priority RT-PCR and necessary medical investigations services, in association with Tata Medical & Diagnostics,” she added.
Apart from paid vaccination leave and facilitation of vaccination appointments, Tata AIA will also reimburse vaccination expenses for employees and their spouses, she added.
Being in the insurance sector, companies are also offering specialised policies for staff.
Vibhash Naik, Head, HR, L&D and Admin, HDFC Life Insurance, said while companies may not require an exclusive policy framework for COVID-19, they may certainly need to modify existing policies.
“To navigate pandemic-induced changes, HDFC Life has modified many policies such as Mediclaim to include COVID-19-related claims. We have also introduced salary advance,” said Naik.
A dedicated centralised helpline being set up by corporates has also come in handy for employees, so that they are not scouting for contacts during a crisis.
Vikas Bansal, Chief Human Resource Officer, Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance, said that they have established a Doctor’s Helpline, which will seek to provide verified information, a TPA helpline, leave for recovery from COVID/caring for family members, as well as reimbursement of vaccination cost for all employees.
A set employee policy framework is essential during the pandemic, he added.
“It (a policy) brings clarity on several accounts that is critical, considering we are operating in a dynamic environment. From work from home to being able to put the necessary processes and technologies in place, the policy framework works as the guiding force and brings seamlessness in decision-making," he added.
At Godrej & Boyce, core support groups were created at branches to mobilise resources and support to all those who need it, locally.
“We tied up with local hospitals and Primary Healthcare Centres to provide medical assistance to employees and developed quarantine facilities at Vikhroli. We also converted the Community Hall in Vikhroli to a COVID-care centre equipped with ICU and oxygen facilities this has been made available to local authorities (BMC),” the Godrej & Boyce spokesperson added.
Focus on vaccination, access to critical care
For manufacturing companies, staff is the core force, and, hence, the emphasis is on quick vaccination efforts.
Narendren Nair, EVP & Chief Human Resources Officer, Voltas, told Moneycontrol that the company has held vaccination drives at a few locations in collaboration with local hospitals for employees and is now planning a pan-India vaccination drive for all employees.
“Work from home for such an extended period is definitely a new phenomenon for our employees. Hence, it was important to handhold them through this journey. Regular communication around ways and tips to work from home, COVID-19 appropriate behaviour and vaccination awareness were sent out on behalf of our safety mascot, ‘Vol-ty’,” he added.
While research has pointed out that vaccination is the only way out of the pandemic, there is some hesitancy among working professionals. To deal with this, corporates are also engaged in awareness campaigns.
Reena Wahi, Senior Vice President and Head, HR, Business Excellence and CSR, Tata Realty and Infrastructure, said that keeping in mind that vaccination is the only preventive measure, they have introduced a Vaccine Le Lo initiative through a virtual townhall and regular communication to encourage proactive vaccination drive among employees.
“The company is ready to provide SOS support for critical cases and has formed ‘COVID Task Force’ response groups across regions that create COVID resource lists to identify sources of medical resources like beds/ICU/plasma/Remdesivir on a local basis. It is also supplying oxygen concentrators for respective regions to support SOS cases,” she added.
Tata Realty has also partnered with Practo to enable employees to avail health and wellness services without having to travel. In 2021, Wahi said that they have also partnered with 1mg, the online pharmacy.
At Havells, while there is a reimbursement programme for COVID-19 vaccination for all direct and indirect employees above 18 years, technology is also being used to minimise risks.
V Krishnan, CHRO, Havells, told Moneycontrol that the company has partnered with BLP Industry.AI, an enterprise AI and industrial IoT company, to deploy ‘Trust AI’. It is an artificial intelligence, and computer vision-powered video analytics monitoring product that alerts a factory administrator when anyone is less than the desired distance from a colleague.
“This technology is also enabled to detect people not wearing masks, helmets, or safety gear,” he added.
Mental health and emotional support
Corporates are also offering emotional support tools for caregivers and recovered employees. For instance, Tata AIA is offering post-COVID emotional care through one-on-one counselling, so that employees can deal effectively with stress and anxiety.
Similarly, HDFC Life has launched an Emotional and Mental Well-Being Assistance Programme. This service is free for all employees and can be availed over the phone, 24/7.
An added aspect to emotional security is financial security. Naik of HDFC Life said that the company paid full salaries with no delay.
“Also, we disbursed 70 percent of advance salary in March 2020 to junior and middle management staff. When most companies started salary cuts, we stood on our commitment and paid annual bonuses, besides total salary,” he said.
Amidst the lockdown, access to therapies also became a struggle since stepping out was fraught with peril. Hence, online counselling became an alternative.
Wahi of Tata Realty said that the company has tied up with 1to1 Help to offer a range of services free to employees and three of their family members.
“These include 24/7 e-Counselling, face-to-face counselling, Online Health Risk Assessment tools, Self-Assessment Tests etc. We have also reduced working hours to four in case of WFH, and 3 days a week for on-site critical staff to support well-being during these trying times,” she added.
Work from home balance
WFH fatigue is a term that is being used to explain the rise in working hours and continuous virtual meetings. Complaints about no work-life balance also began to crop up.
Here, HR experts are of the view that some benchmarking would be required.
Krishnan of Havells said that as the pandemic situation pushed organisations to adopt a ‘work-from-home regime’, some companies started exploring productivity monitoring and surveillance solutions on employees during working hours for managing remote working.
He added that there is a need to define the policy framework within which an employer’s right to supervise and employee’s right to privacy is balanced.
“Benchmarking with large IT companies, which have been practising remote working and running WFH practices for some time, may be a good starting point to pick some best practices to build further,” he said.
While sectors like insurers are considered essential, remote working through collaborative tools is being extended to critical staff so that they minimise contact.
Bansal of Edelweiss Tokio Life explained that the focus has been on building the requisite technology and tools to facilitate work from home even for business-critical functions.
"We have taken and will continue to take a calibrated approach when it comes to opening our branches in the future, too. That, in itself, significantly alleviates employee concerns, especially in a business that requires constant human interaction. We are holding leadership chats across functions regularly to understand employee concerns and suggestions on what more can be done," he said.
As of 10 am on May 11, India reported 3,29,942 COVID-19-positive cases in 24 hours. This took the total tally to 22 million
. The number of deaths in 24 hours was 3,876, taking the total death toll to 2,49,992.