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Dogs in the boardroom, cats at work: How far will Corporate India go to retain talent?

Since organisations are going above and beyond to attract and retain talent, will they allow employees to bring emotional support from outside, like family members, psychiatrists, kids, and pets, to the workplace?

July 29, 2022 / 09:53 AM IST
Representational image. (Shutterstock)

Representational image. (Shutterstock)

When Josh Thompson, an employee of a New Zealand-based company, was going for a redundancy meeting, he decided to take some emotional support with him to the office—a clown.

Thompson’s idea was to make the “best of the situation”, and it worked. The clown helped him cope with the most dreadful news of his career and saved him from layoff anxiety.

However, such ideas are rare in India Inc. The number of companies which allow their employees to bring emotional support from outside is close to zero.

Companies do provide such services within the organisation through emotional support networks. Such networks comprise the most reliable people within the organisation, as regarded by the employees themselves. However, for some, trusting a person designated by the management can be hard.

A Deloitte study showed that more than a third of employees did not approach anyone the last time they experienced poor mental health, while 86 percent said that they would think twice before offering help to colleagues or managers.

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“I fear that my colleagues would judge me if I avail of those services”, said Mahima Bhatnagar, 26, who works in a digital marketing firm. She believes there is a taboo around mental health issues at the workplace.

“Instead, I’d rather my family therapist accompanied me to the office," she added.

Why do employees need it?

A recent survey by mental wellness firm HappyPlus found that 53 percent of the people surveyed experienced stress related to the workplace.

Further, nearly 40 percent of employees said that no one at their company had asked them if they were doing ‘okay’, as per a study by experience management firm Qualtrics.

Also, ‘paw parents’ have different concerns. While at work in a tech startup, 32-year-old Shailja Tiwari constantly worries about one thing: are my pets doing fine at home?

She thinks that if her employer allowed her to bring the dog to the workplace, she would be able to fully concentrate on the job. "She is my kid and you don't leave a kid alone at home," Tiwari said.

Who are the rarest of the rare?

In light of recent learnings from the pandemic, fintech company Razorpay launched initiatives to help employees ease into physical workplace schedules, and avoid drastic changes in their routine.

The most popular initiative was allowing employees to bring their kids and pets to work. “This helped many employees find a guilt-free and more comfortable way of managing work and devoting time to children and pets," said Anuradha Bharat, Head, People Operations, Razorpay. She said that many pets are now regulars at work.

In the pre-pandemic world, at IT major GlobalLogic, employees’ families would visit the office on special occasions like Parents’ Day or Kids’ Day, or recognition ceremonies. However, post-pandemic, restrictions have been placed on such visits.

An HR leader from a Bengaluru-based fintech startup, on condition of anonymity, said that while the company does not have a policy in place, it nonetheless allows employees to bring in external emotional support on a case-to-case basis.

“Rolling out such a policy enables non-serious people to create mishaps. I prefer employees to come to us directly, and depending on the case, we allow as much flexibility as possible,” he said.

Citing a recent case, he said the start-up allowed an employee to bring his personal psychiatrist to the workplace for a couple of days. He said this helped the employee cope with anxiety during work.

How does it help?

Bharat believes having children and pets in office makes employees happier, healthier, and less worried about their wellbeing.

Research has also borne this out. In a study, Virginia Commonwealth University found that 80 percent of those who did not bring dogs felt dogs in office did not impair productivity, and 25 percent of all people surveyed said it increased productivity.

Research conducted by the University of Lincoln indicates that productivity increased by 33.4 percent and work engagement by 14.4 percent when dogs were around.

Why is it rare?

With corporations resuming operations, many companies around the world have allowed employees to bring their pets to the workplace. However, Shyamasree Chakrabarty, Senior Director, HappyPlus, says that virtually no Indian firm permits this.

The concept does come with its challenges because of the logistics involved. For example, getting a family member, or a pet, to work requires more space, extra breaks, and higher expenses on food.

To tackle such challenges and ensure that this does not disrupt the usual course of work, Razorpay constantly monitors its office spaces when children and pets are around.  It also sensitises employees to be responsible as every colleague may not be comfortable around pets, or maybe even allergic to them.

The way forward

Chakrabarty says that many HR departments feel that work from home (WFH) hurts productivity and the quality of work.

“One of the solutions to this problem is hybrid working, which creates a balance between the personal and professional lives, allows for some flexibility, and works to everyone’s satisfaction,” she said.

Allowing external emotional support can be implemented in a hybrid manner. For example, employees may be allowed to bring their emotional support to work once a week and should take full responsibility for the same.

Background verification of the family member may be done before allowing employees to bring them. Workers should also ensure that their pets are house-broken, well behaved, and fully-vaccinated. This may help organisations be more open to external support, said the fintech HR leader cited earlier.
Abhishek Sahu covers HR and Careers at Moneycontrol.
first published: Jul 28, 2022 03:16 pm
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