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Helplines at companies busy as staff stress levels surge in 2nd Covid wave


The number of India Inc employees reaching out to in-house counsellors and psychiatrists have more than doubled in a year as stressed staff seek help on issues ranging from death in the family to domestic violence.

Executives of companies such as

, Procter & Gamble, Deloitte, MakeMyTrip, Tata Motors and EY said the number of employees using helplines and reaching out to counsellors and psychiatrists they roped after the Covid-19 outbreak have been growing steeply since April. They attribute it to the wider impact of the aggressive second wave of the pandemic.

“The volume of calls in April 2021 was more than double the January 2021 volume,” said SV Nathan, partner and chief talent officer at Deloitte India. This has forced companies to outsource such sessions or hire more professionals. HUL, for instance, has doubled the number of counsellors to 100. The company has also created a team of 500 employees who are trained to listen so that they can reach out to other employees and listen without being judgmental.

“The first Covid wave was all about employees adjusting to the new reality of working from home and managing some household responsibilities,” said Anuradha Razdan, executive director, HR, at HUL. “The second wave was preceded by a hope that the pandemic will get over but now no end seems to be visible. This time around, employees are seeing anxiety and grief more due to what’s been happening,” she said.

India Inc officials said the second wave has impacted their workforce much more as a lot more employees have been infected or have had to deal with deaths or Covid-related problems in their family and friend circles.

Realising that some employees may not be comfortable to talk over the phone — especially in a cramped city like Mumbai where space constraints impact privacy — companies are also encouraging employees to chat with the psychiatrists.

Issues employees raise in such sessions are becoming more complex after a sustained work from home period and increasing stress levels, insiders said.

A Tata Motors spokesperson said employees have been discussing issues related to stress, anxiety, loneliness, parenting, relationships and marriages on the helplines.

The company has started a confidential counselling service called employee assistance programme that employees and three of their family members can avail.

The pandemic stress has hit the top leadership and those working on the shop floor alike. Take the case of India head of a large company who is dealing with emotional turmoil after both his parents tested positive. “As a leader one has to sound positive, more so in today’s situation,” he told ET. “I have myself spoken to a leadership coach and in-house counsellors to deal with distress.”

Companies are encouraging shop floor employees who have never dealt with counsellors to talk to them to help them process emotions, especially if they have lost a close family member. Apart from asking employees to vent out their frustrations to the professionals, many companies are also taking some actions such as doling out additional leaves or creating war rooms to help needy employees avail medicines and hospital beds amid a shortage in many cities.

Some firms are also roping in professional doctors.

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