December 3, 2022
NDTV Coronavirus


Employees observe social distancing as they look forward to entrance checks at HCL campus in Bengaluru.

“I lost my father to Covid, I’m very stressed because I have so many responsibilities.”

“I saw so many deaths when I was in the ICU. I wake up to the sound of the ventilator beeps in the night. I don’t know why I’m alive.”

“I lost my mother-in-law to Covid. I shouldn’t have argued with her all the time. I feel so guilty that I can’t sleep, I weep all the time.”

This is a sampling of the cries for assist from staff in right this moment’s India. The nation goes by way of the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreak, a tragedy exacerbated by the trauma of seeing household and buddies endure as so many different international locations emerge from the pandemic. Now Indian tech firms, which assist Wall Street banks and Silicon Valley giants, try to determine the best way to tackle the mental-health fallout for a era of younger staff.

Vijay Laxmi has by no means seen something prefer it. The 31-year-old is an in-house psychologist at the tech companies big HCL Technologies Ltd., the supply of the testimonials. She now counsels as many as 40 workers per week, 4 instances the quantity throughout the first Covid wave final yr. She’s needed to ration her time and make periods shorter due to the overwhelming demand.

For years, her job concerned teaching employees by way of annual opinions or soothing love-struck workers round Valentine’s Day. Now, she sees individuals with trauma so debilitating they’re struggling to get by way of the subsequent day. In one latest case, a 30-something worker was hit with extreme insomnia and anxiousness after dropping her mother-in-law to Covid-19. The two had squabbled consistently and the youthful girl felt intense guilt over her conduct.

“Employees are gripped by fear from the suddenness and the intensity of the second Covid wave,” she mentioned. “The shortage of ICU beds, oxygen and medical supplies only adds to the anxiety and panic.”

While India’s coronavirus outbreak has contaminated 29 million and left greater than 350,000 lifeless, the impact on residents’ psychological well being has unfold even wider. Tech firms like HCL understand the psychological influence on staff and their households will endure past the pandemic’s peak.

HCL and friends like Infosys Ltd. and Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. have lengthy been at the vanguard of worker welfare in India, partially due to a philosophy {that a} wholesome workforce tends to result in a wholesome enterprise. Managers stress work-life stability, whereas in-house psychologists like Laxmi have been normal for years.

But even these firms aren’t certain the best way to navigate Covid’s desolation. Tens of hundreds of workers who labored assiduously although the pandemic’s first wave at the moment are reporting panic assaults, phobia, excessive temper swings and incapacity. The firms’ process is harder as a result of workers are toiling by way of harrowing circumstances whereas purchasers in locations like New York and San Francisco start to renew regular lives.

“During the weeks when the wave climaxed, many companies estimated a 50% to 60% productivity drop,” mentioned Ashutosh Sharma, vice chairman and analysis director at Forrester Research Inc., which research worker productiveness.

Amid fears that such points might injury India’s $194-billion tech companies business — the nation’s most necessary — firms try all the pieces from extra remedy and counseling apps to yoga and mindfulness periods. They’re even teaching managers to take it straightforward on employees, no less than for now.

“So many young people are traumatized after seeing death up close,” mentioned Apparao V.V., chief human sources officer at HCL, whose purchasers embody Cisco Systems Inc., Airbus SE and University of California, Berkeley. “Many don’t recognize what they’re going through.”

One comparatively new therapy that is catching on is counseling by way of smartphone apps, which supply periods by way of chatbots or one-to-one teaching with reside counselors. Google-backed Wysa, one such startup, has tripled its lively customers over the previous yr to 300,000.

“At least 50% of the workers in any company are dealing with some kind of grief,” mentioned Jo Aggarwal, co-founder and chief govt officer of Wysa, whose AI-guided bot gives 24-hour assist. “No company can bury their head in the sand after such a mass tragedy.”

The startup has elevated its consumer base from one firm pre-Covid to 30 presently. Consultant Accenture Plc, with 200,000 employees in India, and analytics supplier Fractal Analytics Inc. are amongst these whose staff are reaching out for assist with points like insomnia, anxiousness and grief.

Tata Consultancy Services, Asia’s largest outsourcer, is experimenting too. It’s conducting yoga and meditation periods for workers, and delivering well-being nudges digitally to their desktops. It’s re-training managers to change into what they name “Emotional Health first aiders,” so that they’ll present extra empathy and sensitivity to colleagues stricken with grief and despair.

The outsourcer Mphasis Ltd. is treating the disaster like an all-hands emergency. The agency developed its personal wellness app referred to as Reach for employees and put collectively a No-Panic Covid psychological wellness handbook. It additionally arrange a phone assist line with skilled counselors for its 30,000 workers in May — which now handles as many as 10 calls an hour.

Nitin Rakesh, the firm’s CEO, mentioned firms all over the place ought to give particular consideration to the toll of the final 18 months on the human psyche.

“This is a time for all of us to be compassionate leaders,” mentioned Rakesh. “The second wave of Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted India, making it imperative to provide timely resources and offer the maximum protection possible to all our colleagues and their families.”

Rakesh, who’s based mostly in New York, is personally reaching out to workers each day.

There is a cultural hurdle firms have to cross as they assist employees. Consulting a psychologist or a psychiatrist is commonly taboo in India so firms typically camouflage their assist. Workers are given entry to “life coaches,” not psychologists, they usually’re measured on a “happiness index,” somewhat than an anxiousness or despair scale.

This could also be certainly one of the attracts of a smartphone app like Wysa. Employees can faucet the service with anonymity; in the event that they use an AI bot, they do not even talk with one other human being. Yet Aggarwal, the startup’s CEO, says the collective trauma that India goes by way of can be altering the tradition of the nation. The grief, anxiousness and trauma are so widespread there may be extra openness to therapies.

“Something is very different now,” she mentioned. “Covid has opened the doors to workplace conversations about mental health.”

There’s a generational situation too. At HCL, the median age of the workforce is 28 so a lot of the workers who’ve misplaced relations and are feeling overwhelmed are fairly younger.

“IT companies will have to lead the way in India in sensitizing employers,” mentioned Laxmi. “We have a long way to go.”



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