The pandemic has entered the second year, bringing its own set of challenges and obstacles for corporate life. In our special ‘Stress Awareness Week’ series, we speak to ABFRLites in corporate jobs exposed to high-stress environments and learn how they tackle stress on the job and find work-life balance.
Vandana Warty, Vice President, Corporate HR, ABFRL, leads learning, talent management, and organization effectiveness at ABFRL. Over the last year, in particular, wellbeing has been a huge focus for her team. She has spearheaded multiple initiatives to help ABFRL employees feel safe and become healthier.
As part of her everyday work, Vandana is responsible for interacting and engaging with the vast corporate workforce, looking after the physical, emotional, and intellectual wellbeing of ABFRL employees. With human interactions and conflict management forming a major part of her job description, she is no stranger to stress. Read ahead to know her invaluable inputs about handling stress in a better manner.
Is there a process you follow when you feel stressed at work?
Usually, if I have had a particularly stressful day at work, I try and catch an early morning workout the next day, or spend some time with myself reading a book. Putting myself on a schedule and doing things that I enjoy usually releases my stress.
What advice would you give people managing work and family stress at the same time?
So many of us are playing multiple roles at home and work at the same time. Each wave of the pandemic brings in stress. Taking care of parents, little kids, older kids who have demanding curriculums, managing household work, demanding work schedules is indeed chaotic. It’s very important to not forget to take care of yourself first. Having the discipline of eating well, working out, staying hydrated consistently is absolutely essential. This is easier said than done for most of us, as the flow of the work pressures and things to do at home takes over even on normal days.
At the work front, we conducted a host of sessions throughout 2020 for our employees and their families, and curated a set of ‘10 Power Habits’ in consultation with health experts to help our employees get healthier. These include exercise, nutrition, mindfulness and more importantly well-rested sleep. We became personal health partners for 450+ employees in following and sustaining these habits. We sent them personalized information to help them get better in areas that were difficult for them to follow. In 3 months, we saw high positive traction on 8 of the 10 habits. This year, we are piloting an in-house health app to give our colleagues a real-time check on their habits, health scores, easy enrolment in live virtual workout sessions, and access to many counsellors for their emotional wellbeing. Keeping it simple, measuring what matters, and being disciplined will be the motto when it comes to helping our employees build habits.
How should you convey to teammates that you are facing workplace stress, without being snappy or without emotions getting in the way?
The first step is to identify what is causing stress and how is it affecting you. Sometimes, the symptoms are unusual mistakes at work, or falling sick frequently or getting overwhelmed easily for small things, which you would have handled differently otherwise. The causes of stress can be as big as the health of your loved ones, to small things like specific household chores, or meetings; the list is endless. We have observed our employees reaching out to Life Unlimited, our employee counselling services, to help with day-to-day stressors and understand themselves better.
Usually, we feel that seeking help is needed only when you are facing life challenges, but through the pandemic, we have realized that our emotional well-being is hinged on small everyday things as well, which need attention. Managers also have a huge role to play in ensuring that they lead by example and are acutely aware of how their team members are feeling. We have piloted programs to help managers bring deep awareness about their own emotional wellbeing and be sensitive, and observant of their team members.
Encouraging authenticity at work is the key to wellbeing. The Microsoft Work Trend Report 2021 suggests that authenticity will spur productivity and wellbeing. A tough year has made work more human and authentic, as people have been forced to share and lean on each other. About 17-23% of employees have cried to a co-worker in 2020. Being able to share openly, without the burden of being judged, is going to be an important part of managing our stress. We may be surprised with the response of our colleagues, when we open up from a place of awareness and sharing.
What is a good way to say ‘no’ to more work when you already have a lot on your plate?
A good way to say no is to plan better, which gives us clarity and conviction on what is doable and what is not. Work plans have the potential to put you in control of the situation rather than feeling helpless.
How do you avoid feeling overwhelmed when facing stress at work?
When you are in the middle of a pandemic, things fall in perspective. Stepping back and reminding myself on what is working well and being thankful, works. I have also found that as simple as it may seem, a sound sleep can do wonders to managing any kind of stress.
One line of advice on stress management you wish someone had told you?
Focusing on managing your energies more than managing your time. High productivity sometimes masks exhaustion. Knowing what drains your energy, and what replenishes it can add tremendous value. It is completely possible to redesign your work day, by focusing on what replenishes you. Adding activities, meetings, conversations every day which add to your energy, can shift perspectives. We can choose to be in control of how we spend our energy.