Nurturing a Culture of Carehood

As managers now move from being ‘business leaders’ to ‘mini-HR leaders’, a broad section of skills and factors need to be evaluated to ensure success.


By Jayanthi Vaidyanathan, Senior HR Director, PayPal India

Employee well-being as a shared value throughout the organisation seemed like something that was thrust into the spotlight as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for PayPal, it’s one of four core values that underpins all that we do. Workplace resilience is vital, yet unachievable unless a culture of carehood is nurtured, and policy level as well as systemic changes are brought about to create employee well-being and mental health.

Blurred Lines Between Office and Home in The New Normal

The pandemic radically reconstructed our lives, realigning our priorities and perspectives towards work and leisure. Today, many of us play the role of being a caregiver, alongside managing daily routines and work commitments. The unprecedented crisis which unfolded in 2020 led to many companies relooking or increasing their focus on employee welfare. As the global workforce moved to a remote work model, individuals also increased their caregiving responsibilities – managing children, taking care of ailing/senior members of the family on top of work obligations.

The pace of change and uncertainty was unimaginable – first to move to a work from home model overnight, and then the devastating impact of the subsequent waves of infections. While companies enhanced and launched programmes and policies to help employees, socializing them and ensuring that employees were aware of their access to benefits in a timely manner was a challenge.

The lack of in-person interactions, increased screen time caused employee burnout and declining mental health which rang alarm bells across the board. Corporates quickly realized that it was of utmost importance to prioritize the well-being of employees at the workplace; and empathetic leadership held the key to building a positive and enabling work environment – one which recognized and acknowledged employee commitments to their family and to their self.

Business Managers to People Managers

The role played by managers became critical during the pandemic as they needed to deal with situations not akin to any known in the past and all this while managing their own issues and work commitments. While policies were announced to help employees, managers really were the ‘custodians’ of these policies – facilitating crisis leave requests or having to identify mental wellness issues; the latter often made more challenging because of the need for remote diagnoses. Managers were expected to double hat and play the HR role as well. It was however a new experience for managers and equipping them with the tools to help them manage conversations and situations was critical. Being empathetic was the need of the hour.

Empathetic and compassionate managers build work cultures that are more responsive to employee issues. They work with an understanding that there can be no bargains struck between business goals and compassion. This fosters a sense of community and ownership and contributes to an environment where employees are more engaged and motivated to deliver on the goals of the organization. The workplace environment is open and transparent, and employees feel valued because they are heard.

Companies also face a steep learning curve with managers figuring out how to lead their teams virtually, and still maintain culture and cohesion without the benefit of informal coffee, lunch, or corridor chats. As companies contemplate returning to the workplace, a new set of skills is also likely to emerge for the transition. Even as the new norms of work emerge, being able to adapt to change, find solutions, communicate, and persuade are skills that are not likely to become obsolete.

As managers now move from being ‘business leaders’ to ‘mini-HR leaders’, a broad section of skills and factors need to be evaluated to ensure success.

  • Flexibility: Being flexible and adaptable is something everyone has had to get used to over the last few months and managers need to respect and adapt their working styles accordingly.
  • Understanding Personal Development: Managers need to consider development goals beyond ones that ladder up only to the organisations’s performance metrics. Working in partnership with the employee to broaden development goals both vertically and laterally recognize the strengths and unique contributions of each team member. 
  • Communication and Emotional Intelligence: Communication and social intelligence go hand-in-hand and there is still a need for genuine human connection and understanding in every job role. To have good emotional intelligence is to be aware of, and demonstrate empathy for others, especially when people are feeling uneasy. And this is also where good communication skills are critical; as many of us continue to work from home, clarity in emails and at virtual meetings is a must to cement trust and retain high productivity levels.

Organizations Should Build a Culture of Care and Support from Within

The future of work is undoubtedly employee well-being and organizations need to work towards fostering a culture of care, support, and empathy from within to develop workplace resilience. Here are a few ways to make this happen:

  • Any company which has an open culture in which employees are not penalized for speaking their mind helps ensure that requisite conversations around work from home stress happen
  • Companies need to follow through on their commitment of employee wellness- walk the talk to encourage employees to open up
  • Employees that see their employers being empathetic tend to follow through on the same with their teams- if for some reason an employee is unable to attend a review meeting on account of his/ her care giving responsibilities, leaders need to understand, and this will have a cascading effect
  • Leaders need to lead by example and honestly small initiatives is what is required to build a truly empathetic environment. Simple but thoughtful practices of keeping shorter meetings, not scheduling late evening/night calls/meetings, encouraging teams to be off their laptops over weekends and holidays, not setting any expectations of round the clock availability. 


This article first appeared in ET HRWorld.

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