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www.expresscomputeronline.com WEEKLY INSIGHT FOR TECHNOLOGY PROFESSIONALS
02 November 2009  
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Home - Technology Life - Article

Feature

Employee counseling at the workplace

Why many organizations are finding it necessary to make employee counseling services a part of their culture. By Sudipta Dev

A complex and stressful lifestyle compounded with uncertain employment conditions brought about by the recession, has witnessed a sudden spurt in the number of employees needing counseling in the last 18 months. Counseling (professional and personal), in fact, has come into focus with most organizations today considering it as an integral retention tool that can go a long way in bonding an employee to the organization, improve his performance and productivity. Significantly, it is not only an initiative for employee welfare but also organizational well being.

Today stress and anxiety has become a part of everyone’s life and there is no such thing as a stress-free employee. Stress is not always work-related, but due to problems like inability to find work-life balance and other personal issues. The only solution is to deal with it positively, and it is for the organization to take the initiative to encourage employees to opt for such counseling sessions.

“Organizations have realized the importance of having a stress-free yet motivated and capable workforce. Therefore, many companies have introduced counseling services in their organizations and are making it a part of their culture,” stated Vignesh Hebbar, Associate Vice President India, Marlabs Software.

It is also important to understand that the word counseling is different from “psychiatric” help. Anagha Wankar, Group Manager-HR, Fujitsu Consulting India, agrees that earlier, counseling meant a “bad” word—where you went only if you were not “mentally” strong to deal with issues. “Mostly, counseling meant a face to face session with psychiatrists. However, now there is an increasing awareness of the difference between counseling and psychiatric treatment. Face-to-face interactions continue to be the most influential method of counseling; but now there is a trend to opt for online counseling or phone counseling,” pointed out Wankar.

Changing the paradigm

The work environment has become more volatile as a result of the changes in the economic climate and the uncertainties brought about by the same. Explains Deependra Chumble, Chief People Officer, Hexaware Technologies, “The economy was booming and so were employee salaries which made most of them over extrapolate their expenses. Suddenly everything came crashing down and a never before seen downslide prevailed. This created new financial problems and social pressures which caused stress to many people. Many employees saw their strong relationships getting stret-ched and strained, some making it to the breaking point. The inability of employees to handle such a situation themselves became clearly evident. Some of them couldn’t go to their parents, siblings or spouses as most of them were also going through the same and were not coping up too well.” All this and much more pressure made it almost necessary for HR to bring in professional counseling at the workplace.

Interestingly, most organizations would not like to see it as an intervention, but an effort to help the employee find the solution to his problem himself. Laveena Bhatia, Senior Manager, Human Resources, CSC in India, concedes that counseling helps employees to manage their own problems, using their own resources. “An organization can earn competitive advantage through workplace counseling as this is a powerful tool for maximizing work performance and attracting and retaining quality workforce,” pointed out Bhatia.

Counseling services: essential guidelines
Do’s

  • Confidentiality: The employee should have the confidence that no one other than the counselor will get to know of the conversation or the issue
  • Awareness: Employees should know the scope and benefits of counseling
  • Continuity and follow-up: The same counselor should address the issues of an employee
  • Sensitization: Managers should be sensitized to recognize the early signs of a troubled employee
  • Objectivity: Do remain objective
  • Support positive behavior

Don’ts

  • Don’t enforce a solution on the employees, but help them find their own solution
  • Don’t give false hopes
  • Don’t share the discussion amongst colleagues/friends
  • Don’t get angry or show emotions. Stay calm and stick to the subject at hand

Source: CSC India

Types of counseling

"Organizations have realized the importance of having a stress-free yet motivated and capable workforce. Therefore, many companies have introduced counseling services in their organizations and are making it a part of their culture"

- Vignesh Hebbar
Associate Vice President India,
Marlabs Software

"HR also goes a step ahead
and helps employees by giving
them a shoulder for their general
life grievances. Then there are certified counselors whom the organization makes available for the employees, either on the premises or somewhere outside"

- Deependra Chumble
Chief People Officer, Hexaware Technologies

The different types of counseling efforts generally initiated by organizations are—face-to-face counseling, telephonic counseling and online counseling.

At Hexaware, the first type of counseling is regular internal counseling, which is done by the immediate supervisor, senior managers or by HR. This is very effective if the problems are more related to internal environment, e.g. peer-superior relationship, career progression, any kind of on-the-job harassment, etc. “HR also goes a step ahead and helps employees by giving them a shoulder for their general life grievances. Then there are certified counselors whom the organization makes available for the employees, either on the premises or somewhere outside. These can be individual or some special organization which are known for giving professional help while maintaining privacy. We, at Hexaware, have professional counselors in our centers and employees are encouraged to meet them for any of their personal issues. This is besides HR performing the role of a counselor,” said Deependra Chumble.

The fact that employees often hesitate to approach the counselor, made Fujitsu Consulting India, start with online counseling and have face to face counseling only once a month. “It requires effort from both HR and the line managers to maintain the support for employees who need counseling. A lot of HR inputs are sent in to counselors and employees need to experience that their confidentiality is maintained by all those involved,” added Wankar.

Focused efforts by the organization

Initiating counseling is in fact the easiest part, to make employees attend the sessions and maintain consistent efforts to continue with the same is the difficult aspect. Organizations encourage employees to volunteer themselves, and sometimes a little nudge is needed from the HR department. For instance, in Kale Consultants posters of ‘I Talk’ are put up to encourage employees to discuss their problems.

NetApp offers counseling services to not just the employees but their immediate dependent family as well. “This is a very confidential service provided to employees. The company does not force its employees to utilize the services. However, if we come across any signs that an employee would need counseling, we recommend to him/her the service available,” stated Manjunath S.R., Senior HR Director, NetApp-India. The process for referral by managers is as follows:

  • Recognize signs
  • Meet in private
  • Determine if referral is required
  • When in doubt, consult HR
  • Suggest counseling—informal or formal
  • Follow-up

According to Bhatia the challenges faced by any organization while introducing an employee counseling program are:

  • To analyze the demographics of their employee base, understand their needs and design the program accordingly
  • To ensure effective communication to the employees about the scope and benefits of the program
  • To ensure employees’ confidence in the program
  • To have an effective mechanism in place for data analysis, while maintaining employee confidentiality

Ramanand Padiyar, Global Head, Human Resources, Kale Consultants, agreed that mindset is the only constraint—employees need to be open to the idea that they need counseling for finding a solution to their problem. “He himself has to realize it. We can only help in finding the solution—it is not prescriptive but descriptive. In fact, 80% of the time the counselors do the listening and speak only 20%. Our motto is to help the employee to help himself,” pointed out Padiyar.

"Counseling helps employees to manage their own problems, using their own resources. An organization can earn
competitive advantage through workplace counseling as this is a powerful tool for maximizing work performance and attracting and retaining quality workforce"

- Laveena Bhatia
Senior Manager, Human Resources, CSC in India

"The company ties up with a
counseling service provider to offer an Employee Assistance Program, which is designed to provide help and support when an employee feels
the need"

- Manjunath S.R.
Senior HR Director, NetApp-India

Kale does not engage outside counselors, it is done by those few HR personnel who have the natural disposition to be great counselors, in particular, patient listeners.

Benefits for the individual and the organization

It is only an engaged and happy employee who can possess the motivation to make the customer happy. Confidential counseling service at the workplace can guide an employee in meeting all the challenges that he might face in his personal or professional life. Professional counselors can help an employee in many ways to develop skills to cope with their problems, make important decisions or just explore new avenues for change and growth.

“Counseling service is committed to provide employees total well-being—and believes that their emotional well-being is as critical as their physical well-being. To this end, the company ties up with a counseling service provider to offer an Employee Assistance Program, which is designed to provide help and support when an employee feels the need. This in turn helps the company to increase its productivity and retain its key talent,” added Manjunath.

If done right and if sponsored adequately, counseling contributes positively to the EQ of the employee and can yield definite business results. Narayan Krishnaswamy, Co- Founder & CEO, Talking Heads (HR company) believes that for organizations, it really makes a difference in building a great place to work and to help build differentiation in the employer brand given the clamor in the marketplace.

“Today, it is the knowledge possessed by employees that represents a key source of sustainable competitive advantage for organizations. Retaining and building that knowledge is one of the major contributions that we can make as human resource professionals,” added Krishnaswamy.

Hebbar asserted that counseling programs should begin with an objective and it should end up achieving those objectives, failing which the entire program can become a futile exercise. Clear communication to the employees on the benefits of the program, identifying an experienced and a professional counselor are the keys for success. It is also very important to make sure that organizations measure the effectiveness of the program by conducting frequent reviews. Counseling programs should be an ongoing process that can contribute to the learning curve of both employees and organizations.

Employee counseling services, in fact, should be considered as a business initiative that is integral to improve employee productivity and benefit the organization.

sudipta.dev@expressindia.com

 


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