Earlier in June 2021, we ran a survey at Vero to hear about how our team members across four countries were dealing with the new paradigm of consultancy work amid the pandemic threat and work-from-home constraints.

More than half of our respondents shared that they had not spent more than 4 hours outside of home in the past week. A whopping 86% shared that they worked more hours from home compared to the usual office routine, confirming global research results, and evidencing the additional pressure put on professionals. Among the factors of unhealthiness, our team members attributed the most importance (44%) to anxiety, and equal levels of importance to fatigue and intense stress moments.

In 2020, we rolled-out Mental Health Support across our offices, in the form of sponsored, anonymized consultations with professional therapists. However, further work will be required to make support effective. As much as a company is willing to help, it still seems difficult for individuals to recognize the need to get help. For that reason, our Culture team at Vero is ramping up efforts to help individuals verbalize mental health issues, giving traction to the topic and making solutions appear actionable.  We have learnt that innovation in working policies can lead to significant changes in behavior.

Companies may need to nudge employees towards healthy behaviors

Historically, team members at Vero should be taking quite a few annual leave days. By our last count, in the past 12 months, only 80% of our teams have registered for annual leaves. Among them, only an average of 6 days have been taken. For reference, Thailand does require 6 days as a minimum entitlement for employees, while Myanmar requires 10 days and Vietnam 12.

To shift the behavior towards taking more leave and creating more breathing room for our team’s mental health, we issued a quarterly Wellness Day in late 2020. In the past 12 months, it was taken up by all team members and amounted to 2.37 more days taken off per individual.

We also created  another experimental type of leave in late 2021, aimed at allowing team members to extend 2 weekends per month, Vero saw 80% of the team take up the offer.

What we’re learning from the feedback and action taken in the past year is that creating conditions for wellness is only the first step for agencies. Consistent and durable investment in communication is necessary, including tactics quite close to nudge marketing. Who would have thought when initially looking at mental health and workplace innovation, that beneficiaries would need convincing too?

Observing our talented peers in other PR and Communications agencies it’s not uncommon to hear our friends berate their company, colleagues and management alike for all the negative effects work has on their mental health. But it’s less often that we hear our peers take issues up internally. Tensions usually build up until they explode, and some form of ad hoc arbitration is conducted to defuse conflicts. But in these cases, individual stress is rarely addressed, and team members go back to the churn unchecked.

Mental health is a collective, strategic governance issue for agencies

Therefore, it seems crucial in the future for our companies to put efforts in developing cultural programs. Mental health should be nurtured when it’s on a positive scale, rather than “taken care of” when it slides on the negative slope. At Vero, we believe healthy governance and management are fundamental to people’s mental health. We have started providing team members with cultural references for them to join teams smoothly. We have rebuilt our purpose and values around a clear set of actionable concepts. Trust, kindness and curiosity should translate seamlessly into constructive mindsets and team habitus. To be transparent, we have been inspired by the Netflix cultural approach, which aims to nurture excellence by removing frictions (bureaucratic tropes, conservative talent management among others).

We are now onboarding team members and training others along common pillars and practical tips for an all-leaders mindset, offering experience sharing sessions around feedback culture for instance – giving people an opportunity to revisit their working habits regularly, deconstructing toxic behaviors and rebuilding processes which can help everyone thrive together.

Our belief is that a collective approach is the most hopeful way to develop a workplace which will protect our individual mental health.

Author: Vu-Quan Nguyen MPRCA, Brand & Culture Director, Vero

About Vero:

Vero is an award-winning PR, social and digital agency focused on serving brands in Southeast Asia. The Vero team includes 130 consultants, and the agency owns offices in Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand Vietnam and Philippines.