With almost an immediate and urgent move to a work-from-home setup, extended working hours, collapsing workspace, and home barriers, mental health emerged as one of the biggest challenges for employees and employers in 2020. As a comms leader, let me talk from the perspective of the PR and communications industry. The industry, as we all know was marked by unprecedented crisis, tight deadlines, and shrinking budgets amid the pandemic.

Therefore, addressing employees’ basic needs of safety, stability, and security during the global pandemic became every organization’s immediate priority. At H+K, all support was extended to every team member by making sure that they are in a safe home environment and the leadership worked tirelessly to provide stability for every single employee.

Covid-19 or no Covid-19, it is critical to invest in mental health at the workplace and hence, what is the most critical aspect that can help employers nurture the workplace?

Personally, I feel it is empathy.

At H+K, we believe employees are people first, and rightfully so. Organizations need to focus on the human side of work. As an employee, an organisation recognising the challenges I face while trying to balance work along with other responsibilities and being mindful of the same while still ensuring my success at work, goes a long way. Leaders making themselves available to not just help with work related issues but also lending an ear to hear out struggles faced by employees has played a big part in aiding mental health and building trust.

Creating a work culture led by empathy has three key imperatives:


Clarity comes with engagement and involvement. Every employee, at any level, must feel involved and heard. While employees are already working in isolation in a WFH scenario, dealing with pressures and deadlines all by themselves, every effort made to connect with employees makes a difference. Some steps taken by us include:

  • A regular transparent communication channel between regional and global leadership and employees through town halls, team building meetings and online events.
  • Similarly, regular discussions between employees, CEO, and HR that help us have our eyes and ears on the ground.
  • Creation of opportunities for cross-country collaborations and engagement through our virtual breakfast meets in India and at the regional level that give insight to employees on the business situation and provide a platform for engagement at a larger scale across countries.
  • Flexible working hours, accounting for parental or other home responsibilities, medical difficulties were and continue to be leading factors that let each employee determine the most stress-free way to work that is convenient for them and enables them to contribute their best.


Recognition increases engagement, productivity, and retention. Every employee at any level likes positive reaffirmation. H+K understands the importance of ensuring employees feel valued for their efforts.

  • During Covid-19, a rewards and recognition program based on a transparent voting mechanism was initiated.
  • It provided recognition and validation at two levels – for those who won as well as those who enabled this win.
  • Internal motivation is critical to a company’s growth and reputation and this initiative has shown huge success. It is now a part of our company work culture that will continue to encourage employees in a post-Covid-19 work environment too.


As a responsible organization, every company must invest in the growth and learning of its employees. At H+K, we are particularly proud of the learning series where veteran guest speakers from the industry are invited regularly to speak to employees.

  • Additionally, we initiated virtual training sessions that helped us provide better learning platforms to our people.
  • This helped employees reinforce and grow their skills as new challenges came up in the industry as a result of the new normal. Growth of employees equals growth for the organisation.
  • Our employees are confident and assured of the fact that we will continue to enable them with trainings and skills that they wish to learn.

While we have made a lot of progress, a lot more still needs to be done to destigmatize mental health and ensure that it is understood in totality and treated at parity with physical well-being. Let every day, be an opportunity to be empathetic, treat employees as people first and lend the support they need to function at their best.

As things slowly open up, the transition from lockdowns and WFH scenarios will not be the same for everyone as personal and professional ecosystems are different for different people. Hence, we need to accommodate and prioritise mental health equally in the post Covid-19 world too and be advocates for the wellbeing of our peers every single day. Putting people first is at the core of the ethos and values that drive our company culture.

By Abhishek Gulyani – Chief Executive Officer, Hill+Knowlton Strategies India.