Develop new skills for the ever-evolving remote workplace. Out of sight could become out of mind. Leaders missing out on the nuances of involving associates and creating a safe, fair, and transparent workplace is a challenge and requires training. Our leaders invite teams for lunches and outings to create platforms for establishing connections and trust.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing, Dr. Anupama Panduru, Principal Manager — HR at SenecaGlobal.

With more than 16 years of experience, Dr. Anupama Panduru oversees HR at SenecaGlobal. The cornerstone of her work is creating safe spaces for all associates to ‘bring their true selves’ to work. A dentist, a social entrepreneur, and a poet, Anupama is recognized for her unique and innovative programs, bringing extensive experience in executive coaching, career development, behavioral skills training, diversity and inclusion, culture and engagement, talent acquisition and management, and more. Anupama holds a Bachelor of Dental Sciences degree from the Govt. Dental College and Hospital, Hyderabad, India. She is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, India topping their program in Strategic Human Resource Management for senior executives and is a certified Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coach.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

As a practicing dental surgeon walking down the packed hospital hallways, I was always aware of the fact that I wanted to shape lives beyond just providing physical comfort. My question was, how can I achieve this as a dental surgeon? And how can I do more? This quest led me to a social entrepreneurship position with a nonprofit organization that continues to nurture more than a hundred orphans to this day. In addition, I have consulted for leading multinational organizations helping to solve their ‘people’ problems, and as I delved deeper into human psychology, behavior, and neuroscience, I realized the greatness that every human being has to offer. Discovering every person’s full potential is a milestone that keeps me inspired and motivated. For example, every time an employee has a good day at work, I know I have made a more profound and meaningful impact, and that is a wonderful outcome.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical, and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

With more than 400 associates worldwide, we are a small company growing at a projected revenue CAGR upwards of 35%. To support this growth, we have designed and implemented policies and processes that far exceed the size of our organization and are well ahead of current standard industry practices. We consciously go beyond what other companies do — simply because we find that most industry accepted initiatives do not add value to the unique needs of our associates. Instead, we take a holistic interest in each employee and see everyone as part of our family. We curate ‘hyper-personalized’ interventions that are available to the diverse needs of each associate and their families.

Our associates’ overall well-being is core to our strategy, along with an investment in holistic learning and career growth. We are happy that organizations worldwide have now realized the significance of employee wellness and that it is gaining more recognition. Especially as we emerge from the pandemic, I focus on establishing a work culture that provides the key elements to promote work-life balance. One that fosters open dialogue and encourages the mental, emotional, social, and physical well-being of every associate, including extended family members who are seen as part of the SenecaGlobal family. We measure all our wellness initiatives at the organizational and individual levels.

Our company’s motto is that well-being is not a solo sport! Our HR team provides safe spaces so that all associates can bring their ‘true selves’ to work. This facilitates and nurtures every small factor that contributes to making this an everyday reality.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

A tough and critical decision that has been positive for SenecaGlobal is decentralizing the traditional implementation of HR. Associates from diverse backgrounds and cross-functional departments come together for our Culture — Associate Well Being Group. This group of more than twelve associates strives to ensure our 400-plus associates are well and have all the necessary elements for success. As a result, we have achieved a record 4.71 (on a scale of 5) rating from our customers based on the client satisfaction ratings scale. We also continually implement improvements based on input from associates who are encouraged to share their ideas and are empowered to share their concerns without judgment.

Based on my experience, when employees are not happy at work, more mistakes are made, and attrition is high. This ultimately has a negative impact on an organization’s productivity and profitability. I have experienced that fostering a thriving workforce significantly improves the overall health of any business.

Our associates have stuck together in times of need demonstrating deep collaboration and teaming that is unmatched. SenecaGlobal uses a tried-and-true method of surveying associates directly about their happiness and emotional well-being. We also have partnered with various third-party tools and reputable institutions to ensure that our health and well-being indices are measured and improved as needed. For example, our Health in your Hands Awareness Program allows associates to assess their overall health status and guides them on how to adhere to healthy practices. Our most recent data shows a dramatic 41.6% reduction in hospitalization incidents and an overall 57% reduction in health insurance claims.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

Because well-being is a strategic focus, SenecaGlobal’s leadership team is committed to funding the programs. Many of the first associates who joined our company at its inception continue to thrive with us. A key reason for this is that creating professionally rewarding relationships is the focus of each associate. It is time that organizations everywhere realize that they must invest in their employee’s well-being. If not, it will result in a cost to the business — the cost of attrition, the cost of poor engagement, the cost of poor productivity, and most importantly, the cost of a lack of ownership, ultimately leading to a decreased focus on progress and innovation.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank well-being as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

SenecaGlobal is a values-driven organization that extends the wellness umbrella to associates, families of associates as well as prospective candidates. We understand that interviewing and job hunting is incredibly stressful for prospective candidates. We have a dedicated Candidate Experience Success (CES) Ambassador who ensures that fair and transparent expectations are established regarding the interview process. Our CES Ambassador stays in touch with prospective candidates to understand their pain points while conveying SenecaGlobal’s expectations which often results in a rich learning experience for every applicant.

As a result of our varied and unique programs, SenecaGlobal recently ranked 9th in India’s Great Mid-Sized Workplaces, made it to the Top 25 in India’s Best Workplaces in IT; and ranked 65th in the Best Workplaces in Asia. We believe one of the key reasons we ranked so high is that employee well-being is central in our recruitment efforts. We incorporate wellness programs into our hiring process so prospective employees understand the holistic approach we take to help them thrive both professionally and personally.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

This is an extremely timely question. According to a recent survey, entitled The Great X conducted by Michael Page, an international talent recruitment firm, almost 86% of employees in India are planning to resign in the next 6 months. Indians are now wanting to focus on their families and overall well-being. However, we are not experiencing this level of attrition at SenecaGlobal. Our company has specific programs designed to make our employees as happy as possible so that they don’t burn out. The great resignation in India has put the attrition numbers of the IT sector at 27–30%. SenecaGlobal has worked doggedly to keep its numbers below 12.7%. Following are a few of our core well-being programs:

  1. Mental Wellness: Our Flexi Work Program enables associates to work outside of normal work hours. Associates have the freedom to opt for flexible schedules based upon their changing needs, while ensuring overlapping time with team members. This flexibility enables our associates to champion marathons, sport tournaments and to pursue their hobbies and interests. We have a third-party firm that provides hotline support and counseling services. We also volunteer with the Government of Telangana, India police department and counselors to train a nominated group of our associates called “Margadarshaks.” Margadarshaks are trained to identify early signs of depression, domestic violence, abuse, harassment and are equipped with the knowledge and the processes to help victims get the help they need to recover.
  2. Emotional Wellness: Issues with stress are identified and discussed openly. Potential solutions are discussed, and people come together to create systems of support. Our Dealing with Work Stress and Harassment Balancing Program helps individuals express their anxiety, anger, and problems to Seneca Global management without fear of judgment. It creates camaraderie, mindfulness and educates people about managing stress and problems in the workplace.
  3. Social Wellness: We offer a Joy @ Work Program that provides ideas on how to create a lively and fun work environment. We have seen that this program keeps associates happy, satisfied, and engaged, retaining them for the long haul. It also encourages the associates to put their creativity to good use and pursue their passions. This initiative is an attempt to boost happy hormones and keep associates enthusiastic.
  4. Physical Wellness: Our Associate Health & Physical Fitness Program involves the Cognitive Health Process of each associate. This enlightens associates about their current health status and helps them to better understand their healthcare needs and implement changes. Of the associates who have participated in this program, 87% confirmed the program useful for improved eating habits, nutritional value, and better general health. The team collaborated with the faculty of the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad (a National Research institute with more than 100 years of legacy), enabling SenecaGlobal associates to participate in the health and fitness program.
  5. Financial Wellness: We offer competitive salaries and a Salary Advance Policy in case associates experience unforeseen financial hardship. Associates can take 60% of their gross monthly salary in advance once in a financial year. We also want our associates to feel like they are integral to the success of the company, so we offer a stock sharing program. Associates can choose financial planning counseling where seasoned experts provide guidance and options of maintaining financial health.

We are discovering that well-being programs mandate a personalized approach, without which, the value of the programs are fleeting. This individualized approach is not just desirable, but a requirement now, and we have seen the results with 97% utilization of all our well-being programs.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve associate wellness?

We continue to see positive outcomes in associate experience, company brand, improved productivity and creativity, and overall workplace happiness. During the pandemic, the camaraderie between associates has directly contributed to sustaining quality delivery of client projects, while also ensuring that we continue to look for improvement opportunities in our work processes.

Despite a global health crisis, the overall number of associates that took sick leave dipped compared to years before. Using a sick leave donation policy, associates stood by each other by donating their sick time to others in need of more time.

  • At SenecaGlobal we offer careers, not just jobs. This philosophy helps with the recruitment process and aids in achieving significant growth as a company. When associates feel like they are part of a “work” family, they feel free to develop their skills within a balanced, ethical work environment.
  • We also believe in investing in the people within our organization. Engagement isn’t just the responsibility of leadership and HR. Every associate should be able to chart their own course while making significant contributions to the success of their organizations. That is why we encourage all our associates to try new things, take chances, make mistakes, and learn from their actions. After all, there is no success without risk.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

At SenecaGlobal, growth and reskilling of our associates is a priority, which is why we put this freedom and responsibility in their hands. We provide professional learning opportunities to our associates throughout their careers, with a focus on holistic development. Our structured and successful development philosophy encourages 3 key elements:

  • LEARNING: Learn to do more and perform better.
  • TEAMING: Work with other associates to achieve common goals.
  • GROWING: Proactively take on added responsibilities to demonstrate competence and growth in stature — which means an associate is physically and emotionally ready for any opportunity that presents itself.

We promote a learn, live, and grow approach. We take a bottom-up approach to learning by helping associates define what they want to learn and helping them to find the best path possible. Leaders are given periodic alerts on identifying burn out, taking a proactive developmental approach rather than a reactive performance assessment. Leaders also constantly look out for occasional low performance and immediately take action, leading the associate to their better self. Leaders are made aware that no one person can solve everything and in situations of associate issues, reaching the right internal expert is key. We have various democratic cross functional committees that take care of grievances, associate issues, and so on.

Our programs include, certification reimbursements, competency development points and incentives, continuing higher education, mentoring, professional certifications, and more.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

Here are five small steps organizations can take to get started with to create a well work environment.

  • Start with listening. Listen to your associates. Identify their needs.
  • The smallest acts of kindness sometimes make the biggest impact. Intention and a bottom-up approach work best with initiatives such as this.
  • Create a mentor program to empower employees to achieve their development goals.
  • Bring in guest speakers to talk about topics that bring awareness, such as using mindfulness and meditation to relax, eating healthier, and exercising, leadership, etc.
  • Stress acknowledgement and open conversations are the beginning for creating safe spaces.

What are your “Top 5 Trends to Track in the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

1: Meet the needs of associates in different life/career stages and diversity. One-size-fits-all doesn’t work. Some of our female associates return to work around 5–6 months post-delivery. One associate returned after a year and a half and was a superstar performer. Understanding people’s needs and empathizing with their circumstances is key.

2: Support the “whole person” — the mental, physical, and social well-being of associates. This is a large focus of what I do now. For example, a senior programmer in a critical company team had an accident. He started delivering amazing innovative solutions the week after his accident from his hospital room. What keeps someone inspired and productive is knowing that there are people who care. Genuinely.

3. Find creative ways to attract and retain talent amidst the “great resignation.” Talented employees are high in demand and have more leverage and options. They will leave if they are not happy and fulfilled in the workplace. An organization’s programs should reflect their people. When a junior developer created our fitness program, she channelled the experience to develop her leadership skills. As a result, she has made associate referrals that translated to hiring three talented individuals. The lesson learned is sometimes you must let your people lead.

4. Develop new skills for the ever-evolving remote workplace. Out of sight could become out of mind. Leaders missing out on the nuances of involving associates and creating a safe, fair, and transparent workplace is a challenge and requires training. Our leaders invite teams for lunches and outings to create platforms for establishing connections and trust.

5. Offer the right mix of benefits for a diverse, worldwide workforce and their families.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

My greatest source of optimism comes from what I see every day when I come to the office. I see our employees being recognized by colleagues for their contributions more than ever. I see more respect being given to people and their ideas, and I see better listening. I am optimistic that more businesses will follow this path and the future of the workplace will continue to thrive.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

Dr. Anupama Panduru | LinkedIn

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.