When the pandemic started, companies adopted remote work and commit to Zoom calls or other virual tools to communicate and collaborate both internally and extenrally. In the years that zoomed (pun intended) by, with the situation now becoming largely under control, workplaces are beginning to open up and offer flexible work arrangements, while employees are encouraged to return to the office whenever they can or as required.
All of which are done so in the hopes of stimulating greater collaborations in in-person settings, improving productivity levels, fostering a sense of identity in the workplace and combating the hidden toll of remote work—that is, loneliness. And so return to the office, we must.
But we should not forget the financial, psychological, emotional, and physical toll of such drastic changes. Employers, C-level management, and human resources ought to recognise the saliency of redesigning the workplace into one that doubles as a safe haven—first, against the onslaught of the pandemic and second, against mental unwellness.
In an article last year, Harvard Business Review highlighted some strategies that could improve employees’ health and well-being, including allowing employees more flexibility about when and where they work, giving employees control over how they work, and encouraging managers to support their staff’s personal needs. Other companies have even doled out wellness benefits to their employees. Such benefits run the gamut from subsidised gym memberships, free-flow kombucha, to even therapy sessions.
Pandemic of yesteryears have proven, time and again, that mankind is resilient; we can bounce back stronger and better, and that our psychological immune system is more robust than we expected. Regardless, it is imperative that we still acknowledge that not everyone has the resources to cope well or adequately in times of need. For companies with vested interests in consumers, stakeholders, and employees, creating an empathetic workplace for employees is not a bad suggestion after all.
In the first part of two mental wellness series, we reached out to French sporting goods retailer Decathlon for their insights on improving empathy in the workplace. If anything, the responses from Fazrie Pawzni (Decathlon SG’s Sports Partnership Lead) reflect the co-operative principle of concern for community.
What is your role in Decathlon?
Fazrie Pawzni: I am Decathlon’s Sports Partnership Lead. My main role is to partner external companies to grow the sporting community for the brand.
The idea that employee wellness, with its gamut of sexy office perks—such as free-flow kombucha, guided meditation, subsidised gym memberships, team yoga, and even sound baths—is not new. Some companies employ them extensively, while others don’t. Do you think these perks are what we need to be healthier or feel more engaged at work?
Fazrie Pawzni: Office perks are a great way to encourage productivity and engagement, and reduce stress while boosting the team’s morale – and in turn helping employees to be healthier and feel more engaged at work. Personally, I believe that happy teams do better work as the reduced distractions help them to be more productive.
At Decathlon, we do employ such perks with the goal of creating a healthier working environment for our team members. We would organise team sports which we encourage our teammates to participate. Oftentimes, you’ll see our teams going for a workout together – be it squash at the courts across our office. This not only encourages teammates to be active, relieving them of everyday stressors, but also encourages intra and inter-team bonding, these are good examples of how a company can create a healthy environment without the need to splurge.
Companies have since shifted how they kick start conversations on workplace wellness. What are we seeing at Decathlon today? How can we all learn to start conversations like that?
Fazrie Pawzni: Decathlon puts the well-being of our teammates at the heart of everything we do, and we believe that taking care of our team members is imperative in helping them to take care of the business. While kick-starting conversations on workplace wellness may be challenging due to time constraints, Decathlon has measures in place to encourage such conversations to happen.
To showcase this, we have recently planned for our team to take part in a canvas painting session where our colleagues spent time together to de-stress and share their struggles and experiences – creating a support system within our teams while integrating deep-rooted bonds amongst our team members. Such initiatives are planned on a monthly basis where our team can look forward to these events to take a mental break.
Additionally, as part of our health benefits, Decathlon also offers a package of counselling sessions as a supplementary measure to promote wellness in our workplace. These sessions are highly subsidised – making it accessible for our team, and especially so for those who require such assistance.
How can we cultivate compassion and empathy at work? What are some of the nuances that we need to pay heed to as well?
Fazrie Pawzni: Compassion should start from the top and look beyond traditional management and development strategies. Hiring and developing managers with empathy has become a vital leadership competency today.
At Decathlon, we incorporate monthly chats with our direct leaders as our efforts to check in with the team – to see how they are coping with work and to see if there is anything the leaders can do better to make the working environment healthier. This also serves as a feedback loop to the upper management to improve the culture of Decathlon by better understanding our team’s needs – cultivating a greater sense of compassion and empathy at work.
We are also proactive in promoting interactions between various departments through initiatives such as the Decathlon Olympics – a staple activity of our team pre-pandemic where we host weekly sporting events involving different business units. In doing so, Decathlon is widening the communication channels between different teams to promote understanding and inclusivity.
What are some of the other wellness strategies practised at your company? How effective are they in bolstering communities?
Fazrie Pawzni: One prominent wellness strategy in Decathlon is our volunteer programme aimed at promoting wellness in our team through reducing stress, increasing employee engagement and boosting productivity – resulting in improved hiring and retention while serving the community.
The volunteer programme, the Decathlon Foundation, was set up in 2005 in France based on two fundamental pillars: the human and sport. This foundation sponsors our Decathlonian a passion project that is in relation to sports and helping the wider community – such as children with special needs or cancer beneficiaries.
We’re happy to share that the Decathlon Singapore team has brought this initiative to the local community in partnership with the St. Andrews Autism Adult Centre to promote a healthier lifestyle within the community through Decathlon’s sponsorship of sports equipment. Our teams also spent time with the beneficiaries to increase their social interaction and improve their emotional wellbeing. While this may be a first for us in Singapore, we hope to inspire more of our team members to front such initiatives – benefitting both the team’s wellbeing and the community’s welfare.