Promoting Company Engagement and Mental Health Care During a Pandemic

The following is an excerpt from The 50: HR Leaders Reimagining the Filipino Organization. Authored by Ros Manawis, this chapter is titled, “Promoting Company Engagement and Mental Health Care During a Pandemic", the Chief Human Resource Officer of Generali Philippines, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in taking care of their employees alongside their patients.

In a time where people struggled to work from home and deal with the effects of the pandemic, Chief Human Resource Officer for Generali Philippines Lorna Pabelico found it more important than ever to stay connected with employees. 


Prior to the pandemic, Generali already faced challenges with regard to company engagement. Initially, Generali was connected with a previous joint venture up until 2016. The split was brought about by a change in the business direction of each party.  It was then decided that those in the corporate business would go to Generali, while those involved in the retail business would stay with the former company. Those who chose Generali had the option to source for other job opportunities, yet they stayed with a company with a good global name. 


The new Generali company is focused on Group Life insurance, with hospitalization and medical benefit offerings.  Having a large amount of manpower from their previous joint venture to having a drop in employee count in the new Generali company is the first reason why Pabelico saw the need for employee engagement. “The most challenging task then was sustaining employees’ decision, that Generali was the way to go,” she said. 


Pabelico then pushed for employees to bond through various physical activities together; initiating multiple recreations such as outings and parties, sports, song and dance challenges, etc., finding every reason to frequently get together as they celebrated all the little successes as a company. Then, the pandemic came and put a halt to all their physical interactions. 


Pabelico shares that Generali had been on a 100 percent work from home basis since the early days of the pandemic. The sudden shift had Pabelico and her team coming up with various internet-based bonding and communication strategies that they could utilize to keep up with their fellow employees. The remote work setup also gave Pabelico a chance to look into the employees’ mental well-being.


As a life insurance company, Generali is also in the medical field themselves, and so Pabelico believed they should take care of their employees not only physically but mentally as well. One way Pabelico checked up on employees and kept engagement alive was by conducting pulse surveys within the company; every two months, she and her team sent out a survey to know how everyone was doing. They also held virtual coffee sessions with the employees. During their sessions, they talked about different topics relating to the pandemic and productivity, such as sharing better collaboration strategies and how to work better despite physically being apart. 


Through the surveys and the virtual sessions, Pabelico and her team realized that for many in the company, there was little work-life balance. People began to complain of how they began to feel they had longer work hours, as their respective heads began to reach out to them outside their designated work platform and hours. 


“People were complaining about how they have to answer questions and queries from clients and colleagues, and at the same time, had to deal with their own compulsive reaction about not being able to stop working because they know that the laptop is just in front of them,” Pabelico explained.


The concerns raised prompted setting new ground rules for the company with regards to remote work. “We said let’s institute the 9 to 6 core hours, and let’s respect that,” she said. “We should stop using external media for official business communication and stick to using email and MS Teams. Nobody should disturb anybody on weekends unless it’s important and for a client.”


After the guidelines were released, Pabelico started to see a change in work ethic within the company. There were less complaints overall over work-life balance as people began to adjust to the new rules. However, even as they address the issues on work-life balance, Pabelico notes that many employees’ mental health were affected negatively by the pandemic. 


“People were having difficulty being productive not only because of the internet connection, but also because the pandemic had a big effect on the psychological well-being of employees,” Pabelico said. “They did not feel safe, meaning they feel they will lose their job, they feel they will get sick, and that their families will be affected by COVID-19.”


Before COVID-19, Pabelico admitted that mental health care was not something their company consciously considered in their daily lives. Even if she was open to helping people with their mental health concerns, the stigma of mental health in general discouraged many from coming out and reaching out for help. 


While people were not consciously talking about mental health issues then, Pabelico observed that being around one another positively affects employees’ mental wellbeing. “I think it was helpful that people were seeing each other,” she said. “So when people have problems, they have someone to talk to face-to-face, and being with one another was a big help by itself”. It became an issue, though, when we started working from home and we were not seeing nor talking to each other in person .”


Since meeting physically was not an option, Pabelico and her team shifted to hosting webinars instead; the webinars were held monthly and aimed to educate employees on crisis management, especially with regards to COVID-19. People managers were also oriented on how to better support their employees even without seeing each other.  They were taught how to open themselves to employees, encourage more communication, and how to generate productivity despite the set-up.


People managers were also advised to exhibit flexibility when it comes to dealing with employees’ goals and achievements. “I think the problem basically was how can people managers engage employees to become productive even during a crisis,” she said. “We were now midway in our performance year and we are assessing people’s midyear achievements. At the end of the year, we will look into all of the factors affecting people’s performance and definitely the pandemic is one of these considerations.”


Inspired by the Mental Health concept Pabelico introduced, Generali began to include mental health care in their insurance packages for clients. “We have this practice where our Sales team would normally treat the HR head as a client,” she explained. “They would ask my opinion if their product is something that an HR Head will need for their employees, which they did with mental health care.”


Pabelico has also pioneered the concept of peer counselors within the company. These peer counsellors come from within their own employees, and are usually from the staff or supervisor levels. She searched through the employees on who might be open or approachable enough and who might have had previous experience with peer counselling, then she puts them through workshops. 


“We have our peer counsellors go through workshops to better understand exactly how the crisis is affecting people right now and what people might be feeling.  Via the workshop, we teach them how to be effective listeners and counsel some of the people who might approach them as a result of the emotional difficulties they may be experiencing,” Pabelico said.


The main purpose of having in-house peer counsellors is for employees to have someone they can easily reach out to. She said, “It’s not that all their worries will go away or all their concerns are not real, but we’d like to make them realize through counseling, how to better manage themselves during a crisis experience.”


Pabelico did not see the pandemic ending anytime soon, thus keeping their employees at home for longer. She still planned new working arrangements and adjustments to accommodate the new normal, all while keeping employee experience and wellbeing, both physical and mental, at the forefront of her planning. 

To get more insights from other HR leaders like Lorna Pabelico, please check out the full book, available for purchase here


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