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Making Mental Health a Business Priority

Scott Sinclair

Gajen Kandiah

CEO, Hitachi Vantara

Gajen Kandiah became chief executive officer of Hitachi Vantara in July 2020. As CEO, Gajen leads Hitachi Vantara's 11,000 employees with a focus on empowering client-facing teams to leverage the company's digital infrastructure, software and services capabilities to meet the industry-specific transformational needs of clients worldwide. 

Prior to joining Hitachi Vantara, Gajen built winning IT businesses within multinational corporations and startups for more than two decades. During 15 years with Cognizant, he helped grow the company from $368 million in annual revenues to more than $16 billion. From 2015 to 2019, he was president of Cognizant's multi-billion-dollar Digital Business, a role in which he led the acquisitions of software engineering company Softvision, marketing solutions provider Netcentric, and Idea Couture, a digital innovation and technology services company. He also led a Cognizant-wide initiative to transform company capabilities and services into an integrated, industry- and client-focused suite of offerings and solutions.    

Gajen previously served as senior vice president and general manager of Cognizant's Information, Media and Entertainment; Manufacturing Logistics; Consumer Goods; and Communications industry practices.  Before joining Cognizant, he co-founded NerveWire, Inc., a venture capital-backed management consulting and systems integration firm, which was later acquired by Wipro.

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Given the complex challenges facing the business world – from an ongoing pandemic, supply chain constraints, and a war in Ukraine, to the Great Resignation, inflation (the highest in 42 years) and the fear of an impending recession – organizations are understandably hyper-focused on business health. However, without the right balance of focus on people, executing against the business health is simply not possible

The work-from-home (WFH) movement that sprang from COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem. Although it eliminated long commutes and offered employees more time with family, for many, the lines between work and home began to blur, creating a sense of overwork and burnout. In addition, serious issues of professional isolation and loneliness began creeping into the workforce, impacting mental health and personal and professional relationships.

There is no time to waste. It is critical that organizations begin to immediately address the health of the workforce, from a holistic, mind, body and spirit perspective and build and cultivate empathetic, diverse and inclusive environments.

Importance of Culture and Holistic Employee Health and Wellness

In the wake of the pandemic, employees have taken the time to rethink what is important, what matters and what they need to thrive versus merely survive.

Simultaneously, organizations must demonstrate a commitment to employees, a culture of understanding, and the holistic wellbeing of the employee. When driven by IQ, EQ and DQ (the Decency Quotient), leaders can create the kinds of positive experiences that employees need to be productive and happy and excited about their work and contributions.

A Whole New World

As I wrote recently, this is a new world where employees are looking for more from their work experience. Even as early as 2020, near the beginning of the pandemic, Gallup found that most workers under the age of 40 were “not engaged” at work and “about two-thirds were not thriving.” Fast forward two years and employees are even less connected. Many are looking for a new opportunity, a fresh start.

So, how does an organization respond? Where do they begin to make mental health prioritization a muscle memory?

A Starting Point

More important than where to start is when to start and that answer is now.

Leaders must lean in and engage to understand where its organization is and what its employees need. As can often be the case, we likely won’t have all the answers. The important thing is to engage, ask questions, and listen. As my father always said, “We have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. There is a reason for this.” I use this as a guidepost, believing that we must listen and observe at least two times more than we speak.

From there, there are many avenues that can be taken – from creating employee resource groups, establishing and promoting new health and wellness benefit programs and initiatives, and emphasizing professional and career development to creating a culture and work behaviors that allow flexibility for breaks and protect off hours and vacations.  

At Hitachi Vantara, I’m particularly proud of our mental health “First Aiders,” a grassroots response to a mental health support gap identified by a group of employees. The result has been monthly Big Mental Health Get Togethers with several hundred employees in attendance to discuss challenges and support ideas.

We may not have all the answers, but make no mistake, we need to make these types of supportive programs and processes more permanent fixtures within our organizations.

The health and wellness of our people is just as important as our business health. Employee mental health should be prioritized not only because it impacts business productivity, but also because it is the right thing to do for your people.

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