Interview | Occupational Wellness | HR

Wellness at Work

February 6, 2023
Mohit Sahni

UPL’s Sonila Deshpande, having worked with many big companies, is aware of how corporate wellness has changed over the years. Sonila is currently covering all aspects of HRs as Global Head at UPL.

Traditional notions of wellbeing were based on physical characteristics like body weight, exercise levels, and good biometrics. However, in recent years, the definition of wellness has evolved to include mental and financial well-being since these areas are often linked to physical health and productivity declines. In response to this relationship, it has been emphasised that proactive and preventative measures must be taken. 

During this interview, Wellness Tribe spoke with Sonila Deshpande, the global head at UPL, about how corporate wellness has evolved over time. She also discussed how corporations are making this transition easier for employees. This is an edited transcription of their conversation.

Wellness Tribe: The corporate sector has undergone significant changes due to globalisation, and many companies are focusing on employee wellness. What changes have you seen in workplace wellness in the last few years? 
Sonila Deshpande: I would put it as pre-covid and post-covid. During Pre-covid, it was more of a good to have a thing for an organisation, but post-covid it has become a must-have thing. Additionally, I see more and more organisations implementing these programs.
Wellness Tribe: Nowadays, employees are expecting employers to view them as individual human beings than just mere talents. How do you think the HR team can put these people at the centre of this process and wellness policies?
Sonila Deshpande: Yes, steps are being taken in that manner. However, I have noticed that people, in general, are now taking wellness seriously. Being aware of their health, getting their records checked on a monthly basis, and so on. The people have become more aware, and that is where I think there is a good handshake between what employers are now able to offer and what employees need. The result is that these employee wellness programs are going so much more smoothly. 
Wellness Tribe: Sadly, it took a pandemic for some of these ideas about personalised health and well-being to start to sink in for both employers and their employees. So how can HRs work to drive the well-being agenda that is impactful? 
Sonila Deshpande: I see some organisations have built employee assistance programs, fitness centres, yoga sessions, and exercise rooms. What will also be good is something that I saw a decade ago, more in terms of preventive initiatives: for example, incentivising employees to use the gym, complete daily exercise goals, etc. So, the moment you incentivise these things, it becomes a habit, and it also brings down your insurance bill, so it works both ways. It is not just beneficial for employees but employers as well. 
Wellness Tribe: Employers are expanding the range of customisation of benefits and offering more added value programs. However, well-being efforts are not entirely utilised, and employees fail to participate in these programs. What do you think are the reasons hampering the outcome of these programs? 
Sonila Deshpande: You have to look at what is happening. So now we have three different generations working under the same roof. So what works for one generation doesn't have to work for the other. Unless these programs are customised for different people with different needs, people will not accept them. So, organisations need to work considering the employees and what works best for them. The term we can use here is hyper localisation, is need to happen in this space as well. 
Wellness Tribe: What advice will you give to these organisations as they look forward to strengthening their employee well-being strategy?
Sonila Deshpande: I think there is already enough realisation these organisations and leaders had during these past few years, especially during the pandemic. I guess what will be good is we don’t do these programs just for the sake of doing it, but we should get some value out of it. The senior leadership should also put themselves inside the process and get involved. This way, these programs will definitely see some success over the following years. 

These views and opinions belong to the interviewee and not necessarily to TheWellnessTribe.

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