Why SKF India prefers peer coaching over external well being coaches

SKF India believes that empathy is the key to addressing the mental health of employee, and therefore, it is working on making employees more empathetic towards their peers


Since the second wave in India, mental wellbeing has received a lot of attention and has come to be the centre point of people strategy for many companies. Now, however, the focus is returning to business.

Gautam Kumar, director- people experience, industrial region India & SEA, SKF, very much believes that the focus is on business growth for SKF India, but at the same time they do not want to let their guard down.

SKF is an automotive and provides industrial engineered solutions with over 3000 employees in India.

During the time the cases were rising, SKF had set up the required infrastructure, such as COVID care centre, isolation centre and teleconsultation services for employees. All these have stayed intact. “Though it would be very right to say that now it is time to focus back on business, as a company, we have not taken our eyes off it,” says Kumar.

Sharing with HRKatha, Kumar says that the focus is still very much on safeguarding the mental wellbeing of employees. According to Kumar, peer-to-peer coaching has worked much better for SKF India than taking help from external mental-health specialists.

In the past, the Company had mental wellbeing apps and wellness coaches on call, but Kumar found that hardly anyone at SKF was making use of those facilities. That is when the Company decided to run an internally-driven programme, which works on peer-to-peer coaching. It allows people to seek help from their own colleagues and friends at the workplace.

“Discussing mental health issues and problems with a friend or a colleague is easier than discussing them with someone from outside the Company and this model has really worked for us so far,” admits Kumar.

The Company follows the practice of having continuous dialogues with the employees on their performance. All managers and leaders communicate feedbacks on performance to their peers. SKF India felt that understanding the emotional and mental state of their peers is as important as communicating the feedback on their performance.

“Discussing mental health issues and problems with a friend or a colleague is easier than discussing them with someone from outside the Company and this model has really worked for us so far”

Gautam Kumar, director- people experience, industrial region India & SEA, SKF

To drive this, SKF India ran a programme called ‘Living Blue’ — a totally internally- driven initiative. The top 100 leaders at SKF have already been trained and covered under this initiative, where three workshops have been held by the management leadership team at SKF India. “We believe that driving a mindset of empathy at the workplace is the key part in addressing the mental-health issues of employees,” shares Kumar.

SKF India has been working on this programme for the last three months. The focus has been on making people more empathetic towards each other. The ‘Living Blue’ programme is concentrating on e ththree Hs — Head, Heart and Hands — while training people to be more empathetic.

Head – Kumar explains that being empathetic means thinking right and assuming the right things. “More often, we find that people have various doubts and biases which come in the way of having an empathetic mindset,” mentions Kumar.

Heart – Listening to one’s peers is the second step in being empathetic. Therefore, the ‘Living Blue’ programme focuses on training employees to be better listeners.

Hands – The third part becomes the correct behaviours that a person needs to demonstrate, while interacting to show more empathy.

Kumar further reveals that SKF India is driving the ‘Living Blue’ programme adopting a top to bottom approach. As of now, some of the top leaders have been covered in this programme, but slowly, it will cascade down to the shop floor level as well in the coming months.

Kumar finds that with this programme, relationships amongst their employees have become stronger, which also reflects in their high performance.

Secondly, the engagement scores have really improved by three to four points, since the introduction of the ‘Living Blue’ programme.

In fact, Kumar also says that people have been very open in sharing their problems with peers, which they could not see happening through mental-health services. SKF has installed ‘Living Blue’ rooms where people can sit and discuss their issues or their hobbies with their colleagues and friends.

The Company is not just making people at the workplace empathetic but also evaluating them on empathy. “We also want to hire people who are empathetic,” asserts Kumar.

Assessment practices and evaluation systems of the Company help gauge how empathetic people are and assign them empathetic scores. However, Kumar also clarifies that a person’s low score in this area does not make him/her ineligible altogether, as “it may not be a complete dealbreaker”.

People have seen some of their worst nightmares becoming a reality during the second wave, and this only made the need to have an empathetic attitude more of a necessity for all leaders and managers. Unlike organisations where practising empathy at the workplace was just a ‘for the time being’ activity, SKF India still wants to continue this mindset shift and embed it in its workplace culture. After all, this will only further help ensure mental wellness amongst the workforce.

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