health, wellbeing, mental health, mental wellbeing

As an industry known to have high pressure, mental health issues are still not widely talked about in marketing & advertising, Bala Pomaleh, CEO of Mediabrands Malaysia, points out. In this interview with Priya Sunil, he shares:

  • The agency's integrated approach to working from home;
  • How its holistic wellness programme addresses matters of the mind, body, and wallet; and
  • What's in store for employees as the agency moves to a hybrid work model in 2022.

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With the intention of de-stigmatising mental health care and making it accessible and routine, Bala Pomaleh, CEO of Mediabrands Malaysia, sheds light on how he's is trying to move the needle on these issues.

Q What are you doing around wellbeing?

At Mediabrands, we place a strong priority on supporting the physical, mental, emotional, and financial wellbeing of our staff. When looking at our wellbeing culture, our stance has been a proactive one, looking to address any vulnerabilities to our employees and loved ones. Our aim is to create a safe work environment that encourages everyone to be open and to ask for help when they are experiencing difficulties.

COVID-19 has raised numerous concerns around mental health and reinforced how vital it is that we facilitate conversations and raise awareness around these issues.

For us, it is important to see the synergy between performance and purpose, and as a result, over the past year, we have placed additional emphasis on the following areas:

1. Strengthening employee happiness and connectivity

Staying connected has never been easier or harder than in the present day. While we have all the tools at our disposal to remain connected, the bonds we form in-person are hard to replace. Over the past year, we have strengthened efforts on one of our core values – collaboration through trust. By keeping our employees happy and engaged, we look to increase collaboration, creativity and provide meaningful growth for them.

2. Providing an integrated approach to working from home

By providing a healthy working environment and showing personal support to our employees, we look to increase employee productivity and mitigate the effects of burnout. During lockdown, our interaction with talents needed to span more than just work. At each stage, we looked to manage screen fatigue and improve remote work processes, recognising the varied needs of our people as they worked from home.

3. Shining a light on mental wellbeing

Our industry is known to have high pressure, yet mental health issues are still not widely talked about. We focused our efforts on more awareness, engagement, and tools to help our employees manage their daily emotional challenges.

4. Diversity, equity and inclusivity matters

A well-thought-out blueprint on our local DE&I goals has been worked on, to solve some of the things that affect our culture and to imprint these values within the DNA of our company. These goals include a commitment to equality, fairness, removing bias and embracing all of society to shape the fabric of our organisation.

Q What have you done to promote mental health and wellbeing in the organisation?

Our holistic wellness programme is designed around mind, body, wallet. The idea is that no one part of the equation should be neglected, as they each contribute greatly towards the overall mental health, energy, and performance of our employees.

To promote mental health awareness, we have constant engagement through the form of messaging and internal communications, wellness nuggets and infographics, and internal talks across a broad range of topics ranging from – how to spot burnout, and supporting your teams remotely, to managing stress levels. These talks and resources are provided through our global employee assistance programme, and through the support of local NGOs such as the Malaysian Mental Health Association.

Alongside these talks, this year, we launched a series of virtual activities for employees. These activities range across a wide spectrum of interests – coffee appreciation, brush calligraphy, growing a terrarium, baking and hydroponics to name a few. These workshops run every two weeks, and participants receive an at-home-kit with all the items needed to participate in the workshop.

Feedback from these sessions has been positive, as it provides them with an opportunity to destress and meet colleagues from different agencies with whom they might not normally interact. All of which fosters better bonds and builds on our collaborative spirit.

As part of our LiveWell programme, employees are provided access to virtual or phone counselling sessions free of charge.

This service is provided through a local panel counselling centre with full anonymity, with the service extended to employees’ family members living under the same roof. From comments shared by managers, this service is very much appreciated as it serves the needs of employees in need, and takes the financial burden off them.

The link between performance and fitness has been well documented. During the lockdown period, we continued to promote the benefits of fitness and wellbeing through sharing tips on simple desk exercises, healthy eating, and workshops on meditation and yoga to drive fitness at home.

To address the 'wallet' pillar, regular financial literacy talks are conducted to help employees plan for their future, learn more about investments, retirement planning, share tax tips and gain information on financial protection tools. Financial security is an important aspect of emotional health and wellbeing, and these resources are provided as constant support to employees every quarter.

As an added incentive this year, and in recognition of the efforts of employees through a particularly challenging year, Mediabrands Malaysia has also provided all employees an additional five days of leave to be taken as a 'recharge and refresh' leave in 2021.

Our stance is that every employee deserves to take some time away from work to get into an optimal headspace and come back rested and mentally stronger to increase productivity in the long term.

Q How did these initiatives come about?

Our approach to these initiatives is a bottom-up approach. We feel it is important for our people to have a say and get involved in the process of decision making. We send out regular surveys and pulse surveys and listen to feedback given during townhalls and from our anonymous virtual listening box.

Through these avenues, we gather intel and map out the right combination of activities.

Ultimately, not everyone will participate in everything, but our intention is that everyone will find something that resonates with them.

Q Moving forward, what are your future plans?

As we begin our return to normality, we have been actively evaluating our working models and structure. Our goal is to continue supporting our people with their needs while we deliver on our mission for client success. Following months of research and feedback from all our teams, we have aligned on a hybrid model for our way of working called “Better Way”. This is designed and aligned along four core pillars: Care, Career, Clients and Community.

In 2022, we will launch our hybrid way forward where employees will spend 50% of their time in the office, and 50% working from home.

The aim is to support employees by giving them the flexibility to work from home, while facilitating a comfortable and safe working environment at the office and improving overall productivity.

As a final word, it is important to stress that conversations around mental health and wellness are extremely important. This year, in recognition of World Mental Health Day, we launched a Mental Health Week – a week-long programme to raise awareness and destigmatise the issues, share information on meditation and stress relief, and provide support on self-care. Our hope is for more leaders and organisations to acknowledge the importance of mental health and encourage people to open up on their struggles so they may get help from the resources available.

Photo / Provided (Bala Pomaleh, CEO of Mediabrands Malaysia)

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