Mind Matters—Workplace Well-being

Mental health—two words that have caused many companies to rethink the way they manage their employees. In this article, Rakuten shares more about their workplace well-being initiatives.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; or, in today’s context, all work and no time-out makes for stressed-out, burnt-out employees.

It’s been proven that healthy workplaces help people to flourish and reach their potential. Companies that invest in the well-being of their employees find that it encourages creativity and better problem-solving skills, and results in employees feeling safe and appreciated, with higher performance and productivity.

One such company is Rakuten, which has made its home in CapitaGreen.

For the unfamiliar, Rakuten started as an online shopping marketplace in Japan in 1997, but has since branched out into travel, finan-cial services, sports, and more. Since early-2020, Rakuten Asia’s management began introducing employee well-being initiatives to support all Crimson House Singapore1 members, which focus on supporting their employees’ mental, physical, and financial wellbeing.

“A healthier and happier workforce is a more productive workforce,” says Spencer Lim, a General Manager from the HR & Administration Department at Rakuten.

If you’re an employer or employee who’s looking to delve deeper into implementing better workplace well-being practices, perhaps you could benefit from the experiences that Spencer, and Tatsuo Hidaka, a fellow General Manager from the Corporate Culture Department, have to share.

1. Where do I start?

Spencer (S): Well-being initiatives shouldn’t have to come from the HR or Corporate Culture Department alone. Instead, employees are encouraged to take the initiative to maintain their workplace relationships with fellow colleagues as well.

The process of considering these ideas are also straightforward. Managers are employees as well and should consider the possible scenarios their colleagues face in their work life and how they can stay pro-ductive in such situations.

When looking at these ideas, approach them by asking, “Is this what the employees want?” and subsequently, “Is this what the business wants?”

By doing so, you can ensure that employees’ concerns are considered first. Business concerns are then naturally resolved as employees can now focus on their work at hand.

Photo: To welcome newcomers who join the company during this work-from-home period, consider gifting them with a kit. Rakuten’s welcome kit contains office essentials, tech accessories, and Rakuten merchandise. among others.

Tatsuo (T): Rather than problem-solving alone, the Rakuten People & Culture Lab’s2 initiatives adopt a preemptive strategy to explore possible workplace issues and develop insights from research.

One of those insights was that employees require breathing space in time management and connection to their teams. Before the pandemic, such support was available from the convenience of the office. However, with everyone working remotely these days, it's important to raise awareness and remind employees to be mindful of their well-being.

Photo: Zoom doesn't have to be all gloom. Use the video-call platform for recreational and educational purposes too—such as this Halloween-themed mixology class where Rakuten employees came dressed in costumes to learn how to make mocktails and cocktails.

2. How can I get help with well-being initiatives?

T: In the broader Asia and Pacific region, the Rakuten People & Culture Lab works with a Singapore Management University professor to develop mindfulness tips for our employees. This contributes to the mental well-being of our workforce across different group companies and countries.

We also adhere to a collective well-being guideline (see the end of this article) and its calendar that poses questions to employees to remind them of team-building best practices and spark discussion among diverse team members.

3. What are some activities I can consider for my workplace?

S: We introduced an Employee Assistance Program in May 2020, granting all members access to professional counselling services fully paid for by the company. Employees could arrange for counselling sessions with their spouses or family members, and information shared during the session would be kept strictly confidential.

In addition to that, we also hosted weekly virtual exercise classes ranging from barre to High Intensity Interval Trainings to support the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle. Recreational activities like virtual parties, workshops and culture cafes are also common on our employees’ calendars to help take their minds off the pandemic occasionally. Such activities create opportunities for employees to see each other online and maintain their connection to the organisation.

T: We’ve carried on a practice from pre-Covid days where members of Rakuten’s wellness department conducted stretching exercises at the weekly town halls meetings of our Japanese headquarters. The activity has since gone online and shared with all employees worldwide as a resource to stay in shape while working from home. This is an example of a practice that we encourage employees to carry on when they’re working from home.

Additionally, managers now hold more weekly or daily huddles with team members than ever—it helps members keep up to date on the team’s activities and prevent isolation, which is crucial to the organisation’s mental and social well-being.

4. These are special times—what are some additional things to note?

S: Symptoms of workplace burnout can sometimes be very subtle. While some employees may exhibit changes in their approach to work, others might show no signs altogether. As such, a strong emphasis should be placed on the importance of work-life balance.

You could also incorporate a transition into work mode before starting the day. Now that most people are working from home and do not travel to their offices, the distance between home life and work is much shorter.

To recreate that transition, I recommend a habit such as tidying up your desk daily/weekly. It allows anyone to refresh their mood at the start of the week while ensuring that their workspace is kept clean.

Photo: Small moments ensure you stay connected with each your colleagues and employees. It doesn’t have to be anything too fancy—take this pyjamas-themed virtual D&D event at Rakuten for example.

Finally, managers must make a conscious effort to know when to stop communicating with their members at the end of the day. With the bulk of communication moved to instant messaging, expectations for an instant reply have grown significantly. This gives employees undue pressure.

As such, we encourage managers to not message when it is after-work hours and when the message is not urgent. Daily or weekly huddles are instead better opportunities for managers to communicate with team members. Employees can also utilise online tools like Microsoft Teams to block their calendars to focus or allocate time for themselves. Without being physically present around each other, the consent for availability is often taken for granted. 

We hope this guide was insightful and provided you with a small step towards initiating better mental health practices in your workplace. For companies that already have a framework in place, it would be helpful to share your journey with others, as Rakuten has done through this article.

“More than through business and entrepreneurship alone, we also want to contribute to society by sharing our best practices in developing collective wellbeing among employees worldwide,” says Tatsuo. As they say, sharing is caring.

1: Crimson House Singapore (CHS) is home to Rakuten Asia, the regional head office of Rakuten’s businesses in the APAC region. It comprises of the following business verticals and sister companies: Rakuten Asia Pte Ltd, Rakuten Viki, Rakuten Marketing, Rakuten Insight, Rakuten Capital, Rakuten Viber, Rakuten Institute of Technology, Rakuten Symphony, Rakuten Travel, Rakuten Travel Xchange, and Rakuten Sports. 

2: The Rakuten People & Culture Lab is a Rakuten Group research institute focusing on human resources and organisational development. 

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