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How I am rethinking employee engagement to support mental health

Tag Americas CEO Ajit Kara believes business leaders have an ethical responsibility to find innovative ways of connecting employees.

Ajit Kara, CEO, Tag Americas, in a podcast studio

Employee engagement has always been a priority for me. Anyone who stopped by Tag’s New York office pre-pandemic will tell you that our Thirsty Thursdays happy hour every week served as a safe space for employees to decompress and enjoy a casual conversation and a few laughs. Apart from being a fun way to end the week, getting to know the people behind the job titles inevitably helped to strengthen the quality of workplace relationships. 

But all that changed in March 2020.

What started as temporary virtual work arrangements to enable social distancing when COVID-19 first hit resulted in lasting changes. And although the digital workplace has many benefits, it’s forcing business leaders to develop new approaches to employee engagement, especially considering the importance of social connection for mental health. 

U.S.-based study conducted among 1,000 adults early in the pandemic showed that 74% of respondents said they experienced a new mental health issue since working from home, and 55% said they experienced two or more. Those issues included anxiety, sadness, trouble sleeping, low motivation, mental stress and trouble concentrating. While there are undoubtedly multiple factors contributing to this decline in mental health, I truly believe the absence of in-person connections is exacerbating these issues. 

I also believe that business leaders have an ethical responsibility to find innovative ways of connecting employees as we navigate voluntary hybrid and remote work models, whether it’s providing employees paid time off to volunteer in their local communities or using technology to connect with employees at times and places convenient to them.

Last month, I launched my new podcast series, Tag Talks: Happy Hour with Ajit Kara — a series of 20-minute episodes dropping every Thursday throughout summer. 

One-part small talk, all parts real talk, these lively conversations with Tag Americas employees pick up where the safe space of in-person happy hours left off. I’m amazed at the guests’ willingness to share their personal journeys with such authenticity and vulnerability and am excited to offer this incredible content to our employees and clients as a way of facilitating more personal connections in a way that video meetings cannot.

The first episode features Jenn Dee, VP, studio lead at Taylor James (a Tag company), discussing the truly remarkable work she has done to promote mental health and suicide prevention. Then, I speak with Mark Knowles, GM of creative operations and ping pong enthusiast; Sarah Telgarsky, senior account director and dolphin-call expert; and Nena Rosic, HR manager and home renovator.

Listen while you work, take a coffee break or run errands.

My physical office door is always open. And now, thanks to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Audible and PodBean, my virtual door is too.

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