How EAPs are Helping Employees Handle Grief Loss in India

By Shefali Anand June 8, 2021

​As India continues to battle a devastating second wave of Covid-19 infections, some organizations are seeking ways to provide emotional support to their employees. Many are enlisting employee assistance programs ( samples/toolkits/pages.aspx) for the first time, while other companies that already offer such programs are encouraging employees to give them a try.

"We're getting more demand than we can service," said Meeta Gangrade, chief operating and digital officer of, a Bengaluru-based EAP provider. Gangrade said that companies are realizing that "people can't function if they're not emotionally secure, and we need to do something about it."

Covid-19 infections in India rose dramatically in the spring, crossing more than 350,000 daily cases in late April and May. The sharp rise overwhelmed the healthcare system even in such large cities as Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, leaving many patients struggling to find beds, medical oxygen and life-saving medicines. Many thousands of people died.

Though the number of daily infections has eased to around 100,000 a day, the emotional toll of prolonged illness and the death of loved ones lingers across the country.

"This time the predominant emotions are those of grief, loss, panic, uncertainty and fear….all of which can lead to long-term trauma," said Amber Alam, director of EAP & Wellness Services for Asia Pacific at Optum, a care services-provider.

Getting Inventive to Meet Demand

EAP programs are designed to help employees resolve personal or work-based problems that may affect their performance, and have been around in India for at least a decade. However, not many companies have offered EAPs in the past, citing cost as their main concern.

"The first wave of Covid changed that," said Sushil Eapen, CEO and co-founder of EAP firm Silver Oak Health in Bengaluru. Eapen said that many HR executives and leaders realized that mental health isn't something they can address on their own, so they've turned to professionals.

"Suddenly, with the latest wave of Covid cases, even small companies - with less than 100 employees -started calling," said Eapen. 

To meet the greater demand for their services, many EAPs have beefed up their network of psychologists, counselors and trainers. "We've onboarded 20 to 25 clients in the last two months," Alam explained, and all of them are large Indian multinational companies with at least 5,000 employees each. That said, smaller companies are seeking help as well.

"We also have added an additional 20% manpower in the last 45 days," Alam said, and his firm plans to further increase its team strength by 50% in the coming weeks.

Besides providing one-on-one counseling to employees, EAP providers are offering webinars for employees on topics like dealing with grief and loss, self-care, working from home, parenting and sleep assistance. "Sometimes we get 3,000 to 4,000 people participating in a single webinar," said Eapen.

To reach a larger number of employees quickly, some EAPs have organized group grief therapy and listening sessions, especially for employees who have lost a colleague or family-member. "Some of them are not truly counseling sessions, but they just need coping techniques to deal with what's happening," said Gangrade.

To support blue-collar and factory workers, companies such as YourDOST, an emotional wellness platform, are offering counseling and helplines in regional Indian languages.

"The kind of webinars we do for them are very different from what we'd do for white collar workers," said Richa Singh, co-founder of YourDOST in Bengaluru. For example, they've adapted the delivery and content of these webinars "to make them a lot more relevant to things right now," said Singh.

In some cases, EAP counselors have proactively called employees who were infected with Covid-19 to ask how they're doing. Typically, counselors don't call employees to check on their mental health as it could be seen as an intrusion.

"For Covid it's a different thing because it's seen as a check-in call," said Eapen. Such calls go a long way toward building goodwill for HR. "It gives a signal to employees that someone cares," he said. In some of these calls, employees reveal underlying anxieties, like the stress of high health-care costs and whether it might lead to bankruptcy, said Eapen.

Counseling the Care-Givers

Some companies have also sought to provide emotional guidance to managers and HR officials, especially where they are the first point of contact with employees seeking medical or emotional help.

YourDOST has organized sessions for these first responders and trained them on how to support team members who are dealing with a health problem at home, said Singh. In cases where there is an adverse outcome, such as an employee losing a family member, some first-responders end up taking it personally.

"There's a lot of guilt and some people say, 'Oh, probably I should have made more calls, maybe I didn't do enough,'" said Singh. Even counselors need to be taken care of, as they too often have overcome Covid-related issues.

In April and May, 40% of the counseling staff at was out of action due to Covid-19, said Gangrade. The company added more than 40 counselors in May to bridge the gap. At the same time, Gandrade said they've been conscious of not overloading their therapists with too many grief sessions, as those can be draining.

"There is a care-giving fatigue that is settling in," he said. To manage this, they've been providing their counselors with a half day off between sessions. "We're giving them very specialized therapy around care-giver fatigue," added Gangrade.

It remains to be seen if the recent demand for EAP services in India augurs for a fundamental shift in the way companies view employee assistance programs. Some wellness providers think so.

Singh of YourDOST said that companies and HR officials are realizing that to be an empathetic organization, they must support employees' emotional wellness, and that support must come from senior leadership.

"In the last year, I've seen that shift where HR has really pushed [top management] to say it cannot be just my agenda, it needs to be your agenda as well," said Singh.

Companies also need to recognize that the benefits of these services come over the long haul. "EAPs are not a magic wand that you put in today and in one month's time you see a return on investment," said Alam. "It entails a shift in terms of your culture."



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