Mental Health Initiatives Should Not be Momentary Blip during Pandemic: Louise Pender, ZALORA

November 11, 202112:36 pm1490 views

Employee mental health is increasingly becoming a top concern among business leaders as we are living in a perpetual state of disruption. From adapting to the WFH arrangement when the outbreak erupted to going back to the office now as vaccination is underway, employees are constantly struggling to cope with the rapidly changing situation. The pandemic impacts on mental health are going to have a long tail, thus employers are urged to build a sustainable and mentally healthy workplace.

In light of this matter, HR in Asia talked to Louise Pender, General Counsel and Chief People Officer at ZALORA. Check out the discussion and find out how her organization has been running mental health initiatives.


  • The pandemic has triggered and led to psychological distress for many. Personally, how do you find yourself coping with the situation?

Answer: I think like most people, I have had my personal ups and downs. The tragedies that we’ve seen affecting some peoples’ lives have affected me greatly. However, I’ve also seen an amazing outpouring of love and kindness to support people going through difficult times. There’s a sense of community and responsibility for one another that is created in such times that can’t otherwise be manufactured. I think that these values are the ones that help us to foster our resilience, and they have really helped ZALORA’s culture thrive throughout the pandemic.  

  • What were some common problems faced by employees following the shift to a remote working arrangement? How has ZALORA worked to address these?

Answer: A common problem we’ve seen employees face in the age of remote working has been the phenomenon of screen fatigue, which refers to the sense of exhaustion felt after continuously engaging in video calls or sitting in front of a computer screen. An unintended consequence of the shift to remote working, continuous waves of virtual meetings and calls have resulted in employees feeling especially taxed. To that end, ZALORA has implemented Zoom-free half days each week as part of our latest mental health initiative rollout, to ease the intensity of screen time for our employees working remotely, and provide them with dedicated stretches of time where they can focus on their tasks without interruption.

Additionally, some employees may feel a growing sense of isolation in recent months, stemming from a lack of physical interaction with their colleagues, and exacerbated by various lockdown measures and movement restrictions. Multiple studies have noted the effect that this long-term, enforced isolation can have on an individual’s stress and anxiety levels. In our recent Future of Work survey, a majority of our employees listed the lack of social interaction as the main reason behind their desire to return to the office. So, we have created various avenues for the team to stay connected through digital means, such as interactive virtual Town Halls and a series of online Z Talks, which go well beyond work-related topics to cover areas of interest like financial management and coping with stress. All of these have helped to foster a sense of connection and camaraderie among the ZALORA team in a time of isolation.

  • Recently, ZALORA introduced several new initiatives to promote mental well-being practices for employees. What is the urgency behind this move?

Answer: The transition to a hybrid work model and reduced physical interaction at work have created a new intensity and set of challenges for our employees. We are mindful that many employees are having to juggle their work responsibilities with responsibilities at home and other personal commitments, especially as parents or caregivers. In light of these new challenges, we wanted to provide new forms of support to our employees. In particular, we strove to ensure that we were supporting our employees’ mental health and wellbeing as best as we could, while also encouraging employees to take the time that they need for important self-care.

Our aim is to create a happy and vibrant working environment by providing an outstanding employee experience, whether our employees are in the office or working remotely. We know that this is the best way to help our employees thrive and be at their best in all their endeavors — professional or personal. The latest initiatives recognize that each individual’s circumstances are unique, and we want to support our employees not just in terms of benefits and working conditions, but also in their mental well-being journeys.

  • When organizations are looking to roll out wellbeing programs, what factors should be taken into consideration? Is it true that investing in such initiatives requires a fat budget?

Answer: The starting point for all well-being programmes should be to ask employees about their experiences and what they think would help the most. In 2020, ZALORA conducted a comprehensive Future of Work (FoW) survey to seek the opinion of our employees across the region, and gather feedback on their evolving work-life priorities, expectations, and concerns amidst the pandemic.

From this, we learned that flexibility was of the utmost importance — the majority of our employees prefer remote or hybrid working arrangements, while some of our employees expressed a desire to return to the office full-time. Among the top reasons for a preference to return to the office was a desire to socialize with their colleagues, fatigue of isolation at home, as well as challenges in being productive while working from home.

Our employees also asked for more tools and resources to help them in establishing a healthy work-life at home, especially in relation to how to cope with the increased mental intensity of remote working. We responded with a number of initiatives to support this, including access to a meditation app, mental health leave days, and an investment in an online mental health platform that provided employees with confidential access to counseling sessions with qualified psychologists.

As part of this process, we reviewed and compared a number of platforms to ensure that we found one which met the high standards we set for supporting employee wellbeing. Two key factors guided ZALORA’s decision in choosing a platform. Firstly, the need to be able to offer customized employee solutions that catered to the complexity and regional organizational structure of our business. Our multi-disciplinary teams comprise different nationalities and languages working across very diverse cultural contexts and environments spanning Southeast Asia. We, therefore, needed to ensure that our inclusive ZALORA culture and values came through in these platforms, in a way that takes into account each employee’s unique circumstances.

Secondly, we were especially cautious in assessing the privacy protections offered to our employees, as well as ensuring legal and regulatory compliance. We take safeguarding our employees’ personal information extremely seriously, and so we must ensure that there are adequate protections for any information that is provided in confidence.

To help our employees thrive in this new work environment, we are prepared to offer flexible working arrangements, and will also continue to actively support them on their wellbeing journeys. We have thus focused on investing in the initiatives that our employees want the most, as well as those that will contribute towards a happy and vibrant working environment at ZALORA.

  • What does ZALORA expect to achieve from its latest wellbeing campaigns? Is there any plan to keep the initiatives going even after the pandemic ends?

Answer: These latest initiatives around mental health are certainly more resonant than ever during this period, but they are not by any means a momentary blip. They build on our ongoing effort to engage and support our employees and will continue to play a key role in creating a happy workplace for our ZALORA team.

The initiatives have been welcomed by the team, and we are working closely with all our offices across the region to gather more feedback so that we can continue to refine the initiatives as we go along. After all, mental health and well-being take on different meanings for everyone and these evolve in response to our dynamic circumstances. This is why it is so important to continually assess and evaluate the effectiveness of everything we do, with the welfare of our employees at the heart of our decision-making.

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About

Louise Pender is the General Counsel and Chief People Officer at ZALORA. In her roles, she concurrently heads the company’s Legal and Sustainability teams, whilst overseeing all HR functions across ZALORA’s markets. This includes talent acquisition, talent development, ensuring diversity and inclusion, workforce planning, and strategic business partnering. Having spent the last two decades providing legal counsel and building high-growth organizations across the globe, Louise brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience in driving change management and organizational development.

Connect with her on LinkedIn.


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