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Yoga classes and meditation: KKR’s push on mental health during covid-19

The private equity firm is one of several to have launched programmes to help employees get through the crisis.

When Hong Kong introduced strict border controls at the onset of the covid-19 pandemic in February, a senior executive at a pan-Asian firm started to get anxious because he was used to flying weekly.

Six months into lockdown and his frequent flyer card left to gather dust, he tells Private Equity International he was “going mad” working from home and that staying indoors most of the time “sometimes feels like a prison”.

As the coronavirus continues to force millions of employees to work remotely, it has become increasingly important for employers to pay attention to their staff’s mental health.

For private equity giant KKR, providing mental health support to its over 1,500 staff appears to be a priority. In early April, KKR staff received an email from co-presidents Scott Nuttall and Joe Bae outlining the firm’s stepped-up efforts to create a work environment that ensures employees take time to care for themselves and their families.

“We heard about the mental and physical toll that this tough period is having on you. While we cannot undo the horrors of this global pandemic or the effect it has had on our communities, we do want to do all we can to support you during this unprecedented time,” noted the letter, seen by sister title Private Equity International.

In the US, the firm has extended its virtual mental health resources to cover employees’ spouses, partners and children, according to the letter. It has also pushed out more services in EMEA and made them available in Asia-Pacific.

Employees working from home past 8pm or on weekends during the pandemic can in theory claim dinner. The firm has also given a one-time fitness reimbursement benefit of up to $250 for in-house equipment or virtual classes, and is extending its offering of subscriptions to meditation app Headspace and online yoga classes.

KKR also offered a one-time stipend of $300 per person that can be used to enhance their technology set-up or office space, according to the letter.

“We care deeply about having the right infrastructure and policies in place to support you. This is far from an ordinary time,” Nuttall and Bae wrote to staff.

For parents with young children, the firm has offered interactive sessions with a clinical psychologist to provide support and guidance around parenting during the pandemic.

KKR, which did not comment on the letter and could not provide the take-up rate of the programmes, is not alone in its efforts in supporting the mental well-being of employees during this year’s health crisis. TPG offers digital therapy services to staff and this summer hosted an all-employee webinar led by two mental health professionals to discuss strategies for coping with stress and building resiliency, a spokesman for the firm told PEI.

Neuberger Berman has run training programmes to support employees with any mental health issues while EQT has conducted employee engagement surveys, according to their representatives.

There has never been a more important time for organisations to focus on their employees’ psychological well-being, according to Brian Marien, co-founder and director of the Positive Group, a UK-based company dedicated to improving the psychological well-being, resilience and performance of individuals and teams.

“If you have good psychological well-being, your brain is performing optimally. But if you are feeling stressed or low or anxious, it hijacks a big amount of your mental ability and your cognitive function is diminished,” Marien told PEI.

He notes that the pandemic has driven people to become more isolated, which diminishes the quality of social interactions and impacts how they function in teams and the workplace.

Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit focusing on health issues, found in a July poll that 53 percent of adults in the US reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. This is significantly higher than the 32 percent reported in March. Respondents also reported specific negative impacts on their mental health and well-being, such as difficulty sleeping (36 percent) or eating (32 percent) and increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12 percent).

Financial services in particular has long been regarded as a demanding environment, with jobs in the sector 44 percent more likely to lead to stress-related illnesses than the average job, according to UK’s City Mental Health Alliance.

The pandemic has amplified the importance of staff mental health to employers, Marien said.

“Intelligent and progressive organisations have realised that the psychological health of their employees is a key performance indicator.”