Kindred talks about the importance of supporting employees’ well-being and mental health. This is a current topic in many organisations, but how does it really materialise in real life? We spoke to Irja Tervonen, our Customer Service Sustainability Partner who wanted to share how her career was affected by the support and tools available when facing a challenging time.
Irja, could you talk us through your career so far?
I started my career at Kindred in 2016. I will be soon celebrating my five-year journey here. I joined as a Customer Service agent and after that became part of the team that looked after our customer relations. After two years, I got a promotion to cover our Finnish Team Manager during her maternity leave. This led to a permanent position as a Customer Service Team Manager, looking after a team of ten agents.
You had a steady career progression; what happened next?
After few years of manager duties, the whole world changed in 2020, and so did I. Suddenly I was home alone with my laptop and the cheery Irja started to rapidly disappear. I’m known as a bubbly and positive person, so it was noticeable to my colleagues as well. Working from home as a manager was totally different. I struggled to support and motivate my team the same way I was used to doing. And of course, it wasn’t just me in this new reality. The whole team was facing isolation with all the existing and new personal issues.
In a Customer Services Team, you become a tight group, perhaps more so than in other functions, and you tend to share all life’s ups and downs. We enjoy spending breaks together, socialise by the coffee machine, and meet each other outside of work as well; lacking this interaction was a huge challenge when we moved to remote working. As for most, many days passed without human contact just walking around the block became a struggle for me. It started to become clear that I wasn’t well, and that I could not support my team members before helping myself first. There was a period of sick leave and work, sick leave and work, so something had to change.
I spoke to my manager and with his support decided to change the direction of my career and I applied for the role of Sustainability Partner. In this role, I support customers proactively with a safe and sustainable player experience. I’m happy to say that after few months in my new role, my smile is back and I’m doing something that I'm truly passionate about.
In your experience, would you say that Kindred has a culture where you can openly share difficult experiences without the fear of being judged or labelled?
I am an open and positive person, but my Finnish ‘SISU’ mentality doesn’t allow me to fail, and I’m hard on myself when it comes to work performance. With my ‘can do’ – attitude, it was extremely difficult for me to say out loud that I needed help. But after I finally got the words out, everyone was extremely supportive. In the beginning, I did feel like a failure and was afraid of being judged and labelled as someone who was unable to carry out their responsibilities. Thankfully, my peers and management saw my true potential despite the difficult times and that support gave me the strength to not give up. I am extremely grateful for all the amazing colleagues.
Kindred says that they are focusing on employees’ wellbeing, particularly now during the pandemic. Has this been visible to you as an employee and how?
We have access to Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which has been an invaluable tool to me, together with HR and management support. Covid-19 hit us all hard and as an outgoing person who lives alone, I felt the change in my daily life. I struggled with adjusting to the situation and soon after remote working started, I simply couldn’t handle it. Throughout my burnout, I was supported by my peers and by my close managers, all the way to the Head of the Department. During my absence, my well-being was checked by my colleagues and management without disturbing my rest. In fact, management made sure that taking care of myself comes first and there was nothing to worry about when it comes to my job.
How easy/difficult was it to reach for help?
The first step is always the hardest but when you understand that it is okay not to be okay, you are on a journey to get better. I got all the tools I needed with the support of HR and my management. People in EAP were also helpful and I started intense therapy. Throughout the months, I gained a good relationship with my therapist, and I could talk about anything. This relationship is still ongoing as it is a longer process.
What do you think would have happened if you didn’t get the support?
If I didn’t get this support from Kindred, I wouldn’t be working for the company anymore and I would have given up my career. It feels scary to say “what if” after my experiences and the journey here. I am so proud I never gave up even in my darkest moments. It is important to understand that we all have bad days regardless of our circumstances.
Do you feel that you know how to help your colleagues in case you notice them struggling? Do you know what to do, where to turn to?
After my experience with EAP, I’ve become an ambassador for the program! It has helped me so much and I wouldn’t be in my current position without that support tool. I have shared the number so many times, and at any time of the day. Difficulties don’t just turn up during office hours; this is another reason why EAP works so well. I want to share my experience to show that things can and will get better if you ask for help. If even one person feels encouraged to do that after reading my story; it was worth sharing.
Thank you Irja for sharing, we are truly inspired by your courage and sincerity. At Kindred, we’ll continue working hard on developing our support system and creating a culture of openness, as individuals united.