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Interview: Q & A, Belgin Ertan, GE HR at the Wellbeing at Work Institute

Q&A with Belgin Ertam of GE

Belgin Ertam, VP HR, Middle East North Africa & Turkey, GE

We are thrilled that you will be speaking at our Wellbeing at Work Middle East Summit in February. Our first and most important question is, how are you doing today?

First, I would like to thank Wellbeing at Work for inviting me to be part of this meaningful Virtual Summit, together with other distinguished guest panel speakers and invited audience across the region.

The overall topic today is very close to my heart. I am feeling great, and I cannot wait to be part of the discussion – to speak about my thoughts, listen to others and extract valuable takeaways.

As a leader based in the region, what are the main challenges you are facing when it comes to employee wellbeing?

The reality of COVID 19 has shown us how critical people leadership and culture is. Our actions during these tough times will forever make an impression on our most valued asset – our people. With more employees working from home, the rise of virtual connectivity and communication has become essential. Often, this virtuality has been challenging for employees, and causes issues such as digital fatigue, mental and physical burn-out in some situations and a lack of boundaries. Work and personal lives, somehow, become so deeply intertwined that result in increased stress levels. Many employees are experiencing an “Always on” culture. As leaders, it is important to make it clear that it is okay for employees to switch off and enable protected time off to avoid unclear boundaries that could intensify an “Always on” culture.

What strategies have you seen developing in the region over the past 6-12 months during the pandemic to address health and wellbeing in the workplace?

I observed a big shift in the markets globally not only our region, to develop a better understanding of the importance of wellbeing at work and how this impacts the overall employee and ultimately company performance.  This has been always important but within the last 12-18 months, awareness has been increased dramatically and companies are taking more conscious actions to address this.

Why is employee wellbeing so important to you personally?

Wellbeing is core to the overall health and happiness of an individual, enabling a person to successfully overcome obstacles and achieve what they want out of life. The way we feel, both physically and mentally, is the essence of living. Being an HR leader, it is my first and foremost job to look after employees’ wellbeing simply because they are the lifeline of the company. A company’s success can only be sustained by ensuring that we’ve got the best people. And to get them at their best, we must look after employees’ health and happiness as this leads to higher performance, and productivity, better engagement, and high resilience capability.

What are you most looking forward to about our event in February?

With the best HR minds and people leaders from different sectors in the event, I am looking forward to a rich discussion, where we all learn and share best practices and get inspired.

Tell us, what is your vision for the workplace of the future, in terms of employee engagement, health and wellbeing?

As remote working obscures the boundaries between work and personal life, organizations will double down on their commitment to prioritize employee wellbeing. Nurturing employee wellbeing will go beyond physical and mental health as companies will start to focus on creating a culture of holistic approach, which includes emotional, financial, social, career, community, and purpose.

Covid-19 has undoubtedly influenced all areas of employees personal and professional lives. What are the key learnings from this period and what are your tips for supporting each other through uncertainty?

One of the key things I’ve learned during the pandemic is to understand and accept the fact that “it is OK NOT to be OK”. It takes a lot of courage for working people to come out and admit that they are either mentally unwell due to the stigma associated to the social interpretation of the condition, or to say that I am overworked and stressed because of fear that such emotions can be seen as being lazy, or lame excuses not to accept more workload. To help employees dismiss these notions, it is important to create and support an environment where they feel safe to open-up and speak about their wellbeing at the workplace or with their managers.

The other key area is to make sure we take care of ourselves first before we take care of others. If we are not good enough for ourselves, there is no way we can help others. Therefore, I prioritize my health and wellness within this period.

Finally, as an HR leader, I believe it is critical to be present for our employees. We may not always come up with a solution but being there for them, listening and showing sincere empathy are really important. 

How has your organisation been leading the way over the last 12 months?

We believe that leadership is key to well-being at work. And getting our people leaders to lead in healthier ways is one of the best practices that can bring inspiration to our employees. So, last November 2021, in line with the Leadership Exchange virtual event, we launched a two-and-half-week Wellbeing challenge that is called ‘Minutes to Move’ which turned out to be a great success, mainly because almost 90% of our GE Executives and Senior Officers across the Middle East, Turkey and Africa region actively participated. It was great fun and it’s a testimony that through the power of the collective, anything is possible, and we can get inspired from each other.

In addition to this, we organized a huge campaign called ‘It’s Ok not to feel OK’ where we encourage our employees for developing a new understanding of themselves, managing change and improving resilience. Within the campaign, we had several sessions called Mental Health Conversations with psychologists, leaders from different workgroups like U.S. Astronaut Scott Kelly etc. We celebrated ‘Moments that Matter’ with GE colleagues and families.

Financial wellness is also important – it’s a part of the holistic wellbeing, influencing our emotional, social, and even physical health of our employees. We organized several sessions to support our employees on this matter as well.

We supported employees with personal wellbeing apps to access expert-led videos making it fun and easy to meet their goals – whether they are related to fitness, nutrition, sleep, or emotional wellbeing. We received very strong feedback on our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) where employees and families can get live professional support at no cost.

Finally, giving back to the community made a big difference in employees’ life and wellbeing. We organized several ‘GE Volunteers’ activities where we could be able to touch others’ lives and make a positive impact. Helping the less fortunate is in focus and volunteering is becoming increasingly important these days. As a final word from, Greek philosopher Aristotle over 2300 years ago… “What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good.”