If you are one of India’s leading providers of risk, financial and business advisory, tax and regulatory services, internal audit and corporate governance, the inference would be that stress among team members is inevitable. In fact, until recently it was thought to be a by-product of success. However, KPMG has managed to turn that around successfully.

Since its beginning in India in September 1993, KPMG has built a significant presence with a client base of over 2,700 companies and offices in 14 cities across the country.

Thrive Global India spoke with Unmesh Pawar, partner and head, People, Performance and Culture, KPMG India, about how the company ensures peak performance among its team and encourages them to thrive too.

“Truly focus on living a fulfilling life,” is Pawar’s life lesson after 25 years’ international experience building high performance leadership teams. “Different things become important at different stages in your life, but while you give impetus to them, you need to carry along other facets of life, because anything that you ignore tends to show up in a not so nice way as you move up.” The strive for a happy balance by making conscious choices and feeling nourished in the soul are the keys according to him. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Importance of well-being within the organisation

It is a clear imperative for us to be a company where people lead fulfilling lives. We like to be a firm that truly focuses on the well-being of employees.

There are multiple facets to this which are anchored around our employee engagement agenda. Individuals need to be at their peak performance with respect to the body, mind, soul and heart and we are starting to build a level of consciousness on this among our colleagues with various reinforcements.

We organise camps on physical well-being, and periodic webinars to sensitise them. Then there is our employee assistance programme that includes counselling services not just for colleagues, but also for their families, the focus is also on self-defence training, regular sports activities besides indoors and outdoors competitions that the firm participates in and conducts. Our agile working policies have taken the shape of cafeteria that offer healthy eating options.

Beyond this, we also look out for the team’s financial health. While we strive to pay our employees competitive compensation, we also help them make smarter choices with the money they earn.

Handling stress in the workforce

Stress and long working hours are a way of life in the professional services business, sometimes more so around specific periods. Our leaders keep a close watch on team utilisation and take remedial action as soon as they realise that some of the work is getting to untenable limits. For instance, last year we realised that people were running very hot, so we infused new talents from outside and had more pairs of hands to support our people.

Our employee assistance programmes help to handle the stress and burnout situation besides periodic health check-ups to flag issues from the vitals standpoint. Another feature is the mandatory time off when we have block leave, typically around Christmas, when the company is shut down and people can spend time with their families. Our flexible work from home opportunities in certain cases means that teammates can get the work done from where they must be.

We are also building offices that are friendlier than the traditional buildings, they are more energised and offer vibrancy with collapse spaces and more natural light that help reduce stress. We also have doctors and nutritionists coming into the office for consultancy.

We believe in our leaders talking about the value of leading a fulfilling life. In many companies this is a taboo. The focus is on getting the corner office, becoming a partner and making tons of money, but if you don’t have the health or the family to enjoy it with, then what’s the point of it all? As a culture, we are pushing for a narrative that you can relate to.

Infusing a positive work atmosphere

Most of our metro offices have gaming zones, foosball and TT tables and such like for relaxation. More open spaces in the building make them edgy and mean that people can come together often and feel connected. We like to keep the edges of our office clean with partner cabins typically in the centre, some of our new offices have sunroof kind of environment allowing a lot of natural light. It also shows our consciousness towards how much electricity in terms air conditioning and lighting we are consuming.

As a firm we have moved away from plastic, even in our boardrooms you won’t find plastic water bottles anymore, there are glass bottles instead. We are encouraging our people to participate in our efforts too. Since we have a lot of paperwork to do, we are pushing the agenda with a lot of consciousness around printing and clear desk policy.

Team members are encouraged to donate clothes that usually land in garbage, these are given to NGOs after scrutiny and sanitisation. As part of CSR drives, they can also actively participate in events such as trees planting.

Our community clubs on a variety of subjects such as films, literature, and photography allow people to engage with each other, form lasting relationships, feel nourished in the soul, and energised with their passions.

How I work on personal well-being challenges

I tend to work long hours, pushing myself as much as possible whether working or reading, but I watch my sleep patterns closely. I can clearly see the correlation between my mental faculties and sleep. I know that if I’m not having enough restful sleep, my mental faculties are not at peak.

I sleep between five and half and six hours on weekdays, hoping to catch up over the weekend, I know it is not enough, but with the long commute in Mumbai that’s all I can manage now.

The reason we worked with Thrive recently was to sensitise our team on the different aspects of well-being and the Sleep Movement.

A typical day in my life

I wake up at 6 am, do 20 minutes of stretching followed by some breathing exercises, and then the regular rigmarole of life begins. Before I wind down for the day, I try to quickly write off things on my notepad that were on my mind, so I don’t carry them to bed. I’ve realised that if I have too many things on my mind then it becomes difficult to wake up refreshed, so it is important to offload.

On Sundays, I try to get a game of badminton with my daughter… that’s the best my current schedules allow. I’ve more time when I’m travelling as the commute is not there and it becomes more possible to devote time to things like exercise.

My relationship with technology

Though I’m a slave to technology, I like to look at it as a huge enabler. At bed time, I keep the phone at least 15 feet away so I don’t check the messages and am off it half hour to 45 minutes before I sleep.

My encounter with burnout

I had a clear burnout in 2006 when I had pushed myself far too thin with aggressive travel, lack of sleep, work stress… the obvious of that was my performance was impacted. I couldn’t remember things! I could be talking to people and my vocabulary would just fail me, I would not be able to recollect numbers or do mental maths. Realisation sunk in when at an important meeting with global folks, I was talking about a problem situation and I couldn’t remember what I spoke 10 seconds back!

It was then my mind triggered to Vipassana and the next thing I was doing was a Vipassana workshop for 11-12 days. It made me conscious of sleep habits, physical fitness, and watch my diet. I realised that food is fuel and not something to crave for.

Well-being practises that helped

Besides good sleep habits and portion consciousness, I value hydration and have two bottles of water at work and more when I get home. It keeps me energised. Also, since sitting is the new smoking, I have a standing desk at work and like to stand and pace about whenever possible.

Good intentions are indeed the right step forward, and with leaders like Pawar walking the talk in well-being, KPMG is off to a healthy run.


  • Kuheli Sen

    Writer, Editor, Storyteller

    Kuheli Sen is a writer-journalist by choice and loves to explore human interest inspirational features. She has worked with leading media houses in India and abroad. Her keen investment in seeing the world a better place makes her challenge ideas and hunt for solutions. When not working, she can be found sketching, reading, learning new activities, baking/ cooking and motivating herself to do more.