When Esha Oberoi’s marriage was cancelled 12 years ago, she found herself sinking into depression.
“After my wedding was called off, I sunk into feelings of depression and isolation, and was finding employment a challenge,” says Oberoi.
Today, the 34-year-old runs Afea Care Services, which provides care for others and has an annual revenue of $10 million.
“I had struggled with depression in my early 20s and was in a cycle of destructive relationships. In those unhealthy relationships, I struggled to make decisions, I didn’t feel I had a voice and I felt isolated, lacking self-confidence,” says Oberoi.
Finding a sense of purpose
“It wasn’t until I began working as a carer that I found a sense of purpose through helping others. The residents in the nursing homes had similar struggles – isolation and in many cases due to their conditions, not having a voice. I healed myself over time through my work.
“Having gone through mental health challenges myself, I can empathise with our clients and their health needs.”
Oberoi founded Afea Care Services in 2008. She says her company “empowers people to live their best life and continue living in the comfort of their own homes. We serve as an alternative form of care from a nursing home or hospital.
“We provide support in the form of personal care, social support, meal preparation and transport assistance to name a few, under the National Disability Insurance Scheme and My Aged Care subsidised programs. We offer private care, with many clients qualifying for support through these schemes.”
She says her enterprise services look after, on average, 500 aged and disability care clients each week. “Providing a decade of care, with an average compounding growth rate of 100 per cent, Afea currently delivers over 100,000 services annually.”
Oberoi says in its second year of business, Afea reinvested $80,000 into their purpose-built technology platform which served as a sophisticated CRM system. “It allowed us to scale rapidly in the formative years and introduced lots of efficiency in an otherwise administration heavy business model. The government introduced the $20 billion National Disability Insurance Scheme in 2016, which completely disrupted the traditional disability care service industry in Australia.
“In response to the reforms which have drastically reduced margins in the industry, we invested a further $1 million in an upgrade to our legacy platform.”
Afea recently launched its Inebura application, “which goes beyond a simple appointment schedule diary. Using a unique algorithm that auto-matches carers to clients, we can connect the right Afea carer with our clients.”
Oberoi says she launched the Sydney-based business at the age of 24 without any formal business qualifications and with her father as her sole mentor and sounding board in the formative years. “Business throws up its challenges, but when you are working towards your purpose and passion, not a pay cheque, you develop the resilience to overcome those challenges.”
She says the business “has delivered sustainable yearly growth and with an annualised revenue of $10 million”.
Having personally experienced depression, Oberoi says in her company, they have a “culture that responds to individuality and respects that personal circumstances can change for our employees that could lead to distress or poor mental health.
“This means really meeting our employees’ needs so we support them throughout their professional and personal lives. We have a very open culture that promotes discussion with managers and HR if a person is going through personal challenges and needs anything from the business to help them.”
‘Encourage employees to report mental health issues’
So, what about other SMEs? What steps should they take to address depression in their organisation?
Andrew Jewell, principal lawyer at McDonald Murholme, an employment law firm based in Melbourne, says the primary step that should be taken is to encourage employees to report any mental health issues and to request accommodation.
“This can be done with policies. However, the best way to create this culture is to show a commitment to employees who do come forward and request assistance.”
He says an employer has an obligation to provide its employees with a safe working environment. “In the case of an employee with depression, the employer should ask the employee about steps that can be taken to ensure the working environment is as safe as possible. This can include flexibility around start / finish times, monitoring of workload and arrangements regarding leave.”
Jewell says McDonald Murholme deals with many cases where an employee’s mental health becomes an issue in employment. “In a recent example, an employee had disclosed that he suffered from depression and when allegations were made against him [which he denied], he requested time to consider the allegations due to his heightened stress and anxiety.
“The employer continued to insist on presenting the allegations in a meeting and obtaining an immediate response. While this is generally stressful, the employee was at a disadvantage because his mental illness would prevent him from properly answering the allegations in that scenario.
“It is another example of an employer supporting an employee with a mental illness when things were good, but then refusing to do so when there was difficulty in the relationship.”
‘Responsibility to provide a safe workplace’
Dan Auerbach, a director with EmployeeAssistance.com.au, a corporate psychology services provider, says employers have a responsibility “to provide a safe workplace and this includes providing a mentally healthy workplace. Managers need to create an open environment where staff know they will be respected and confidentially supported for their mental health concerns.
“Managers should be aware of the support options available to staff including referral to counselling through the company’s employee assistance program or in the community. Finally, managers should consult with the employee about what they feel they need to better cope at work while they are working on their recovery.
“This includes the possibility of flexible work options or adjusted duties. Finally, stay in touch with your staff and follow up. Knowing you care goes a long way to making sure your staff and your workplace benefit.”
Reference: How Esha Oberoi overcame depression to build a $10 million business, The Sydney Morning Herald, 26.01.18 by Christine D’Mello.