The caring company: At Otsuka America, being leader in behavioral health initiatives means offering extraordinary wellness perks to employees, too

No meetings are allowed between noon and 1 p.m. every day. Seriously. Every day.

There’s a cost-free, confidential and personalized mental health care plan for employees and their families, whether they take the company insurance or not. Seriously. No cost.

There are five extra days off, including the Fridays before Memorial Day and Labor Day, when employees are mandated to be off. Seriously. Mandated.

Otsuka America Pharmaceutical has long been a leader in mental health and behavioral care. But, a few years back, the Princeton-based company wondered if it was doing enough for the wellness and well-being of its own employees.

This belief — which was only heightened in importance during the pandemic — now drives the company, making it unique among firms in the state.

Angela Colon-Mahoney, vice president of people & business services for Otsuka, said it’s all about living the mission of the company. And, while May is Mental Health Awareness Month, Colon-Mahoney said wellness and well-being is something Otsuka wants to emphasize year-round.

“This truly is something that is near and dear to us,” she said. “We wanted to be able to differentiate ourselves in the space for our employees.

“And then, as the pandemic came and we were truly listening to the needs of our folks, we started to build out more services in real time to make sure that we were accommodating the needs of our folks.”

Colon-Mahoney said she knew the company was onto something when it held a Zoom webinar to introduce its mental health first aid program — a skills-based training program that teaches employees how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health and substance use challenges. 

Most webinars attract a small audience, but this one had more than 70% of the company’s approximate 1,700 employees (700 of whom are based in New Jersey) tuning in.

A wellness-based workplace

Here are some of the ways Princeton-based Otsuka America Pharmaceutical is working to create a better workplace:

  • The Otsuka Pause: No meetings between noon and 1 p.m. daily, and between 1-5 p.m. on summer Fridays;
  • Paid time off: In addition to staffwide holidays throughout the year, employees get 24 days of PTO after just one year of service;
  • Mental wellness meetings: A peer-to-peer group where employees can share stories and experiences while reducing stigmas;
  • Personalized plans: Mental health care for employees and their families at no cost, regardless of participation in Otsuka’s medical plan;
  • Mental health first aid: A skills-based training program that teaches employees how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health and substance use challenges;
  • Moms meditation app: A complimentary, one-year subscription to a mindfulness and meditation app for mothers. Employees could keep it for themselves or gift it to a mother in their life.

“That’s the one that really got the most traction with our employees,” she said. “We started to have open dialogue in the organization around things that our folks are going through with their families, with their loved ones.

“We’re having discussions about, ‘How do they understand when they’re seeing someone who’s in need? And how do they respond?’”

Colon-Mahoney said it was one of the reasons behind the company establishing a peer-to-peer mental wellness group that serves as a place for those with and without a diagnosis to share stories and experiences, build community and connection, and reduce stigma and inspire hope within the Otsuka community.

Colon-Mahoney said the community is doing all it can to reduce the stress and increase the well-being of is employees when they are working.

The ban on meetings between 12-1, called the Otsuka Pause, was an effort to not only give employees a set time they all could take break — but for them to be able to do it without worrying that everyone else was still working. 

It’s the same philosophy that led to the mandatory off days on the Fridays before the usual three-day weekends around Memorial Day and Labor Day.

“We noticed that, when you shut down the company, things tend to shut down and you truly get a break,” she said. “When you’re on PTO and others are not, it’s a different story. Things can kind of creep into your realm of ‘I need you right now.’ 

“We wanted to make sure people could truly disconnect.”

Seriously. The company wants to make sure its people truly disconnect.