Article (August-2019)

Articles

Is mental well being of employees on corporate agenda?

Dr. Prakriti Poddar

Designation : -   Director

Organization : -  Poddar Wellness Ltd. & Managing Trustee of the Poddar Foundation, Mumbai

01-Aug-2019

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A recent survey conducted by medical insurance provider Cigna TTK revealed that 9 out of 10 Indians suffered from stress. Over three fourths of them were not comfortable talking about it to a medical professional. Respondents said that prohibitive consultation costs ruled out regular mental health checkups as a viable option. The comprehensive survey, with over 14000 respondents from 23 world markets, identified work pressure as one of the key triggers of stress, which does not come as a surprise. Your company might offer the greatest services or products in your industry, but if your employees are overworked to the point that their mental health is taking a beating, then it is going to affect their long term productivity and create a work culture that is going to adversely affect your bottom line.

The millennial workforce

Going back to the survey, it was found that over 95 percent of Indian millennials suffered from workplace stress, which is significantly higher than the global average of 86 percent. According to an economic survey conducted in 2014, millennials comprise around 65 percent of the workforce in the country, and the number is only set to increase in the coming years. Although they are confident and driven, research has also revealed that millennials are also more prone to stress induced anxiety and depression. They grew up in a more demanding educational environment, propelled into a saturated and competitive job market while living up to constant pressure from their peers on social media. Their need to perform to a high level has instinctively instilled a quest for perfection, which in turn leads to increased instances of anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideation.

Meanwhile, the emergence of a 24/7 work culture backed by constant connectivity and the demand to always stay on the job leaves little leisure time for the young workforce. Smaller families and distance from homes also reduces the social cushion around them. Absence of adequate social support and lack of time to tackle stress further exacerbates the situation. On top of it, most corporate organizations hardly have any mental support policy for their employees in place.

Need to break the silence

If the situation is so grave, then why aren't employees talking about it in the open? The answer lies in the collective attitude of our society towards mental health problems. A recent survey conducted by the Live Love Laugh Foundation found that close to 50 percent of respondents were judgmental of people suffering from mental illness, and this reflects in the workplace as well. Managers often tend to be wary of employees who come forward with their mental health concerns, and even tend to dismiss them outright in some cases. Considering the seriousness of the situation, organizations can no longer afford to put discussions about mental health on the back burner. However, tracking the mental health of employees is a double edged sword. On the one hand, you are creating a safe space for them to come forward and talk about their struggles. On the other, they might look at it as an invasion of their personal space, feel targeted, and withdraw into their shells, making it even more difficult to get them to talk about it again. For the intervention to be effective in the long term, it is important that companies raise awareness about mental illness. This will help normalize a culture where people don't shy away from talking about their mental health issues out in the open. Conducting regular screenings and seminars to educate your employees, encourage open dialogue, and help them by offering a support system. Protect the rights of your employees and draft policies to help curb discrimination (including bullying and harassment) and end the stigma associated with depression and other mental health issues. Make sure that the top brass and management executives show their commitment to the cause. This will help create an environment where employees feel safe talking about their problems. Line managers and middle managers should also be trained to handle escalations. If an employee needs to take a break from work to work on their mental health, be supportive, and introduce clear rules and guidelines to help them ease back into the work environment after the break. Such initiatives will equip employees with mental health resources, and help avoid occupational burnout, mental breakdowns, and reduce the risk of suicide. Most importantly, it will foster a work environment where people are listened to, and will want to work.