The last three years have been challenging for many organisations, with one of the emerging priorities for employers being employee mental health. The shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic expedited a sense of isolation for employees and many companies are now on a discovery and recovery journey to better support their team members.
The focus on mental health is a critical foundation to enable other priorities in the workplace such as diversity and inclusion, employee experience and the future of work. While some businesses have made commendable strides in mental health, such as introducing employee assistance programs, it's crucial to recognise that a holistic approach is necessary, and isolated investments are insufficient.
A recent study from Deloitte found that over 80% of Indian employees reported facing at least one mental health symptom and 65% reported two or more symptoms. The same study revealed that for those who didn’t take any steps to address their mental health concerns, 24.8% did so out of fear of the impact it would have on their image.
The missing element of psychological safety is key here, and it becomes critical that companies are active players in addressing the stigma surrounding mental health if they are to create meaningful impact.
Breaking the stigma through culture
The fear of being perceived negatively is one of the key reasons why people do not speak up regarding their mental well-being. This is why organisations must take the first step to break the stigma. Establishing a workplace culture characterised by psychological safety and inclusivity is essential to achieving this goal, ensuring that all employees feel empowered to speak up in a safe and open environment.
Creating this culture should commence at the executive level, with the promotion of allyship. Encouraging executive teams, managers, and senior employees to lead discussions, such as internal fireside chats, fosters candid conversations and positions vulnerability as a strength, ultimately reducing stigma and setting a safe tone.
Moreover, training and development play a crucial role in equipping leaders and managers with the knowledge and tools necessary to address mental wellness and health. They should guide their teams to relevant information and channels for discussions, and additional support can be offered through 24/7 access to dedicated apps for on-demand mental health services. Providing these tools enables leaders to seamlessly incorporate mindfulness, meditation, and coping skills into regular conversations with their team members.
The future of work
Findings released by the ADP Research Institute revealed that 76% of survey participants from India want greater flexibility in their workday to support stress relief. However, despite many organisations offering mental health days to combat this, employees can still find it difficult to truly unplug due to the fear of missing out.
Most organisations have adopted a hybrid work model in the wake of the pandemic, with the lines between home and work blurring and the definitions of flexibility evolving. In this changing landscape, it is important to recognise the issues that employees face and actively address them to create an inclusive and flexible environment.
Organisations need more comprehensive solutions that prioritise short and long-term wellbeing such as annual, week-long shutdown events that support employees to disconnect and recharge as a group without the need for taking paid time off. Additionally, investing in wellness platforms helps to build engaging programs which elevate employee experience, and transform cultures. When employees thrive in a flexible work environment, the business thrives too and mental health can take a front seat.
Inclusivity creates mental wellbeing
Tackling the stress and existing mental health concerns that employees have is the first step in breaking the stigma. One group that could be impacted by a lack of inclusion is LGBTQIA+ team members who feel isolated and anxious. A recent Deloitte LGBT+ Inclusion @ Work survey found that almost three-quarters of Indians who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community were seeking a new job to work for a more inclusive organisation, with only 56% saying they felt comfortable talking about their sexual orientation in the workplace.
Establishing employee resource groups is one way for companies to provide a platform for various communities to network, learn and exchange ideas. This inclusivity encourages and inspires employees to show up as their most authentic selves; creating an organisational environment where everyone is motivated to be the best teammate and contributor possible.
Ultimately, ensuring the best outcomes for mental health in the workplace is about identifying issues that exist within the business and curating solutions that inclusively and holistically address concerns. When mental wellbeing is prioritised at the board level, a top-down cultural shift generally follows. It is important to set measurable targets and hold staff accountable to them. Additionally, educating managers on how to build a psychologically safe environment can ensure employees will feel free to openly discuss problems and concerns.