The discussion and debates around the need for conversations, resources, and policies around Mental Health are stronger than ever. The pandemic has done its bit to help people focus on the urgent need to talk about the much stigmatized topic and also help break the stigma to a certain extent for people to actually go ahead and get the necessary treatment for their specific mental health issues.
It is highly likely that there is one person in your team who is living with a mental illness right now, perhaps without being aware of it themselves. While it is important to understand that one’s struggle with their mental health is a personal one, the impact of mental illnesses transcends beyond personal and dives deep into the professional arena (Illness + Absenteeism + Presenteeism) too leading organizations to bear huge costs for the same. According to the WHO the lack of treatment of depression and anxiety disorders alone would amount to a total loss of 12 billion workdays by 2030.
A study reported in the Economic Times (2018) states that 42.5% of the employees in corporate India (private sector) experience mental health issues such as depression or some form of anxiety disorder. Moreover, the pandemic has exacerbated this given that household responsibilities are shouldered by women and have increased two-fold ever since. This reinforces the emphasis on formulating mental health policies in the workplace and the health of your organization is determined by the health of your employees. Few ways by which you can make your organization more employee-friendly and normalize conversations around mental health are:
Collecting and analyzing data from within your organization
Conduct monthly or annual studies on the employees to understand their mental health status. It can be as simple as filling out anonymous surveys which will provide insight on how healthy the work culture is and how healthy your employees are feeling. Doing this will show them you care as an organization that prioritizes its employees. Anonymous surveys may provide a safe space for the employees to speak up about issues they are otherwise uncomfortable or hesitant to bring up. In addition, regular surveys will allow an appraisal of your policies and strategies.
Create an accessible database of resources that your employees can turn to for seeking help with the help of professionals such as mental health advocates, psychologists, psychiatrists, organizations working in this field, and advocates. These professionals help in structuring the narrative around mental health with sensitivity and any inputs from them can be beneficial.
Sensitize your employees
As a follow-up to the previous point, it is necessary too because mental health is not an individual challenge rather a collective priority and collective effort (Greenwood & Anas, 2021). This can be done through sensitization training again with the help of professionals trained to conduct these programs.
Work on your work culture
Mental health problems are very much influenced by the social environment individuals are surrounded by, i.e., their identity, especially if they belong to marginalized groups and identities. Hence, promoting diversity and inclusion in your workspace is of key importance because policies and resources around mental health are mitigatory, improving the work culture will keep symptoms and problems at bay. A healthy work culture for individuals irrespective of their identities should be the primary goal. Tangible changes through policies such as introducing mental health leaves or 4-day weekdays are necessary, but working on developing a sensitive and healthy work culture goes a long way (Greenwood & Anas, 2021).
Showing compassion and empathy
Trust your employees instead of doubting them. Treating your employees with consideration and compassion itself may ease some of their trouble. Moreover, often, your employees may be facing difficulties outside their workspace which you need to be considerate about in this era of work-life balance rather than chasing productivity at the cost of their mental health.
Respect Differences between your employees.
Mental health struggles are not experienced in the same way or for the same reasons. People are different so are their experiences. And this also means that they require different approaches to care for their mental health.
Serve as role models
One of the key characteristics of a leader-employee relationship is that the employee learns from their leaders, looks up to them, and mirrors their behavior. Moreover, if you are advocating for something, you must also practice it. This emphasizes the importance of your effort in sensitizing and educating yourself such that, you can influence your employees in normalizing mental health in the workplace. If you are a receptive leader, you may be able to influence your employees into being receptive leaders too.
The above changes are not going to be easily achievable because it involves behavior change, but they are a need of the hour and better late than never. The covid-19 pandemic has been a great teacher in opening our minds to the urgency of paying attention to mental health before it’s too late. While it has threatened us into a mental health epidemic, implementing such changes will surely go a long way in mitigating existing and arising mental health concerns. Workplaces cannot and should not be forsaken from the discourse on mental health. The easiest solution to a problem is acting like it doesn’t exist, but the right solution to a problem is facing it head-on.
The concept of Employee wellness is not unheard of. Many organizations across the world offer free gym memberships, mediation classes, smoking cessation programs among many others; what we really need now is a focus and shift towards mental health programs. This is the need of the hour!