Article: The changing approach of India Inc toward mental health

Employee Relations

The changing approach of India Inc toward mental health

On World Mental Health Day, it's imperative to recognise the growing importance of mental well-being in our professional lives. The corporate sector in India is taking significant strides to address the stigma around mental health, foster a supportive workplace environment, and provide crucial resources for employees' mental well-being.
The changing approach of India Inc toward mental health

Despite being the foundation for the well-being and effective functioning of individuals, the fear of stigma, prejudice, and discrimination still holds people back from seeking help for their mental well-being.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the burden of mental health problems in India is 2443 disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) per 100 00 population; the age-adjusted suicide rate per 100 000 population is 21.1. The economic loss due to mental health conditions, between 2012-2030, is estimated at USD 1.03 trillion.

Importance of mental health

Advocating for global mental health is crucial to addressing mental health disorders worldwide. Approximately 1 in 4 people experience mental health issues in their lifetime, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among young individuals. “The economic impact is significant, with an estimated cost of $6 trillion by 2030. Stigma and discrimination create barriers to seeking help. Mental health is essential for achieving Sustainable Development Goals, including good health, poverty reduction, gender equality, and resilient communities,” says Shraddha Reghe, Senior Director - People Practice at Seclore.

In this ever-evolving world, where perception of mental health is shifting, global HR leaders acknowledged the changing dynamics within the workforce. Mental Health Day underscores a profound transformation – one where mental well-being is no longer an afterthought but a core consideration on par with work itself.

“Striking a balance between our professional commitments and personal fulfilment is not merely about stress management; it's a holistic approach. It's about embracing life's myriad experiences, nurturing our creative spark, and enriching our personal journeys,” says Sarma Chillara, Director HR and People Services, Škoda Auto Volkswagen India Private Limited.

For Sarma, in this new era, prioritising mental wellness isn't just a choice; it's a strategic imperative for career success.

On the occasion of Mental Health Day, describing the workforce as the most invaluable asset, Bairaria Suri, CHRO, Greaves Cotton Limited says that the achievement of each person propels the collective triumph of any organisation. Mental well-being and performance are intricately connected, and it falls upon us to prioritise the comprehensive welfare of our staff.

Changed perception

Thanks to efforts and raising awareness that has led to a positive shift in workplaces. Mental health has moved from stigma to recognition, support, and understanding with more openness from employees, proactive employer actions, and a focus on work-life balance.

According to Anjali Byce, CHRO at STL, the health and well-being of employees lie at the very heart of an organisation's success. In this fiercely competitive business world, we need individuals who are not only professionally adept but also physically and mentally resilient.

Additionally, technology is playing a significant role, with employers offering mental health apps and digital resources for accessible support and valuable information.

“With the wellbeing of our colleagues playing a crucial role in achieving our purpose. Stress and anxiety, especially while working remotely or in hybrid models, tend to be key challenges in today’s reality. Remote working can increase the risk of tipping into an ‘always on’ culture,” says Maneesh Menda, Head of Human Resources, International Hubs, NatWest Group.

Advocating for global mental health aims to increase awareness and understanding, develop effective policies and services, reduce stigma and discrimination, and enhance international collaboration for mental health initiatives. “We prioritise employee mental well-being as it directly impacts productivity, engagement, and performance. It helps attract and retain top talent by creating a work environment that supports mental health. This strengthens diversity and inclusion efforts, enhances our reputation, and fulfills legal and ethical responsibilities. Prioritising mental well-being leads to increased productivity, and a strong organisational culture,” added Shraddha.

New trends around mental health

When it comes to physical health, people tend to focus on it more proactively, but with mental health, many often don't notice or act until symptoms start to really get in their way. “Since the pandemic and as hybrid work became more integrated with the workplace, organisations have become more cognisant of their responsibility in supporting employees in making mental wellbeing a priority,” asserts Renu Shekhawat, Director & Head of Human Resources, India & ANZ at Pitney Bowes.

“There is an active effort to destigmatise mental health-related issues and encourage leaders to display empathy and understand the unique needs of each team member. Providing a safe space at the workplace for employees to have an open dialogue about their emotional health and giving them the support they need is essential to a healthy workforce and to making employees feel they belong and are cared for,” added Renu.

Prioritising mental health has become imperative for businesses to survive and prosper. “In today's workforce, employees seek employers who offer clarity, vision, and a strong commitment to mental health. We no longer need a crisis to prioritise our mental health. As a result, organisations across all industries are revamping their mental health policies and approaches in innovative ways. They are investing in employee wellness coaching programs to foster a sense of belonging and care, offering personal counselling to address individual needs, and conducting stress and resiliency workshops to equip employees with valuable coping skills,” explains Mitalee Dabral - Country HR Leader – Wayfair.

Role of HR in promoting the mental health of employees

The HR department sets the right precedent for the entire organisation and plays a crucial role in developing and updating policies related to mental health in the workplace. “Being aware of changing employee needs, adapting policies, and adopting new tools and technologies is the key to creating a holistic and healthy employee experience. It is critical to being resilient to change, maintaining employee morale, and driving innovation,” added Renu.

Mitalee emphasises that the HR department has a central role in managing requests for accommodations related to mental health and works closely with employees and managers to find reasonable solutions that allow employees to perform their job effectively while managing their mental health. “HR departments also need to prioritise inclusivity by streamlining their Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) standards, policies, and programs. With an increased focus on inclusive recruitment, they can create an open and welcoming atmosphere for everyone,” she points out.

To ensure employee mental well-being, several key components are essential. Creating a healthy and supportive work environment lays the foundation for a positive atmosphere while fostering regular communication channels with leadership serves as an early warning system for identifying potential issues. “Periodic feedback sessions promote openness and gather insights into employees' mental health and overall well-being, enabling informed HR decisions. Comprehensive mental health policies and programs must address critical concerns, including stress management, work-life balance, mental health education, and access to assistance,” says Manisha Dash, Head HR - APAC, Celigo India.

“The HR department should give precedence to mental health, offer support, adjust strategies, and remain open to innovative wellness approaches to align with the changing needs of the workforce. This contributes to enhancing the productivity and resilience of the organisation," added Manisha.

The HR department should prioritise employee well-being as a fundamental aspect of its responsibilities.”Recognising that content and mentally healthy employees are the cornerstone of productivity, HRs must actively cultivate a positive organisational culture. This includes fostering an environment where open communication about mental health is encouraged and stigma is eliminated. Moreover, HR professionals must be proactive in providing immediate support when necessary, ensuring that employees feel valued and supported in their mental health journey. By championing mental health, HR departments contribute significantly to a thriving and productive workforce,” asserts Ankita Sen, People Partner, Powerplay.

The most common challenges employees face

In the workplace, challenges such as high levels of stress, pressure, and an imbalanced work-life equilibrium can give rise to anxiety and burnout among employees.  Voicing her concern to enhance overall employee well-being, Manisha suggests HR professionals to advocate for flexible work schedules, promote regular breaks, and offer guidance on establishing boundaries between professional and personal lives.

Collaborating with managers to implement equitable workloads, endorse work-life balance, and provide resources for stress management can help mitigate these challenges. “Additionally, HR can support flexible work arrangements and policies that empower employees to manage their responsibilities more effectively, thus reducing the adverse impacts of workplace pressures on mental health. By addressing these prevalent issues through policy development, support programs, and cultural initiatives, HR professionals can significantly contribute to the cultivation of a psychologically healthy workplace.”

To address the stigma associated with mental health,  Manisha says that HR can address this obstacle by cultivating a culture characterised by openness, inclusivity, and non-discrimination.

Ankita has observed that workplace stress is a pervasive challenge for employees' mental health. HR leaders can address this by actively working towards creating a balanced and supportive work environment. “Implementing policies that promote work-life balance, such as flat hierarchies, unlimited leave policies with no questions asked, and offering comprehensive health benefits, are effective strategies. Additionally, HR departments should engage in regular communication with employees to gauge their mental well-being, and provide resources and training on stress management techniques. By proactively addressing these challenges, HR leaders play a pivotal role in creating a workplace that nurtures mental health and fosters overall employee well-being,” she adds.

Role of India Inc for advocating mental health – a fundamental human right

As India Inc. embraces the art of enabling colleagues to be who they are, organisations will need to create programmes where mental health and wellbeing are an integral part of their offering. “At NatWest, our new comprehensive mental health learning programme works to raise that awareness, spot the signs of poor mental health, and educate our colleagues on the “how-to” of having conversations and sharing of the extensive support tools we have available,” informed Maneesh.

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Topics: Employee Relations, Employment Landscape, #Wellbeing, #HRCommunity

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