At KelpHR’s International Women’s Day Summit, Shakti, held earlier this year, Sandhya Menon, a communications executive at an MNC and a mental health advocate said that during some of the difficult days, it was work that kept her sane. Many of us understand what she means.
Work can be a source of confidence, stability, and purpose. Having something to do on a routine basis, collaborating with people, doing something you have some interest in and/or some skill at, works wonders for boosting mental health.
For many of us though, work is a grind. Spending upwards of 40 hours a week on it, for not enough pay. Some of us have strained relationships with colleagues we have no bond with, some don’t care about what they do and still have to show up.
Yet others find coming to work like waking up to a nightmare.
There are many aspects of safety when it comes to a workplace.
Physical safety is the most tangible and obvious of these aspects. If your workplace is unsanitary or you work in dangerous conditions the workplace can be a site of stress and anxiety.
If there is no proportionate compensation for the work you do, causing an unsustainable situation of being broke and exhausted – you lack financial safety.
If you have a bully for a boss, or colleagues who wear you down, and show little concern for your well-being it can have very detrimental effects on your mental health. A survey conducted by careerbuilder.in in the year 2020 revealed that 55% of Indian workers are bullied at their workplace. Self-esteem, productivity and a conducive atmosphere are just a few of the casualties in such an environment.
COVID-19 spurred job losses, uncertainty of income / growth, social isolation, and the anxiety of falling sick through the general population. However, some employers have taken the ‘work from home’ mandate as an opportunity to blur all boundaries, and require them to be on call around the clock, and deliver more than they were doing before. But we are not just ‘human resources’, and a little empathy in leadership goes a long way.
Now, meet Aditi, a brilliant software engineer with a unicorn start-up in Bangalore. She is the only woman in her team, and one of only 3 women in the entire organisation – the other two are from the HR and secretarial functions. During meetings, she gets talked over. She is wary about discussing her plans of starting a family with anybody, lest it affect her career prospects. Her peers are all men who are also a part of the same social circle, but she’s not made to feel included. It bothers her, but she tries to ignore it. But all of this contributes to her feeling low. Like she isn’t being heard. Like she should think twice before offering her opinions or sharing about herself. Lonely and isolated.
Without realising it, she loses interest in logging in to work, finding excuses to avoid it. When she does log in, she finds it difficult to concentrate and on being asked a question – becomes defensive and impatient.
Aditi has no sense of psychological safety at work. And it has slowly worn her down to a point where this has hindered her ability to perform. Her organisation has not only lost a potential top performer, the business has suffered too.
In India we don’t have laws that deal with the issues of workplace safety, beyond the framework of requiring insurance against injury and minimum wages – something that applies to a specific category of workers, and an earnings bracket.
There is a vacuum then, a space – which can be filled by thoughtful, ethical practices.
Some benefits of a safe and healthy work environment -
- Productive employees are an asset to all companies. For instance, productive employees can produce more output in less time, reducing operational costs.
- Workplace safety promotes the wellness of employees and employers alike. Better safety equates to better health. Healthier employees do tasks more efficiently, and they are happier in general.
- Better relations between colleagues could mean less friction, more synergies. More gets done, more ideas emerge as people feel safe enough to be their authentic selves and bring original thought to the table.
- If employees perceive that employers care about the safety of their employees, they are more confident and comfortable in general. Also, absenteeism rates drop, and employees are more focused on doing their tasks.
Here are some things you can implement in your organisation – to maintain a safe and happy work environment.
Being aware and identifying workplace hazards
Do a safety audit for your workplace. You’re not expected to have all the safety infrastructure in place right from the start. But you need to know what needs to be done. Measure the current safety levels currently and identify what are the possible issues that may arise.
Devise and implement a plan for the health and safety of all your employees.
Are you covid protocol compliant? Let science guide you in ensuring conducive conditions for workers. One must not feel at risk just by coming into work. Perhaps you could facilitate women workers to be escorted home during late nights.
Preparing a safety training matrix and providing proper safety training to employees
An executive has a nervous breakdown during a client conference. The coffee machine malfunctions and burns the assistant. A woman who is onsite with a colleague faces sexual harassment. Do these employees, or their team members, their colleagues, know what to do next in these situations? It’s not enough for the safety protocols to exist. The workers have to be made aware of potential safety risks, and trained to escalate issues accordingly.
Have mechanism for reporting unsafe working conditions
Clear policies that list out the rights of the employees, and a framework for accountability within the organisation will go a long way in encouraging reporting and redressal.
Activities and iInitiatives to reduce workplace stress
It’s not enough just to create conditions to make the workplace safer, it is important to actively pursue goals of reducing stress. Mental health initiatives which encourage an open dialogue, and offer resources of support, therapy and medication to employees are signs of a workplace that is taking their employees’ mental health seriously and the benefits will be evident for all to see.