The World Health Organisation defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. The COVID-19 pandemic has left an impact not only on the physical but also on the mental well-being of people. Globally, an estimated 264 million people suffer from depression and anxiety. The economic downturn and the job uncertainty caused by the pandemic added to the woes of the global pool of professionals, causing an increase in mental health issues that already existed in this section due to work stress and burnout.
Though stress by itself is not an illness when experiencing it frequently, it increases the risk of mental health conditions such as depression. Work-related stress can be a major cause of occupational ill health and can result in reduced levels of performance and productivity and even manifest as various illnesses and lifestyle diseases. This may also be accompanied by psychological effects such as loss of concentration, poor decision-making skills, anxiety, and depression.
Data from different countries indicate that mental health problems are a global phenomenon that is affecting corporate employees in a big way. The Indian corporate sector is no different from its global counterparts is what a pre-pandemic survey by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) reveals, with over 40 % of the employees in the private sector suffering from depression or general anxiety disorder. An online survey was conducted in 2021 to predict the psycho-social factors that caused distress among the Indian population post-Covid and also found out that the most vulnerable group affected was the 21-35 years bracket, which also forms a large part of the working-age group in India.
Apart from the physical and psychological effects that they must undergo at the workplace, the stigma attached to mental health issues makes it more difficult for employees as they face prejudice at work or even while applying for jobs. Without help, such employees struggle to survive in a fast-paced corporate environment resulting in underperformance, and absenteeism, and many of them eventually drop out of work. Hence, it makes sense for corporations to focus on nurturing mental health from an economic perspective too, and not just a social one.
What is required to tackle this issue is a structured ‘employee assistance program’ on mental health which includes both preventive and remedial measures. This is missing in most of the corporates in India, though many of them might be conducting a few workshops or offering some services like counseling. It may not be easy for most smaller corporations to have such full-fledged programs, however, here are a few steps that they can implement to achieve the goal of helping their employees enjoy better mental health.
Provide a healthy work environment with strict policies against harassment and discrimination
Some of the most common reasons for office stress are relationship issues with superiors, and colleagues, workload beyond capacity, high demand performance, work-life balance, and job security. The issues with managers may be usually in terms of unrealistic expectations, pitting one employee against the others, and being unable to find the right balance between work and family responsibility to name a few. Having a well-structured goal-setting process, decreasing work role ambiguity, regular check-ins by the line managers with the employee to help facilitate the deliverables, and a well-defined employee communication framework that would leave no uncertainty as to where the company is headed and what is their role in it, a structured employee grievance mechanism which will look into any sort of discrimination and harassment, policies and guidelines which keeps a check on extended work timings which does not encroach into their personal/family time are some of the measures that can be implemented to reduce some of the common sources of stress at the workplace
Accept and implement mental health and wellbeing as part of your employee welfare programs
Unlike many western societies where health issues are considered confidential and discussed only with relevant stakeholders, Indians are comfortable revealing and discussing their physical ailments. However, there still is a strong stigma attached to acceptance or discussion of mental health issues. Organizations should take initiatives to address mental wellness at the workplace through a clearly articulated policy on mental health. They should be able to clearly articulate the approach that they would take to prevent employee burnout or how to deal with it the same way when someone has a physical illness – a time to treat/heal and the support process that the organization would extend to get them back to work. This makes it easy for the employees to have confidence that they can accept, discuss, and seek help safely without being judged or discriminated against. Address mental health issues at the leadership level by both communicating and demonstrating your intent of building a culture of caring for employees’ mental wellbeing.
Take a holistic approach towards employee mental health and wellbeing
The first step toward promoting employees’ mental well-being would be to create a workplace environment that is free of excessive fear and chronic anxiety. Encourage employees to live a balanced life and support it with policies that facilitate it. Invest in training the employees and their managers on mental health issues and how to identify the signs before it turns into an ailment, how to be empathetic towards employees who undergo it, and how to guide them to seek professional help. Offer employee assistance programs (EAP) that would holistically deal with mental well-being by helping them to focus on their mental health, conduct workshops on how to identify early signs and remedial measures to prevent it from aggravating, and provide counselors to help those who need them, give access to clinical psychologists for those who are struggling with issues. The inclusion of mental illness in the regular health insurance policies by the IRDAI is also a positive step that allays employee’s anxiety about finances for facilitating external treatment when they or their families must go through such issues
We must bring the issue of mental illness out into the sunlight, out of the shadows, out of the closet, deal with it, treat people, and have centers where people can get the necessary help.
- John Lewis
As John Lewis sums it up, it is time for Corporate India to sit up and take notice of the elephant in the room and act on it by making the workplace a source of solutions to the stress which many a time also happens to be the source of origin for the stress.