Stress and mental health concerns are more common among younger/junior women professionals, as is the likelihood of them taking time off for it. However, older/senior women professionals are satisfied with the support available, more comfortable talking about mental health, and likelier to reveal that they took time off due to stress.
These are the findings of data collated by Deloitte, post the launch of their recent India edition of Women@Work Report 2022 report, which goes on to provide a detailed overview on mental health issues faced by the women workforce, especially those at a junior level.
The findings have two key inferences. Younger/junior women professionals are still finding a footing and hence, are more stressed and may feel that it may work to their disadvantage to reveal these issues. However, older/senior women, being more visible and vocal in this respect, can present a good opportunity to mould role model behaviour.
“Women professionals who are in the early stages of their career may be more hesitant to be vocal about stress/burnout/mental health, perhaps fearing that it may be interpreted as a sign of weakness, subsequently impacting their career growth,” says Mohinish Sinha, Partner and Leader – Diversity and Inclusion, Deloitte India.
However, it is not true that this age cohort doesn’t take time off due to mental health issues, but just that they don’t feel comfortable disclosing mental health as the reason for their absence.
“55% Indian women in the 18-25 age group took time off due to challenges with mental health as against 29% of those in the 55-64 age group. However, only 31% of the former cohort was open about the reasons, as against 56% of the latter,” says Sinha.
Across surveyed geographies, very few women say that their organisations have implemented resources to support employees’ mental well-being (14% for India).
Social conditioning is a key reason, says Sinha.
“Mental health is still a difficult topic, vastly misunderstood, and seldom spoken about openly. It also depends on how much an organisation believes that it should invest in its employees’ holistic well-being. Women in organisations identified as gender equality leaders are twice as likely as those working for laggards to say that such support resources are available,” he adds.
Mental health wellness for junior women professionals - the companies' role
One of the key reasons for the high levels of stress and burnout is women finding it difficult to switch off from work.
“The key reasons being – ‘My career progression will be adversely impacted’, ‘My organisation will care less about me’, or ‘I will be excluded from important meetings or projects’,” says Sinha, adding that organisations need to sensitise managers and team members alike that switching off does not display lack of commitment and that the focus should be on quality of outcomes more than quantity of output.
“When it comes to decisions that impact someone’s career, a variety of perspectives should go into the performance-appraisal process, so that conscious/unconscious biases do not hamper a woman professional’s growth.
"The value of diversity of thought, i.e., how different voices contribute to well-balanced decision making, can’t be emphasised enough, so that project managers want women voices on the team, not just because it’s a nice thing to do, but because it makes sound business sense,” he adds.
Sinha says since women at a senior level feel more comfortable speaking about mental health compared to younger professionals (58% in the 55-64 age group vs 31% in the 18-25 age group), organisations can enable the former to lead by example.
“Role models can help reinforce the message amongst women professionals that it’s okay to not be okay,” he says.
Future-focused organisations have introduced multiple avenues of support, such as confidential counselling helplines, including work times, in email signatures, and special categories of time off for well-being and caregiving, he adds.
How younger women professionals can boost their own mental health at workplaces
“There will be pressure points and times when you may feel overwhelmed, but that’s okay. We are all human. It’s not possible to be able to do everything all the time,” says Sinha, as he recommends younger working women to live a fuller life.
He suggests the following ways.
- Build a network of support of friends and family. People you can share and feel cared for.
- Care for something beyond work. Contribute and give (may be time) for aspects that matter to you. It may be music, the well-being of your friends and family, social causes, etc.
- Build a sense of control on your time and how you spend it- block time for what matters to you most at work, life’s important moments overall, and preferences. This is difficult, yet most rewarding.
- Do not bottle up stress. Don’t hesitate to seek help whenever you need it and don’t hesitate to offer help if someone reaches out to you either.
While the stress levels and burnout are higher amongst younger professionals, as per the survey, mental health issues are diverse, and it is possible that other categories of such issues are more prevalent in older demographics.
“Hence, it’s important that organisations focus their efforts across the board, fine-tuning their approach depending on the group they are dealing with,” says Sinha.