Stuck in traffic, Irfan stared at the traffic signal waiting for it to turn green with still 108 seconds to go. He wondered how his team and client would feel about this. Traffic, after all, is a lame excuse for being late.
It had started off as a good year, both personally and professionally. He had been promoted to a role he had been vying for over two years. He finally popped the question to Sarah, and they were slated to marry in three months. However, the promotion brought challenges he hadn't anticipated. Irfan barely had time for himself, let alone Sarah and the putting together a wedding. The new role was clearly taking a toll on his personal life. Irfan felt like he was disappointing both his manager by being late and his partner by working too much.
A study conducted by Optum in 2016 found that 46 percent of the workforce in India faces some or the other forms of stress. The popular belief goes that a certain amount of stress is necessary for bringing out the best in people, but not many people realize that prolonged stress that sustains, can turn chronic, and manifest itself as anxiety, temperamental changes, changes in appetite, insomnia, and sometimes depression. Other detrimental changes remain unidentified and could be mistaken for a physical ailment.
The spill-over effect
Research shows that emotionally upsetting events either in personal or professional life lead to changes in perspective and may result in behavior such as a dip in performance, absenteeism, and low morale; a phenomenon known as the spill-over effect. Displacement is a typical example of spill-over; for instance, when one cannot vent out frustration caused by a superior, they are likely to take it out on the family. When we go to work unhappy, we aren’t very productive. Unproductive days and poor employee well-being lead to an economic loss of roughly 1 trillion USD per year. So if unhappiness, poor health, and sore relationships aren't good reasons to address growing wellness concerns, at least, a loss of trillion dollars should be?
Psychologists come across cases of burnout quite often and usually, most people don’t realize that they are going through a burnout. This year, the WHO has classified burnout as a disease and it can arise from various factors in the workplace and at home. The challenge is that it often remains unidentified and unmanaged. As reported by ASSOCHAM, nearly 56 percent of corporate employees sleep less than 4-6 hours due to a high-stress work environment. Unmet targets, competitive environment, aggressive deadlines go back home with most individuals leading to poor sleep quality and insomnia. Evidence also suggests that people with insomnia have a ten-fold risk of developing depression compared with those who sleep well.
Should I discuss these challenges with my manager?
The small minority of people who realize that their mental health is not okay and they need help usually refrain from disclosing such information at their workplace. While people don’t hesitate to share physical health concerns or calling in sick when they are down with fever, mental health challenges are rarely spoken of. Several apprehensions such as loss of credibility, unprofessionalism, being judged, or unfairly treated and appraised may discourage one from sharing. Confidentiality is another concern when the cause of stress is in the workplace. Say, someone reaches out to the HR to report a tough manager or excessive workload, lack of measures to protect their privacy could affect their career. Hence, even organizations that have in-house counselors, or policies to address burnout, fail to encourage employees from seeking support.
Taking care of mental health at work : Luxury or necessity?
With more individuals relocating for work, constantly competing with peers, it is natural for loneliness and anxiety to creep in. Employees don’t always find the required social support and are unaware of how to deal with big changes and transition in life. It's time we acknowledge a growing need for mental health awareness, equip employees how to cope with work-life conflicts,, and support them in leading a happier and healthier life.
The good news is that employers are taking cognizance of the issue, and some leading organizations have Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) to help identify and redress redflags before they snowball into bigger challenges. American Express is one notable example wherein 98 percent of the over 50,000 employees registered satisfaction from its Healthy Minds program. Such programs usually start with a pulse check at the organizational level and help identify pressing concerns that are commonly experienced by employees. The assistance plan incorporates interventions at three levels; organization, manager, and individual. Several initiatives are then put in place to encourage conversations around mental health, build resilience, and offer a blend therapy support and self-help programs.
While work itself contributes to growth and happiness, not knowing how to manage stress emanating from it can have dire outcomes for the human mind and body. In today’s day and age, it is all the more important to have a preventive approach to mental well-being rather than reacting to the challenge once it has deepened. Incorporating wellness with mental health benefits is, therefore, no longer a luxury but a necessity in today’s corporate world.