Mental health may hurt India to tune of $1.03 trillion
A study by a mental health charity in the UK revealed that the most stressful thoughts in people’s minds are work-related. Mental health conditions are the second biggest cause of absences from work and result in the loss of 15.4 million work days annually in the UK.
Recent research in the international retail sector suggests that one in every ten work hours is lost to ‘unplanned time off’. The estimated cost to the global economy due to depression and anxiety is US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity.
In light of these statistics, it is alarming that 42.5% of the employees in the private sector of corporate India suffer from depression or some form anxiety disorder. That’s almost every second person. Studies indicate that two-thirds of people who have suffered from depression face prejudice at work or while applying for new jobs. The World Health Organization estimates that India will suffer economic losses amounting to a staggering 1.03 trillion dollars from mental health conditions between 2012 and 2030.
In India, mental health issues are even bigger taboo than in the West. The stigmas attached to mental illnesses ensure that people sweep things under the carpet and suffer in silence instead of speaking out and seeking help. Studies shockingly show that 71% of Indians still use terminology associated with stigma and prejudice to describe mental illnesses.
According to a Wall Street Journal report in 2016, millennial Indians spend far more time at work than their counterparts in 25 other countries – 52 hours a week on average. In such a scenario, job insecurity, challenging projects, ambitious targets, tough deadlines, heavy performance pressures and the much-dreaded appraisals can all lead to elevated stress levels. Bullying, discrimination and harassment, an overtly competitive or hostile company culture, office politics and long working hours that are physically, emotionally and mentally draining lead not only to stress but also to trauma.
38% of working women in India show signs of psychiatric morbidity compared to only 26% of the women who don’t work. How can something that gives a woman independence and her own identity cause more stress?
Add personal, family-related or financial problems to any of these issues and we have a fertile breeding ground for mental illnesses and disorders.
The moment a person isn’t mentally healthy, functional limitations come into play. A professional’s capacity to focus, multi-task, handle pressure, interact with colleagues and clients, make judgment calls, deal with negative feedback and respond to change – all get impacted negatively, making the individual vulnerable. Without help, such employees struggle to cope, tend to under-perform, call in sick and are even likely to quit their jobs altogether.
Businesses are all about the ‘bottom line’. Which is why companies need to realize that the impact that stress-related presenteeism and health-related absenteeism have on a company’s output is significantly detrimental. A negative working environment can lead to a variety of mental concerns. Inversely, mental health issues can have an extremely adverse effect on one’s productivity at work. Either way, the bottom line gets affected and companies lose time and money.
The ‘real bottom line’ is simple enough: Caring about their employees’ mental health is beneficial to companies in more ways than one. Better mental health means better quality of work. Less absenteeism means more productivity. Consequently, increased productivity and superior quality of work equal to increased profits. Also, companies that have cultivated a culture of wellness initiatives tend to attract and retain the brightest and best talent, which, in turn, becomes invaluable for the company vis-à-vis its success and sustainability.
More importantly, in this modern age, companies cannot just be business houses. Besides aiming for sustainability and financial success, they must realize that they have a social responsibility as well. The work culture they adopt must actively promote employee health and well-being. The conversation around mental health now needs to go beyond advocacy and translate into tangible action.
It is extremely heartening to see that so many corporates and business houses have begun to realize the potential that people have despite having mental illnesses. I recently heard that a noteworthy hotel chain in India hired 30 people with Down’s Syndrome to work in their kitchens and restaurants. A prominent IT company enthusiastically hires people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. A coffee chain has people with physical disabilities working for them. We need much more of such tangible action. The stigmas from the dark ages that still plague us need to go, once and for all.
Every company can follow a simple well-being agenda for the benefit of its employees:
A clean, safe and healthy work environment, providing the requisite facilities, flexible work hours, open lines of communication along the chain of command, management accountability, strict policies against discrimination and harassment – especially when it comes to women, minorities and those with mental health concerns, and nurturing a healthy work-life-and-mental-health balance are the new mantras of sustainability and success.
Companies must actively encourage a climate of awareness and create an environment that makes employees feel safe while talking about their mental health concerns. This is where interventions such as employee assistant programs can come majorly into play.
Free and confidential assessments, short-term counselling, referrals and follow-up services for personal or work-related issues can help employees tide over difficult periods and go a long way in promoting a healthier, happier work culture. Research tell us that for every US$ 1 put into the treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US$ 4 in improved health and productivity.
Organisations must regularly hold mental health workshops and seminars to educate their workforce about the causes, symptoms and perils of mental illnesses. Employees and the employers must all learn how to recognise, red-flag and cope with signs of mental health concerns at an early stage.
Stress-busting initiatives like teamwork and bonding programs, behavioural change and emotional intelligence programs, yoga, meditation and mindfulness sessions, and office picnics, trips and sporting events can also help employees deal with the anxiety and stress by fostering better understanding and camaraderie while, at the same time, celebrating diversity and promoting inclusivity within the workforce.
Research indicates that 36% of the larger Indian companies and 25% of the multinationals do not have a complaints committee, although it is required by the law. It is essential that every company has one now. Any employee should be able to file a grievance, anonymously if need be, so that the system can treat them fairly.
Companies should treat mental health with the same weightage as physical health. Sick leave should be allowed for mental health concerns just as they are for physical ailments. Companies must also provide their employees with a holistic healthcare package that covers both physical and mental health insurance. Mental and emotional health check-ups can be integrated into the employee welfare program just as physical diagnostics are.
Most people spend about one-third of their lives in their workplace. On average that amounts to 90,000 hours over a lifetime. It is essential that companies do more to care about the mental and emotional wellbeing of people in the workspace.