Why do corporates have to start the conversation about the mental state with their employees today?
The World Health Organization estimates that depression and anxiety — among the more prominent mental health issues — cost the global economy $1 trillion a year in lost productivity.
WHAT IS MENTAL HEALTH ?
Mental health, defined by the World Health Organization, is "a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community!"
A mentally healthy and physically productive employee is an asset to any organisation. It becomes the cornerstone of an effective and thriving organisation.
However , unhealthy lifestyles can affect an employee’s personal life and professional ability to deliver. There are some Corporates, where the job profile requires employees to work in night shifts. Hence , it requires them to stay awake long hours into the night. To enable staying awake, employees resort to smoking heavily and start substance abuse. This brings down professional productivity , over a period of time. It also hampers an employee’s personal life.
The corporate world is often described as a VUCA world where volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity rule. For employees, managers, and even the top brass operating in such an atmosphere, stress can quickly turn to distress and lead to anxiety and depression.
A 2019 study by a British charity, Mental Health Research UK, found that 42.5 percent of the employees in India’s corporate sector suffer from depression or an anxiety disorder – almost every second employee.
In the event of such alarming statistics , it is important that Indian corporates have overall employee welfare measures in place. COVID and working from home , has brought discussion on the topic of employee mental health into the limelight.
There are a lot of articles, workshops and programs online , to deal with the new normal in the times of Corona - and its impact these days. There is constant talk of mental ill health and ways to ensure that people do not slip into depression or anxiety due to low social contact. For India, the fact that there is open conversation across the country on various platforms on mental health – is an achievement in itself . Before this, speaking about mental health in India attached a stigma and was hence taboo. Owing to which, to have employees come out and talk about it was unheard of.
There were International corporates with offices in India. While their western counterparts implemented policies and programs for active intervention for mental health of its employees, in India not too many people came forward to avail of these services.
Also, many employees did not know or realise that they needed help and should see a counsellor.
We have thought through certain measures to encourage employees to be able to recognise that they need help – to see a counsellor. Accompanied with that, also listing a few suggestions, with the hope that corporates in India will invest in for a healthy and productive workforce.
5 ways that Indian corporates can get their employees to open up on Mental health without the stigma
1: Educate on bias of mental health vs physical health.
In case someone has a fever, a fracture or typhoid – it is considered an ailment. The person goes to the doctor with the appropriate skill set . On examination the person is prescribed care instructions and medicines where required.
The corporate the person is employed with , making note of the care required, helps basis the regulations of the company for such ill health.
Likewise through workshops and other employee related initiatives, corporates can educate their employees on mental health being another type of ailment. The doctor and the skill set required to treat this ailment is a psychologist and / or a psychiatrist.
In case of a nagging problem – sometimes it can be just a chat to vent , the employee can schedule a slot with the counsellor at work.
2 : Corporates to hire a Counsellor , emphasise Counsellor confidentiality clause to remove fear of stigma
Given that work pressure , unhealthy lifestyles and personal pressures can lead to an unhealthy task force – it is recommended that corporates have a counsellor on board.
This will help employers , get a grip over undetected pressures which may result in a unhealthy workforce. Let the employees know about total confidentiality of the counselling process. They need to know that the counsellor sessions from scheduling an appointment , till the interactions at sessions are entirely confidential .
Though the organisation is providing this facility, the proceedings with the counsellor will be entirely confidential. Senior Management will only have a record of number of people enrolling for counselling , not the detailing.
However, in case of emergencies, where the counsellor thinks that the employee is at the risk of a life threatening situation, the counsellor may have to involve the senior management.
Also read: How to deal with depression at workplace
3 : If a counsellor suggests a break from work , flexibility from the senior management would be requested / implied
In the event , the counsellor suggests that the employee take a short health break – the counsellor should let the employee taking counselling know of the same.
If the employee writes an email to the senior management ,asking for leave from work due to the recommendation of the counsellor – the employer should be flexible to permit so.
The counsellor can with the help of HR, ensure this process be conducted smoothly to benefit the employer and employee. The corporate can have a procedure ready on the same.
4 : Have policies related to Mental Health Welfare & Implement the same.
Corporates need to have HR initiatives , employee assistance programs like webinars, support groups, one to one sessions for employees. This will be beneficial for supporting all employees’ mental well being.
Most corporates already have in place , rules and possible support options for physical ailments their employees may suffer from.
When an employee , writes to senior management for a break from work on the advise of the counsellor, the employee should be informed of what the path forward would be. Measures, that this is how they could be integrated back into the company, after the break and so on and so forth.
In the absence of examples of what measures a corporate should adopt , it is suggested that employers look for international corporates in a similar line of work for guidance on employee mental health practices.
5 : Add compensation for breaking free from Stress & Anxiety
If the break is approved by the Management , then the corporate can regulate the HR policies - to also compensate for leave granted for recovering mental health.
Corporates can decide to have monetary support, basis the HR practices worked out for various situations under support for mental health to employees .
Going forward - as we come back to new working styles that will evolve after COVID, hopefully corporates will play a crucial role in our society’s overall mental well-being. A wish and hope going out , that COVID succeeded in helping us become more accepting of ourselves and others, grateful for the empathy that came our way, and left us a better race than it found us – valuing human connection and hopefully being non-judgemental.
The workplace is often seen to be the source of stress, but now - it can also be the source of the solution! Nurture an environment and organizational culture of non-judgmental attitudes, empathic behaviours and mental wellbeing.
The virtue of it lies in the acceptance of your employees and helping everyone feel heard, cared and valued for!