What Can An Employer Do To Break The Taboo Around Counselling The global pandemic has wreaked havoc, appending to the existing stress, putting the work-life balance for a toss that has given rise to multiple mental health issues like depression, fear, anxiety, and the kind.

By Viji Hari

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In both the corporate environment and family life, working professionals are subjected to tremendous pressure. We are all knowingly or unknowingly caught up in the modern, fastpaced, competitive world that has put us all in the rat race to succeed on both professional and personal fronts. It is only natural that the late-night calls and work shifts, back-to-back deadlines, the aim to reach the top of the corporate ladder, combined with the personal responsibilities of catering to the family's needs, shouldering the financial burdens, and irregular lifestyle have made it nearly impossible to lead a stress-free life. As an add-on, the global pandemic has wreaked havoc, appending to the existing stress, putting the work-life balance for a toss. This has given rise to multiple mental health issues like depression, fear, anxiety, and the kind.

Counselling at Workplace

If an employee is allowed access to an experienced professional who can help sort out the issues while maintaining confidentiality, can equip the person with the skills to deal with such concerns, and the work environment is supportive of the same sans judgments, will it not be a boon? Psychological counselling or therapy at the workplace allows a psychologist to assess an individual's emotional turmoil. In layman's terms, in counselling, the psychologist gets to the root of the issue and resolves them by employing 'talk therapy' and
various other techniques.

What's the taboo?

Employees dealing with diagnosed mental health conditions or un-diagnosed confusing and upsetting emotions often hesitate to open up for fear of 'What will people think?' or 'What will others say?' is deeply imbibed within them. For generations, our society has been caught up in numerous baseless assumptions about mental health conditions, and people dealing with these issues are often considered 'attention-seeking,' 'paranoid,' or worse, 'absurd.' In many scenarios, the struggles faced in the work environment are mere reflections of the problems faced in one's personal life. Although there is considerable thought reformation and increased awareness concerning mental health in the past few years, the stigma around counselling still exists. And with mental health issues becoming more prevalent for various reasons, this taboo can disrupt the emotional well-being of an individual despite available help. Breaking this social stigma around counselling is not only the need of the hour but a mammoth challenge for employers.

Understanding an employee's perspective

The first step to achieve this is to comprehend the various reasons employees hesitate to open up for counselling. Often, individuals deny taking up therapy due to:
• Fear of being termed 'Crazy' and judgmental remarks from friends and colleagues.
• Family issues.
• Inability to accept the problem. The individual believes that he/she is emotionally strong to deal with their own struggles, while in reality, it may not be the case.
• Lack of financial support.
• Confusing notions about counselling; Often, counselling is misinterpreted as
psychiatric treatment with medications.
• Not knowing when or how to seek help.
• Perceiving emotional struggles as a sign of weakness.
• Not aware of the Employee Assistance Program offered by the organization.

Tips to break the taboo

What can an organization do to break this taboo around counselling and encourage their employees to seek help? Here are a few tips to achieve the same:
• Necessitate the employees to take periodic self-assessments on various topics, including stress, anxiety, self-esteem, depression, etc. This allows them to determine their mental wellness. These scores will drive an employee to seek help at the right time.
• Make Employee Assistance Program available for all employees irrespective of their ranks. Create awareness about the program and its benefits through posters, e-mails, and skits and allow the employees round-the-clock access/24-hour helpline to connect with a professional.
• Conduct frequent and interactive wellness workshops and encourage maximum participation from the employees. These workshops can be a life-changer for those sceptical about personally approaching a professional. These workshops address employees' emotional struggles and reform their thoughts.
• Allow psychological counsellors to interact with the employees and speak about the benefits of counselling. This helps bridge the gap between an employee and a counsellor/psychologist.
• Encourage more employees to open up and speak about their experiences with mental health issues. Real-life stories can promote change in an individual's perception of the entire concept of counselling.
• Train HR personnel, managers, and all employees to be vigilant of their colleagues. Create awareness about the warning signs of mental health disorders, and motivate the employees to push co-workers and friends to seek professional help at the right time.
• Publish crisp and apt blogs and vlogs on emotional health and the need for mental wellness frequently and ensure they are accessed by all employees.
• Ensure therapy confidentiality.
• Communicate therapy benefits and the need for emotional wellness through eye-catching pictures and infographics. These convey the right message in a short span and strike the right chords with the employees.

The employer should instill these practices in their work environment to allow the employees to opt for therapy without dilemma. But most importantly, any organization should render a safe, stress-free work environment that boosts every employee's morale. In addition to breaking the taboo around counselling, these practices reflect an organization's care towards all employees and their emotional well-being, thus leading to increased productivity, work efficiency, higher employee retention rate, and overall success!

Viji Hari

Founder and CEO

Viji Hari is the Founder and CEO of CecureUs, a HR organisation that specialises in Prevention of Sexual harassment (PoSH) at Workplace, Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) and Mental Wellness. CecureUs, under the able leadership of Viji Hari, has grown from strength to strength in a very short span of time, and serves several clients in different geographies.

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