The Elephant In the Rooms Of Corporate India: Mental health The pandemic may prove to be the turning point with mental health emerging as one of the key concerns in corporate India

By Sumit Sabharwal

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Mental health has long been an unacknowledged concern in corporate India with a 2016 survey revealing that 46 per cent of employees suffer from some form of stress. Around 43 per cent of the respondents were found to have skewed BMI (body mass index), of which 46 per cent reported high stress, 30 per cent showed diabetic risk and 30 per cent were high on hypertension risk. More importantly, these figures revealed a 30 per cent spike on a similar survey in 2014. Apart from a general decline in wellbeing, mental health can have economic repercussions through loss of productivity, burnout, and higher attrition rates. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that the economic loss due to mental health conditions could amount to $1.03 trillion for the 2012-2030 period.

The pandemic may prove to be the turning point with mental health emerging as one of the key concerns in corporate India. As the focus shifted towards ensuring the wellbeing of the workforce, there is now increasing recognition of incorporating mental health as one of the pillars of holistic wellness among employees.

The results are evident in improving health statistics with a 2021 global workforce study finding that employers in India are more likely to offer financial or mental health support than their counterparts in Europe or North America. However, mental health issues continue to be a prime concern for India Inc as various studies still report high levels of stress among Indian employees with concerns ranging from loss of job, work-life balance to personal finances, and career growth. Given this scenario, employers and human resource leaders must keep their focus on fostering a supportive environment through innovative, thoughtful, and empathetic measures.

People-centric approach

A personalized approach to corporate wellbeing aims at understanding each individual employee and taking the effort to align their personal ambitions with organisational goals. This empathetic view acknowledges the unique concerns of the individual while emphasising improved employee engagement. Recognition of the concerns and challenges of employees is the first step towards addressing them.

To plan and implement a personalised wellness program, HR leaders and managers must remain aware, accessible, and honest in their communication. They must ensure that they are accessible to listening to employee concerns, suggestions, and feedback in a non-judgemental manner. Honesty and transparency in communication are equally important when gathering feedback to secure employee trust and in ensuring that the management is seen as open and receptive. It can help in mitigating conflict, unrest, or employee concerns at a nascent stage.

Fostering team spirit

Unhealthy workplace relationships can exacerbate stress, leading to multiple negative effects, including anxiety, distrust, conflict, and misalignment. A collaborative workplace culture that focuses on fostering belongingness and positive work relationships can play a key role in mitigating workplace stress. Establishing candid, open, and honest communication between all employees must be the first step towards conflict mitigation and ensuring an open transparent workplace culture.

However, a collaborative workplace culture goes beyond maintaining communication. It stresses proactive measures, such as facilitating team-building exercises or non-work events that allow employees to collaborate in a non-competitive environment. Healthy workplace culture can not only reduce the stress of a negative relationship but also help in establishing a supportive environment that is conducive to employee development.

Building mental resilience

Despite every positive measure, it's important to remember that stress is an unavoidable part of the workplace and can arise out of factors that are out of the managements or the employees' control. Building mental resilience is a key strategy to ensure that individuals can bounce back from a setback or adverse event. Mental resilience can also help employees to learn from their mistakes and ensure that the work goes on, irrespective of the occasional hiccup.

At 29 per cent, Indian workers reported the second-highest incidences of burnout in Asia, as per a recent global study. workplace resilience can play a crucial role in helping employees to manage work commitments without becoming fatigued. Apart from resilience training, it is also important to establish a resilient workplace culture that is based on empathy, employee empowerment, transparency, and accountability. Some organisations have taken steps to address the issue by ensuring open communication and allowing employees to take time off on an incremental basis.

A humane view

Along with a personalized approach, organizations must also take a humane view of the challenges and hurdles faced by employees. As the pandemic exacerbates physical and mental stress, empathy, trust, collaboration, and self-awareness can be critical in creating a sustainable and inclusive workplace. It can help the management to address concerns arising from stressful work environments, such as the blurring of personal and professional lives under a remote working era.

A humane approach puts individual health above organisational objectives, viewing each employee as a crucial part of the workplace dynamic. As a foundational principle for human resource policies, it ensures that employee wellbeing is prioritised at every stage.

As the workplace remains in flux due to alternating bouts of normalcy, new waves of the coronavirus, and changing work culture, HR leaders and senior management must remain proactive in identifying common stressors while building an inclusive, collaborative, and supportive workplace. A WHO study on health costs for the 2016-2030 period predicted that for every $1 invested in treating common mental disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved productivity and health. The inclusion of mental health as part of employee health policies can be key in building a robust and resilient workforce while ensuring the holistic wellbeing of every citizen.

Sumit Sabharwal

Vice President-HR, Fujitsu Global Delivery Centers

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