New Delhi: Ravindra was an IT professional whose career trajectory was moving upwards at an astounding rate. A graduate from IIT Bombay with an MS from Cornell University, USA, his dreams, and aspirations were big. He was from a middle-class family and his academic and career choices were a success story. He got his dream job in a global IT firm and after 5 years, joined a well-known IT start-up of India where he was offered a very senior position with financial stakes that seemed irresistible. He was committed to his work, worked long hours and left no stone unturned to achieve his business goals. And yet, after about 6 years, his performance started going down.
The harder he tried to meet his targets, the more he failed. He was no longer enjoying his work as he did earlier and his boss as well as family did not seem very pleased with him anymore. He felt lonely. What was going wrong?
Nowadays, more than ever before, it is not uncommon to hear of men, women and even children of all ages suffering from ‘anxiety’ and ‘depression’. Mental health concerns and problems are on the rise globally with mental disorders now being among the top leading causes of health burden worldwide. As per a WHO report of 2017, India accounts for a staggering 18 percent of depression cases worldwide.
A study by Assocham revealed that as many as 43 percent of employees in the private sector suffer from some mental health issue or the other, related to their work. Mental health issues are steadily increasing in today’s hyper-competitive and connected, yet disconnected, workplace. What could be the triggers for these mental health problems?
We are not alien to the fact that excessive workload, pressure, and stress leads to burnout sooner than later. And yet, people are ready to work overtime and take on workload for better pay, promotion, and job security. But if the rewards are not as per desire, it leads to frustration, low morale, and low motivation, which all again contribute to anxiety and depression. Other factors that can contribute to poor mental health are poor working relations with team members, a poor working environment and organizational culture leading to office politics, stigmatization, prejudices, favouritism etc.
With the increasing trend of work-from-home and gig work, the employee-organization gap has widened, depriving the employee of a stable anchor of identity as an ‘organizational member’ resulting in increased prevalence of depression and anxiety amongst them. These mental health issues not only affect employee’s mental health but also impact their productivity. Low productivity can add to the work stress and result in a vicious cycle.
What are the warning signs that mental health is taking a toll on work efficiency? Monday morning blues, being late to work, being too lost and absent-minded, lacking focus and making mistakes, poor work-life balance, fatigue and having a negative feeling in general about your work can be some warning signs that all is not well. When these things happen over a prolonged period, they may result in poorer relations with seniors, peers and colleagues. This may lead to lower morale, insecurity and also take a toll on appraisals and professional growth.
Over a period, it can lead to clinical anxiety or depression which can percolate to other areas of life such as general health and relationships. These aspects have a further indirect negative impact on productivity because all areas of one’s life are so interdependent and intricately intertwined. In other words, on one hand, organizational life, especially the modern work life, can lead to mental health issues, and on the other hand mental health issues can lead to lower productivity and affect organizations themselves.
Hence, a million dollar question arises- “Who should initiate the steps to mitigate the problem- an individual whose life is affected or the respective organization?” In fact, there is sufficient economic rationale in favour of the latter. It is in the interest of the organizations themselves that they should invest in employees’ mental well being.
What can an organisation do for that?
First and foremost, the organizations need to work proactively to reduce negative stereotypes, stigma, discrimination, and fear surrounding poor mental health in their own set-ups by fostering a culture that values relationships, social support, and empathy. Companies can achieve the same through sensitization programs and workshops on mental health for stakeholders at all levels from top to bottom, so that all employees are able to recognise warning signs in their own behaviour, and that of their colleagues.
Second, the companies should create an enabling environment that allows employees to talk about their individual challenges without the fear of being “judged or ridiculed” by someone. Success stories of people who have overcome their mental health struggles could be shared in interactive forums or there could be some form of mentoring initiatives if feasible. The cultural transformation resulting in psychological safety promotes disclosure without fear, and would go a long way in unsurfacing workplace issues.
Third, organizations could invest in therapeutic interventions. They could hire the services of a full time or visiting psychological counsellor. In today’s digital world, they can also provide direct access to other digital mental health resources such as counseling apps.
Fourth, organizations need to take steps to ensure breaks for their employees. It is common in India to ‘show off’ sincerity by claiming “all my leaves got lapsed”, “I have not taken any leaves”. Not any more, many organizations have now made it mandatory for their employees to take scheduled breaks and vacations.
While the organizations need to do their part proactively, there should be ownership at a personal level also. The first step is to become aware that one has a problem- accepting it and owning it; Not living in denial- “this cannot happen to me” or “I am not so weak.” Remember- acknowledging the problems is a sign of strength, not weakness. Today, with several awareness campaigns run across media and with the Government’s focus on increasing awareness, more and more people are owning their mental health problems in their personal lives and that is why the stigma around it is reducing.
At a broader level, every individual must realise that putting a break on desires, knowing the limits, inculcating hobbies that will stay with them beyond their work life, developing strong social support systems, relaxation training, mindfulness and meditation practice, and knowing when to say ‘no’ are some steps a person can take to prevent poor mental health in the first place.
To summarize, poor mental health is a menace that affects a person both, as an individual as well as an employee by impacting his/her productivity. With increasing gaps between organizations and employees and relationships between them becoming more and more contractual, the problem is only going to grow bigger. Thus it is imperative that organizations make significant efforts and investment in tackling the problem.
(About the author: Professor Rajesh Chandwani is a faculty member at IIMA and Vinita Sindhwani Satija is a Consultant in Mental and Public Health.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.