Every responsible employer provides a safe environment for its employees, makes them aware of safe usage of tools and equipment, mandates usage of protective gear and safe work processes. Employees get a few days of paid leaves each year towards sick days, if any. Medium to large employers provide insurance schemes to cover healthcare expenses. Apart from such facilities, state-sponsored healthcare facilities and schemes are available in our country. All of these are focused on the physical health of employees. What about mental health?
Recognise the issue
Employees know what to do when they suffer from a physical ailment, may it be common ailments like cold, fever, stomach-ache or serious issues related to vital organs of the body. They seek help from their friends, family and colleagues, follow prescriptions of doctors and healthcare specialists. They avail sick leaves from work and the benefit schemes provided by the employer to access facilities and reimburse expenses. These are clearly defined in the HR policy of the organization and practised well.
Report says, ~50% of employees in India suffer from some kind of stress. HBR article on the topic says, 25% of adults experience mental illness each year. The fact is that we do not know when we are ill mentally because our parents, teachers and doctors do not talk about it in our childhood. Most of them, all of us included, do not know enough about mental health. We do not recognize when we face stress, experience various emotions and are wilting under the load of mental illness.
They may or may not be rooted at the workplace
HR folks and leaders are a part of the society we live in. Naturally, they do not know enough about it and hence, do not know adequate methods to deal with it. It is not uncommon for us to spot when someone is upset, angry, disgusted, sad, stressed and anxious. However, it is tough to know why someone is experiencing these emotions. Is it too much of work, ambition, unrealistic expectation from oneself, aggressive deadline, lack of recognition, unfair treatment to colleagues, irrational demands, jealousy, treachery, rejection, hatred, core beliefs and values towards certain actions and behaviours? Causes could be many and rooted within the organization or outside. Sometimes, they could relate to one’s childhood experiences, situations at home, social norms which are outside the realm of the company.
Irrespective of the root cause of the emotion, these situations show up in one’s behaviours with colleagues, subordinates, bosses, customers, suppliers and all other stakeholders of the business. Such state of mind undermines one’s judgement while dealing with self and others. Further, the decisions taken by the person related to other people, work processes and systems lack the rigour and equanimity. It is important that the person and the people around the person recognize the illness and take action. Like a physical illness is treated, such mental illness needs attention from a specialist.
Make a start and Build the Momentum!
Firstly, we have to make our employees aware of mental health conditions and the need to treat them. Such awareness has to be built right in the schools. Like Swachh Bharat campaign, this has to be spread. Industrial Psychiatry Journal article talks about this at length and gives an overview of global situation vis-à-vis Indian situation. While we have a long way to go, progressive employers can make a head start by talking about it, creating awareness among their employees to recognize a psychological distress, encouraging them to be open about it, doing the preliminary self-diagnosis, and seeking professional help in resolving the issue.
Secondly, the health and safety policies have to be adapted to include these aspects of mental health. Leadership skills of managers have to be honed to recognize the issue and hold these critical conversations with their peers and subordinates.
Last but not the least, people have to understand common causes that give rise to high levels of psychological distress in employees and their linkages with the workplace. All of us need to be made aware of this and make changes in our behaviours so that we do not cause the distress to our colleagues knowingly or unknowingly.
Some organizations have providing counsellors whom the employees can approach confidentially to seek help. However, this approach isn’t the best because we cannot outsource our mental well-being to our employers and neither this is killing the social stigma associated with mental health.
It’s time that we get real, talk about it openly and learn the brass tacks to deal with it.