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Addressing the stigma around mental health at workplace

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Dr Prashant Kumar Dash, Director-Medical Services, elucidates on the importance of addressing the stigma around mental health for a better life

After investing in one’s education, a person aspires to enter the workforce and earn enough to live his or her desired life – one of contentment and satisfaction. However, for a large number of Indians, employment doesn’t turn out to be so. A recent survey of 500 people by ASSOCHAM indicated that about 14 per cent of the respondents experienced workplace fatigue and a tenth revealed that they had sleeping disorders. Another 10 per cent indicated that although they had no disease, they still felt that their health was poor. Some major causes of workplace stress in India include:

  • Lack of respect at the workplace.
  • Negative work-life balance.
  • Excessive and unpaid overtime.
  • Inability to take feedback from superiors in a constructive manner.
  • Lack of support from the manager.
  • Neglect.

Prolonged stress over time can take a toll on people and lead to chronic diseases and mental health disorders. According to data, no less than 85 per cent of employees suffering from mental health issues slip under the radar and remain either undiagnosed or untreated. There is reluctance in talking about mental health issues, given the stigma attached to it. People prefer to suffer silently instead of sharing their problems. A majority of employers in India consider mental wellness to be the responsibility of the employees. Attention is not given to factors like excessive/insufficient work, poor workplace atmosphere and lack of employee engagement. Workplace stress and the resulting mental health issues can further lead to absenteeism and under-performance, thus costing businesses a lot of money in the form of lost productivity.

The need of the hour is to remove the stigma associated with mental health, especially at the workplace. Mental health is a crucial performance metric and must become one of the key elements of assessing human resource development in any organisation. There are a number of measures that employers can take to curb mental illnesses and reduce stress among their employees.

Monitoring and engaging

Employees must feel valued in the workplace. When they feel isolated or are kept out of the loop, they can lose focus. This is more critical in customer/public facing roles or field jobs. Immediate managers or top management must conduct periodic meetings, one-on-one discussions, etc. The message that must be communicated is that, ‘Support is available and that you are not alone.’

Fostering self-care

Fatigue is a malaise that can negatively impact a person, even on the professional front. Employees who are physically and mentally healthy are an asset and business owners must foster a culture of self-care among them. Encouraging them to focus on their physical and mental well-being is key.

Creating delightful workplaces

A state-of-the-art office in a smart building is not the only aspect of an employee-friendly workplace. The real differentiator is a company’s work culture. Smaller, but impactful steps, such as setting up a counselling helpline or an ‘open door’ work culture can prove beneficial to employees. They should have clarity about their role and future growth in the organisation. It is about investing ‘value’ in employees which results in ‘better’ output.

In conclusion

Overlooking the mental health of employees can only lead to loss of productivity, reduction in the quality of work, and even major operational errors. Workplace stress and the associated mental health issues are realities Indian organisations must address immediately. Due to a stigma, the subject has been turned into an ‘elephant in the room’ that nobody wishes to address. Though there are policies being put in place by certain organisations, the situation is far from ideal. Employers are the leaders of their business and must take steps to ensure good mental health among their employees. Time has come for India Inc. to take note!

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