By Mansi Goyal, Dr Moitrayee Das
The Covid-19 pandemic has intensified the already dwindling scenario of workplace mental health challenges, forcing employers to take a sharp look towards a holistic and methodical approach to workplace mental health. The discussion and debates around the need for conversations, resources, and policies around mental health are stronger than ever. The pandemic has done its bit to help people focus on the urgent need to talk about the much stigmatised topic and also help break the stigma to a certain extent for them to actually go ahead and get the necessary treatment for their specific mental health issues.
It is highly likely that there is one person in your team who is living with a mental illness right now, perhaps without being aware of it themselves. While it is important to understand that one’s struggle with their mental health is a personal one, the impact of mental illnesses transcends beyond personal and dives deep into the professional arena too (Illness + Absenteeism + Presenteeism) leading organisations to bear huge costs for the same. According to the WHO, the lack of treatment of depression and anxiety disorders alone would amount to a total loss of 12 billion workdays by 2030.
A 2019 study by a mental health charity in the UK found that 42.5% of the employees in corporate India (private sector) experience mental health issues such as depression or some form of anxiety disorder. Undoubtedly, the numbers have tripled due to the pandemic. This reinforces the emphasis on formulating mental health policies in the workplace. The health of your organisation is determined by the health of your employees.
People often avoid seeking help (therapy/counselling) because they fear it will put them at a risk with their jobs. This is astounding but at the same time expected because we are trained to keep our mental health problems in the hush-hush. It is urgent to acknowledge that workplaces actively contribute to the well-being of the individuals working there as it is also a space they spend most of their time in. This calls for making these spaces healthy and conducive for their mental health.
Creating and investing in a diverse and inclusive organisational culture is of sole importance for ensuring the good mental health of the employees. This is because people are different, they come from different backgrounds and identify with different identities that affect and shape their daily experiences which further affect their mental health. To acknowledge these differences is the first step and to accommodate them is the second. Mental health struggles are not caused internally but very much by the external environment that the individuals are thriving in. Stigma against mental health, lack of awareness and resources, and discriminatory attitudes/culture make workplaces difficult to navigate and oftentimes triggering spaces for individuals.
Some companies have begun putting efforts into making their workplace workable for their employees. Meesho, an online marketplace like several other companies including LinkedIn, Bumble and Nike, announced a 10-day work break for its employees to un-plug themselves by implementing a ‘reset and recharge’ policy (Awasthi, 2021). Myntra, a fashion e-commerce company, introduced ‘unlimited wellness leaves’ for its employees (Awasthi, 2021 & Basu & Sarkar, 2021). Microsoft renamed its sick leave as sick and mental health leave leading to an uptick in the usage of these leaves. However, as of now, a survey revealed that only 14% of companies have proper policies and mechanisms for mental health in place as opposed to 54% displaying an absence of any mechanism (Saraswathy, 2021).
Need for Policies
While some companies are actively focusing on improving the work-life balance of their employees, there is a need for policies against discrimination and harassment of individuals based on race, caste, gender, sex, colour and class because these factors are crucial contributors to one’s mental health. While formalised policies and guidelines will increase the acceptance, acknowledgment, and normalisation of mental health issues at the workplace, it is also necessary that these policies do not just remain on paper.
Successful implementation and healthy practice of these policies will only happen when the various stakeholders occupying the workplace (employees, leaders, etc) cooperate. Overcoming the stigma immediately is not possible, hence formalisation comes to the rescue as individuals are bound and obliged to respect them. This informs the need of bringing up a conversation on mental health, diversity and mental health policies in the education and training of employees/leaders such that it’s actively discussed in MBA classrooms along with other course content.
Individuals experiencing mental health problems require to be treated with compassion rather than judgments and unwelcome opinions. They have a life outside of their workplaces, something that is important to understand even more so now because Work from Home (WFH) has blurred these boundaries. Hence, you may not be able to control those factors, but being considerate is important.
Last but not the least, policy-making and curating resources need to be done carefully. It may help to reach out to professionals such as mental health activists, psychologists/psychiatrists, advocates or organisations that are working on the same, especially around the intersection of mental health and social justice.
Having mental health policies alone will not erase the indoctrinated stigma but is a step ahead, and it is necessary to start a conversation and to speak up because it is about time that the individuals with mental health problems do not suffer in silence and behind their facades of ‘I am fine’ or ‘socially acceptable’ excuses. In a world of capitalism that manoeuvres us to breathe money, employees are humans first, not money vending machines.
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