Mental health is a broad topic and one that hasn’t been talked about in the Indian corporate ecosystem enough. Yet, its ripples can be felt far and wide in the corporate today, more today than a year or two ago. So, in the fourth episode of the ATT webinar – Mental Health: Awareness to Action, we explored how HR can play a role in mental health.
The goal of these webinars is to bring the HR community together, foster a culture of mutual growth, and encourage professionals to communicate, exchange ideas, and grow as leaders by learning from the experiences of industry leaders. These talks, held once a month, are available live for people to join in and interact with our panellists.
For this session, Prashant Sharma, Manager – Marketing at Info Edge India Ltd, sat down with two industry stalwarts:
- Geetanjali Wheeler – Vice President of Learning and Development, Macquarie Group
- Sarabjeet Singh Gill – Associate Director, HR & Talent Acquisition at CloudMoyo
During the conversation, the three explored not only who can play a role in bringing more mental health awareness in an organisation but also what action you can take.
Q: What has been one personal positive and one professional positive for you since the pandemic?
Geetanjali: An integration of personal and professional, hybrid working is the biggest positive post-COVID. It brings the best of two worlds, allowing me to feel empowered and make the right choice based on what needs attention – my work, family, or health.
Sarabjeet: On a personal front and as a new parent, it’s the ability to spend time with my kid. COVID became a blessing in disguise for families and relationships. The professional front is the new wave of tools enabling everyone to work from anywhere, helping individuals stay local but global.
Q: Are mental health wellness and a program specifically for it HR’s responsibility? How do we build capabilities to manage mental health situations?
Sarabjeet: A recent report states that 17% of the Indian population is impacted by depression, anxiety, and mental stress. That tells us the responsibility of mental health wellness lies with each one of us. That said, HR can be in the driver’s seat to execute such a program and guide the organisation.
To build those capabilities, we need to acknowledge and normalise the gamut of feelings affecting employees. Also, create a stress-free environment, expressly because personal and professional lives are blurred now.
A few best practices for mental health wellness are forced time off and wellness allowance. If your budget doesn’t allow this, get creative, like investing in virtual social interactions. Use collaboration tools where people can have water cooler conversations. Start with coffee breaks within the project teams or with HR.
Geetanjali: It’s everyone’s responsibility because there is a strong connection between an individual and the organisation. Mental wellness impacts how we perform at work, how we perform at work impacts our team’s performance, our team’s performance impacts the department’s performance, and that impacts the organisation’s performance. Essentially, one person can have a domino effect.
As to building capability, those do not form unless it is on the CEO’s agenda. Once it is part of the agenda, it gets measured. And what gets measured gets improved as well.
Furthermore, let HR be the core, the anchor, but work on training and sensitising managers. At the individual or team level, create employee network groups, led by an employee, where people come together to share and brainstorm.
Q: Do you think mental health frameworks and perks will come into play a lot more in the coming time while hiring and attracting top talent?
Sarabjeet: Providing a wellbeing framework will become one of the key differentiators for organisations when recruiting or retaining top talent. This goes beyond low-cost healthcare benefits, culture, and unlimited time off. People want organisations that invest in employee wellness and where they can share with the leadership team.
It’s not only about employees. If organisations can bring the entire family as part of executing the program, that will go a long way in retaining employees.
Q: What are the apparent signs of being mindful of mental health? And can the initial steps be handled at a managerial level across the teams using sensitivity training and standardization?
Geetanjali: The triggers of mental health issues are never a single fold and occur at home, at work or a combination thereof. And yes, if you are mindful of early signs, help is possible. Look for small isolated incidents like being withdrawn, extremely low, taking a lot of time off, getting frustrated easily or showing a dip in performance.
The early conversations can be easily handled with some managerial sensitivity and awareness. Training is a starting point for developing the skills of managers. But for it to be effective, you have to ring-fence. Tie all the efforts together, be it leadership-connect sessions, wellness programs or training, and make it work like well-oiled machinery.
Also, teach managers to stay connected. Use the check-ins to find out what is happening in another person’s life, not merely to-do actions or performance conversations. Make them a ritual. That will give employees time to develop trust and managers to understand the person well enough to judge warning signs.
Timing is just as critical. As is equipping managers with tools and resources to assist themselves. Another is encouraging people managers to talk about their vulnerabilities, how they are taking care of their wellness, and what challenges they are facing. It pushes others to share as well, and that leads to peer learning and support.
Q: As an HR leader, what would you recommend if an employee is diagnosed with either depression or extreme aggression?
Sarabjeet: The first step is to offer flexibility in terms of work arrangements, be it time off, a longer sabbatical, part-time work or reduced hours. Give them time to invest in health. Tie up with insurance companies to ensure that the cost of consulting a professional is covered, and the employee doesn’t have to worry about the financial aspect of getting treatment.
The second step is to sensitise teams without disclosing any information. Talk about it and try to model healthy behaviours. Since the underlying reason for a lot of stress is a lack of routine, I recommend establishing one. Work out a fixed schedule with the respective managers, particularly if you follow a remote setup.
A piece of advice given to us by a counsellor is to have a dedicated space in your home as a mini-office. It helps create a psychological disconnect. Once you are out of that chair, you know the work hours end and your personal life begins.
Q: Moving from awareness to action, how does one handle someone diagnosed with a mental health issue?
Geetanjali: Treat mental illness more sensitively than physical illness. For that, we need to eliminate the surrounding stigma. Next, offer the individual the flexibility of choice. In addition, empower managers who have an actual case within their team because they may not know how to deal with the specific mental issue. Keep in mind, being aware is very different from genuinely facilitating someone’s journey to recovery.
Q: How can we let a business own a mental health champion agenda rather than make it an HR initiative? How do you get senior leadership on board?
Sarabjeet: A McKinsey report finds 54% of employees leave because they don’t feel valued by their managers, while 51% of employees leave because they don’t feel a sense of belonging at work. A wellness agenda takes care of both aspects. So, that’s where you hit the senior leadership. Make it clear by not investing in mental health, they’ll have a higher attrition rate.
Geetanjali: As someone who has worked with organisations that see the benefit of mental wellness and those which didn’t, my advice is to have faith. Keep investing and reinforcing the need for a mental health agenda because you’re absolutely right. You will open a door one day.
Q: What would be a general or standard mental health framework from an HR point of view within an organisation?
Sarabjeet: Don’t focus on just one aspect. Four intrinsic human factors add to everything—physical, mental, spiritual, and financial. Work on each of them.
Geetanjali: I’ll share a tip here. Keep hunting for a mental health champion, and when you find the first one, make them your ambassador. Also, when you email employees to attend sessions, send it from leaders, it gets the stone rolling, and slowly things begin to change.