“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour, and more unashamed conversation.” – Glenn Close.
In this day and age, there is virtually no job that is stress-free. A fast-paced, demanding corporate culture has left many employees depressed and anxious about deadlines, targets, job-security, and a poor work-life balance.
However, corporates, especially in India, have always tiptoed around the subject of mental health. There could be a myriad of reasons for this.
Some of the more obvious ones are that companies may require to overhaul their stress-inducing work policies if they start discussing mental health issues openly. Or it could be that corporates have not made provisions for the infrastructure or the budgets to handle these kinds of issues. Mental health is also possibly swept under the carpet because it is still taboo, or corporates do not think their employees’ mental health is their concern, as long as productivity does not suffer. At least not on the surface level.
Whatever the underlying reasons are, the overarching truth is that productivity is highly dependent on mental health. If employees are not mentally healthy, productivity will suffer.
So, what exactly is mental health?
“Mental health…is not a destination, but a process. It’s about how you drive, not where you’re going.” – Noam Shpancer, PhD
The WHO defines mental health as mental well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities and can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and contribute to his or her community.
This definition in itself explains why thinking, emoting, interacting, earning a living and enjoying life depends on an individual’s mental health. Since it is also required to function efficiently in the workplace, it becomes the business of corporations to sit up and take notice of their employees’ mental health.
In recent years many factors have contributed to the deterioration of mental health. But this deterioration has only been compounded by the recent COVID-19 situation and the lockdown that ensued.
The Post-Lockdown Scenario & Factors Affecting Employees’ Mental Health
It is quite normal to feel low, stressed, or frightened during difficult times. But when a person does not have the ability or the resources to cope with a prolonged, demanding situation, it can impact their mental health and affect their ability to work and interact with others.
1. Overwhelming emotions
The COVID-19 lockdown has been one such deeply impacting factor. It has made huge mental demands on employees and has brought a mixed bag of several prolonged negative emotions- uncertainty, fear, isolation, loneliness, stress, anxiety, boredom and accentuation of physical conditions that were previously ignored.
Although the lockdown has been lifted and things are slowly limping back to normal in India, most people continue to work from home. However, there still lingers nagging feelings of stress, uncertainty, and anxiousness that many have experienced during the lockdown.
2. Added stress of working from home
In a recent study conducted among Indian employees by The 7th Fold, 44% of employees working full-time from home reported anxiety issues. 28% of work-from-home employees felt burnt out, 48% were stressed because of deadlines, and 35% of employees working from home were worried about their own or their family’s mental health.
The mental well-being of employees who worked for 13 hours and more (including house chores, children schooling and office work) was much worse than those who worked for fewer hours.
This shows there are significant levels of stress that need to be addressed.
3. Difficulties of those going to the office
But it is not just the remote employees whose mental well-being is at risk. Employees who are required to go into the office are also bearing the brunt of the pandemic!
The strain of holding the fort, travelling to work when the risk is high, lack of proper transportation, and taking on added responsibilities (often at a reduced salary) also takes a toll on them.
There is a predominant understanding that businesses need to be sustained for the short term through the pandemic, but it cannot be done at the cost of their employees’ mental well-being.
Why organisations should regularly check on their employees’ mental well-being
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.” – Fred Rogers
Studies have shown that companies with high levels of mental health awareness are more successful as compared to those that ignore these issues. Also, addressing well-being at work increases productivity by up to 12%.
But, deteriorating levels of mental health can only be tackled through the cooperation of both employees and management.
1. High-stress levels
Stress is one of the most significant factors that impact mental and physical well-being.
Indian employees face a host of factors that cause stress.
The study conducted by The 7th Fold revealed that 50% of employees in India were stressed and anxious about the uncertainty caused by the pandemic; this was followed by stress about personal finances (40%) and career growth (40%).
This is definitely a good reason for employers to sit up and take notice.
2. Huge costs to employers
Stress always finds a way to surface. When it manifests itself in physical illness, absenteeism, low productivity etc., companies face huge losses and possible costs to recruit new talent.
So, in truth, it makes more business sense to have a mental health strategy in place that saves time, effort, and, more importantly, costs.
3. Reluctance to admit mental health issues
Many workers are scared or embarrassed to admit taking time out for mental health reasons. This could be because of the fear of judgement.
It is, therefore, imperative that businesses discuss the issue of mental health openly. The leaders at the top have to forge this path and lead by example.
Spreading mental health awareness in the workplace is also vital to promote an inclusive workplace, where people feel excluded because they find it difficult to cope or because they are stressed and anxious.
5. A question of survival
Employees are the biggest assets for an organisation. Without them being healthy and productive, organisations may not be able to recover business costs or even survive the effects of the pandemic.
Therefore, it is now more imperative than ever for companies to implement mental health initiatives.
Employee Counselling – Common Questions Answered (and more)
“The experience I have had is that once you start talking about [experiencing a mental health struggle], you realise that actually, you’re part of quite a big club.” — Prince Harry
1. What is counselling?
Employee counselling is a dialogue between an employee and a counsellor/manager/superior. It is a technique used to provide assistance and support to employees facing problems.
2. Who is it for?
A counselling session is conducted by supervisors, managers or a trained counsellor to listen to, understand problems and provide guidance, advice and/or suggest ways to solve them. It is mainly to provide job-related, personal and confidential help to those who are facing such issues. But everyone can benefit from such sessions in one way or the other.
3. When is it required?
Employee counselling is mainly conducted when employees are emotionally stressed, anxious, or have other workplace issues.
4. Why is it important?
It is becoming an increasingly popular tool among HR to attract/ retain talent, improve employee mental health, and get them back to being productive.
How can companies use employee counselling to create a happier workforce?
“I understand your pain. Trust me, I do. I’ve seen people go from the darkest moments in their lives to living a happy, fulfilling life. You can do it too. I believe in you. You are not a burden. You will NEVER BE a burden.” — Sophie Turner
Currently, workers are in survival mode- they are just working on getting through the day but have not dealt with what they have been through physically, emotionally, socially, and mentally.
But eventually, the stress and emotions that have not been dealt with will surface. Counselling is an effective tool to keep employees in good mental shape.
Workers benefit because:
1. They feel like the organisation cares
When employees are left to deal with their problems on their own, they feel like the organisation does not really care.
Investing in employees’ mental welfare and showing concern, makes them feel that the organisation cares about them as human beings and can understand what they are going through. This tends to result in more content employees who are less likely to hop organisations looking for greener pastures.
2. They get an emotional release
Counselling provides an outlet to release emotions and stress. Therefore counselling can be effective in helping employees face their routine problems and better deal with their issues.
The fact that they can talk to someone about their problems is a huge deal. This, in itself, is a significant emotional release.
3. They do not feel alone
Showing employees that they are not alone in their struggles and that the organisation is with them every step of the way can help them have the courage and confidence to face their issues and stress.
4. They get guidance or a different perspective
Many times, employees over-emphasize their problems. As a result, they perceive themselves as unable to overcome these.
Trained counsellors can also give the stressed employee a different perspective on the challenges inside their minds and help them understand and efficiently deal with what they are going through.
5. They can be reoriented
Counselling helps employees gain clarity and take control of their job and life and maintain a healthy balance between their work and personal life.
The emotional release tends to result in clarity of thought. The counsellor can also suggest a change in fundamental values and goals, which can result in the reorientation of the employee.
Benefits to the Company
1. It helps maintain productivity
Counselling is essential to manage employee stress so as to maintain effective levels of productivity and efficiency.
Improving the mental health of your employees – making them mentally tough enough to face pandemic stress – improves thinking, decision-making, workflow, intra-office relationships and increases productivity.
2. It helps decrease turnover
Counselling also helps with employees’ psychological and behavioural issues, thus helping them become better human beings and more loyal, enthusiastic, and committed to their workplace. Happy employees are loyal employees.
3. It creates a positive workplace environment
The subject of mental health is still taboo for many. Employers have an essential role to play in educating employees about mental health and encouraging an open dialogue. Providing accessible resources like counselling that offer support and awareness can help create an inclusive and positive workplace that fosters engagement and attracts good quality talent.
4. It focuses on prevention rather than cure
People spend approximately 60% of their time at work. That work can be a mixed bag of stress, deadlines, performance pressure, job security issues, varied personalities and behaviour of co-workers, management styles, etc. Educating employees about healthy ways to cope with stress makes all the difference. It can help address problems before they become overwhelming and costly for the organisation.
5. Reduce costs and risk
Promoting good mental health can also be an astute financial decision for businesses.
Investing in a workplace with a less stressed and anxious workforce can help bring down costs by reducing absenteeism (employees frequently absent due to illness) and presenteeism (at work, but ill and distracted), as well as lost productivity.
Delivering an effective mental healthcare program is not easy as there is no standard blueprint suitable for all organisations.
Every organisation and profession has unique employees, situations, and stressors. The management needs to assess the issues within their organisation and put together a genuine strategy to address the problems particular to it.
However, counselling is generally an effective way of improving morale, commitment performance, and productivity in the workplace.The management needs to assess the issues within their organisation and put together a genuine strategy to address the problems particular to it. Click To Tweet
It helps to develop a healthy working environment in which employees can contribute, grow and learn.
Companies may have to consider factors like accessibility and affordability, but without functional mental health resource policies in place, the organisation could lose valuable talent and run the risk of high costs.
And now, it’s your turn! If you have any interesting thoughts or experiences regarding dealing with stress and employee counselling, leave us a comment or get in touch with us- we would love to hear from you!