Asheesh Chanda, Founder & CEO, Kristal.AI

Asheesh has over 15 years of experience in the financial industry and established Kristal.AI in 2016 to bring personalised wealth management to the mass affluent class. With Kristal.AI, he aims to cater for a segment that has traditionally been overlooked by banks. He oversees all company operations and spearheads strategy and product development, as well as client acquisition and company growth. Asheesh also personally oversees the Kristal Founders Fund – a high performance hedge fund strategy that manages money for Kristal.AI founders and key clients.

 

One lesser-known thing that life in a startup and corporate world teaches you is the many definitions of the term ‘burnout’. Over the years, burnout has taken various shapes & forms, right from ‘feeling overworked’ to ‘not being able to maintain a work-life balance’ to the pandemic-induced ‘zoom fatigue’. But it is in the last few years that we have collectively come to understand that burnout, fatigue, feeling overwhelmed, work-induced stress, all fall under the larger umbrella of poor mental health.

As with physical health (and maybe even more so), your mental health has a direct impact on your energy levels, motivation, moods, and as a result your overall performance in the workplace. In fact, lack of good mental health not only affects an individual’s performance & motivation at the workplace, but also impacts personal life and physical health & well-being.

Over the last decade or so, organizations have accepted and understood the need for physical health, and have built the appropriate infrastructure for it. It is very common to see companies offering their employees gym memberships, health insurance packages, healthy food options, company-organized marathons, and sporting events.

However what’s not common are systems and events put in place to drive mental health & wellness. A survey conducted by The7thFold says that, 36% of Indian employees have been battling a mental health issue over the last couple of years. While the pandemic has severely impacted the mental health of office goers, it isn’t a cause for mental health issues. A body’s physical health is bound to deteriorate in the absence of regular exercise, healthy nutrition, and good care. Very similarly, a person’s mental health cannot remain healthy without a conscious effort to keep it fit. Mental health issues aren’t a “weakness”, they are a part of regular wear & tear. All they require is care & maintenance through activities such as self-care, therapy, and in some case, medication.

Every organization should have employee wellbeing at the top of their priority lists. Along with a conducive work environment, health benefits, and regular leave provisions now it is extremely important to institute measures and programs to ensure mental well-being of our employees as well as encourage open dialogue around mental wellness across all levels. 

The first step towards achieving this is to accept the need for mental wellness for employees and ourselves. It is important to realize and accept that no person in any organisation can function at their 100% all the time. People are bound to have their high & low days, hence it’s very important to not only acknowledge that, but also build systems to support them during their low days. We’ve all had days when your mind just refuses to get out of bed and get to your work desk. This feeling is felt across the organisation, from an intern to the CEO. It is important to embrace this feeling and tell yourself that “it’s okay”. 

Some new age organisations have even instituted a category of leaves called ‘Mental Health Days’. This idea is invariably benefitting because it completely takes away the anxiety and awkwardness of telling your boss you’ve got a fever or a headache, even when it’s obvious to your boss that you’re just having a low day. Such systems need to be in place and they need to flow from the top. And flow from the top doesn’t mean that the senior management merely encouraging the mental wellness agenda. As leaders, we tend to put too much pressure on ourselves, to be perfect, indestructible and immovable and feel a 100% all the time.

The most common pitfall in building any organisation’s mental health programs, is to not exclude yourself from this process. Embracing, and even being open about your own vulnerability when it comes to your mental health, can have a strong long-term impact in building a mentally healthy work culture. This is what ‘leading from the front’ really looks like. When junior employees see their senior management talking about mental health, being open about their own burnout, and making it a point to take mental breaks, the culture is bound to trickle all the way to the bottom of the organisation. We’ve heard only too many times that subordinates don’t leave the office at 6pm because the boss is still at work. Its high-time we hear subordinates taking a Mental Health Day off, because their boss did too.

As an industry, we must encourage all the senior management teams to take their mental health seriously. To take work breaks, set boundaries in terms of work and reachability hours, and practice me-time hobbies right from practicing a sport to playing an instrument to as simple as spending time with kids and family.

Companies today are doing events to reinforce their Mental Wellness agenda. Right from appreciation events, physical fitness classes, and talent showcases to encourage employees to pursue a hobby. They are also working in mental health into their health benefits offerings to employees. Many companies have empaneled mental wellness experts and are now sponsoring completely anonymous mental therapy sessions for their employees. This marks for a great start.

While the objective of any employee initiative is productivity in the long-term, with mental wellness, we should look at productivity as a secondary or a welcome spillover outcome. The primary outcome here is my team’s happiness and sense of fulfillment in both, professional and personal capacities.

According to Oracle’s AI@Work Study, 92% of Indian employees prefer discussing mental health issues with robots than managers. This is what we should all collectively aim at changing. Leading a digital private wealth management company, I fully believe that AI & bots are the future, however, as with wealth management, there’s a strong human and relationship-building element to mental wellness. Our employees need to feel much more comfortable discussing mental health with their seniors and with each other in the organization. It’s a long process, but one that needs to be embarked upon at the earliest. Mental Wellness is no longer a nice-to-have but a must-have aspect of employee productivity and business growth.

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