Hemnat Sethi, Country Head, British Safety Council India

As the Country leader for the British Safety Council, Hemant played an integral part in managing the successful launch of the British Safety Council’s India operation. Some of his key contributions during this time include the recruitment and onboarding of a local team, growing the British Safety Council’s presence in the market and identifying the critical areas of impact (campaigning) for the British Safety Council moving forward. Prior to this, Hemant worked with British Airways in South Asia in various management roles in Commercial, Customer Experience & Operations.

 

Across the world, stress related to work is one of the most significant issues for employees in several organisations. With a seminal change in workload and job descriptions in recent years, a spike in personal stress levels has been a major consequence associated with this changing work environment. 

Mental wellbeing in India

Almost every single country in the world is suffering from myriad issues related to work stress. A European opinion poll conducted by EU-OSHA had found that more than half of all workers considered stress to be common in their workplace. In 2017, the Stevenson/Farmer review Thriving at work estimated that 15 per cent of UK workers have an existing mental health condition. 

In India, surveys conducted last year by Optum and 1to1help.net, two of the leading providers of employee assistance programmes to Indian organisations, showed a significant increase in the number of workers who are severely depressed or who are vulnerable to taking their lives due to rising stress levels. The World Health Organization estimates that India will suffer economic losses amounting to a staggering 1.03 trillion dollars from mental health conditions between 2012 and 2030. 

Work related stress, a major factor

In most of the surveys, the oft repeated factors that were found to be causes of work-related stress were job reorganisation or job insecurity; working long hours or excessive workloads; and bullying or harassment. But a bigger cause of concern is that many workers think that stress is not handled well in their workplace.

Workplace policies and activities to promote and protect employee mental health and wellbeing vary widely. Although there is some good work, employees with poor mental wellbeing are less likely to disclose it to an employer. If they do disclose it they are also less likely to feel supported than if they had a physical condition. While there has been collective effort in recent years amongst businesses in general to augment employee engagement and wellbeing by creating a supportive environment for their people, research shows that when it comes to managing stress, organisations are possibly not putting their best foot forward. 

This is probably the reason why many employees are also relying on the internet to seek help. In the study of top Google searches in 2016 in the UK, it found that work featured in five of the top ten-year words for stress and work-life balance. ‘Time management’ rendered nearly 100,000 average yearly searches. ‘Work stress’; 34,440 searches and work-life balance; 23,160 searches. People also looked up how to ‘reduce work stress’ 12,720 times and ‘pressure at work’, 9,480 times.

Moreover, longer hours at work and work stress are in direct proportion to each other considering that the latter mostly leaves people feeling that it is important to work longer in a bid to boost productivity. However, the fact is that spending longer hours on a project doesn’t always mean more is achieved. People often do not realise that the quality of time spent working is more vital because working five hours at hundred per cent efficiency is better than eight hours at fifty per cent efficiency.

Managing workplace stress 

Managing workplace stress is important for organisations. They are in a better position to offer practical solutions such as flexi-hours or stress management programmes that include mental wellness. Such initiatives can boost employee confidence and make them feel that their role in the workplace is really important. It works for corporations as well because good health equals good business.

The British Safety Council (BSC), a global body that is at the forefront to keep people as safe and healthy as possible at their workplaces, has published a guide for Managing Stress at Work and recommends stress management standards to be followed across the UK.  Some of these recommendations include the following:

Maintain good communication: They can ensure that their employees feel valued and that they encourage a culture of openness. It is essential for managers to continuously have open lines of communication with their team members about their wellbeing.

Flexible work options: Companies can try to ensure that jobs are more flexible, depending on individual circumstances. Wherever possible, it is advisable to consult with employees before making any changes or taking any decisions that are likely to affect them. Employees need to be encouraged to ask questions so that they feel involved.

Understand and learn more about stress relievers: Organisations need to be more proactive in knowing about stress so they can point their team to extra support and help them to deal with it. Managers could point employees to mindfulness apps or podcasts which are known to be of good help in stress management. 

Pay attention to early signs of stress: Managers need to be more attuned to the signs of stress among their subordinates. Some common early signs of stress are poor concentration, low mood, feeling overwhelmed and irritability. If managers come across any of these signs in team members, they need to check in with them. 

Practice what you preach: Senior managers need to actively promote a healthy lifestyle by having a good work-life balance, managing working hours, using full holiday entitlement and taking lunch breaks. 

It is now more important than ever for organisations and employees to come together and ensure that stress and mental health problems are treated with the seriousness that they deserve.

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