Having an experience panning over two decades, Satya is the Chief Business Officer at Grant Thornton Bharat. He started his career as a software engineer and moved into project and people management roles as he advanced in his career. His role further evolved over last 12 years into carrying out more strategic, operational, innovative and financially significant functions. Over the last two decades, he has worked for 6 years in the United States and the rest in India. Satya completed his undergraduate degree in Computer Engineering, and also did an Executive Business Management course from IIM Calcutta. A PMI-certified Project Management Professional, Satya is currently pursuing a program to become a certified executive coach from International school of coaching mastery, New York.
Stigma attached to one of the most common problem is an irony in itself. Often conversations around mental health start with a misconception that it is a negative thing. Let us first clear the air around what mental health is, before we discuss this subject in further detail.
Mental health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, and affects how we think, feel, and act. It should not be interchanged with mental illness and does not denote a sign of weakness.
Circumstances at home, originating from personal family reasons, stress at workplace, financial pressures, societal demands etc. can impact any person’s mental equilibrium. These days the constant craving of being liked and accepted on social media platforms has become one such source of triggering mental health issue. With changing lifestyles and a significant portion of society living independently, sometimes lack of company creates that emotional imbalance where one doesn’t find anyone to express their thoughts and insecurities with.
In 1700s, being mentally unhealthy was considered a stigma and people thought patients were religiously punished. Fast forward to 2019-2021 – people have started to grasp the prevalence of mental health challenges, in their personal and professional lives. In the corporate world, the issues of mental health and its deterioration has garnered the attention of employees and employers. In 2020, mental health became a true business imperative and the need to address the same got heightened much like diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
According to Oracle’s 2020 AI@Work Study, 84% Indians have reportedly experienced more stress and/or anxiety at work than any year before. 85% say mental health issues at work negatively affect their home/ personal life. Also, interestingly, 92% of those surveyed in India were more comfortable talking about their mental issues with a robot than a manager! These findings reflect on the dearth of policy support at workplace, in reference to mental health and also highlight the lack of understanding on the subject. With millions suffering from mental health issues today, it no longer is a stigma, and people have started accepting this condition with empathy and extending their support.
Mental health is not necessarily a phrase having a negative connotation, rather it can be multifaceted. Good mental health can improve quality of life, whereas poor mental health can worsen it. More recently, with the Covid-19 pandemic hitting most families and professionals in one way or the other, the awareness has grown manifold. What can be seen or is physical in nature is relatively easier to fix, what can’t be seen, is most difficult to address. If an individual is mentally healthy, s/he spreads cheer around themselves and is energised, more productive at work and satisfied in life. If an individual in not mentally healthy, there is a lack of focus, as attention gets diverted, and productivity takes a direct hit. Not only that but according to a study published in the Administrative Science Quarterly, new hires diagnosed with anxiety, depression or high levels of stress are likely to transmit these feelings to their new co-workers too, hence impacting the overall morale and feeling of well-being across the organisation.
Let us also look at some statistics to see the economic impact of the same. As per NCBI, data from different countries around the world indicate that mental health problems are a cause for a number of employees dropping out of work. Even in much developed economies like Netherlands, around 58% of the work-related disabilities are related to mental health. In the UK, it is estimated that around 30–40% of the sickness absence is attributable to some form of mental illness (15.4 million workdays annually). Mental health problems have an impact on employers and businesses directly through increased absenteeism, negative impact on productivity and profits, as well as an increase in the costs while dealing with such issues. The estimated cost to the global economy due to depression and anxiety is US$ 1 trillion per year. 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. In addition, they impact employee morale adversely. Besides the economic impact, the individuals are impacted by growing tension in their working relations with supervisors, and their learning and career growth is stunted.
So, what can organisations and employees do to address the same?
In a survey conducted by Gi Group – only 14 per cent of the employers surveyed were found to have policies and mechanisms receptive to mental wellness. About 54 per cent of the respondents have not put formal policies and mechanisms in place for mental health and this is a big area of improvement for corporates.
Mental health of employees needs to be enhanced not just through certain day offs and counselling sessions but through a sustained and well thought out strategy that is also on an organisation’s key agenda. Employers need to be more supportive than ever, either through policies that empower people to take time off, or through engagement programmes where health care professionals can provide support. Counselling, medication, or variety of other physical/mental well-being programs also help.
With hybrid work arrangements in today’s times, empathy from leadership, better work hours, formal mental health policies, and allowing employees to strike a work-life balance will help employers cultivate a healthy workforce. From appreciation leaves, better processes in place for informal connects to Yoga, meditation, counselling etc. help in fostering a psychologically safe work environment. I vividly remember how one of our employees lost her father to covid and was torn. She had a lot to juggle, between everyone’s safety, taking care of her mother and working side by side. The firm provided her with counseling support, which helped her mother to cope better. This helped our employee in managing her mental wellbeing and we couldn’t have been more relieved.
Organisations that are able to take care of its people and their mental well-being needs are the ones who shall cultivate motivated and grateful employees. These conscious and responsible companies will eventually move towards growth, on the foundation of a strong culture that keeps all stakeholders together, in times of need.