Sonica Aron, Founder and Managing Partner, Marching Sheep

Sonica Aron is the Founder and Managing Partner of Marching Sheep, an HR advisory firm  specializing in Strategic HR advisory, Diversity and inclusion interventions and capability  building.  An XLRI post graduate, Sonica has worked with companies like Pepsico, Vodafone, Roche  Diagnostics and ICI paints. She started her career with a sound understanding of business  where she went route-riding with Pepsico and was part of the team that launched Pepsi 200 ml  at Rs 5. She was the first lady HR Manager stationed at a factory in Upcountry UP and there the  seeds to her diversity practice were born.  

 

There has been significant increase in the focus on mental health issues. There are more people having conversations and discussions around it, urging the society to drop the taboo and the stigma associated with mental illnesses and so on. And yet, the battle is not yet won. 

As per the Deloitte Global Millennial survey 2020, an alarming 48 per cent of Gen Z and 44 per cent of millennials feel stressed or anxious on a majority of occasions. The reasons range from long-term career goals, financial outlook, family welfare, and environmental concerns. 

Well, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the stigma around mental health in workplaces and the society still persists because as revealed by a survey, approximately half of the percentage who took some time off from work due to job related stress provided a different reason for their absence. Many people struggling with anxiety or panic attacks often shy away from even sharing about their condition with friends and family members for fear of being judged, being seen as weak, being mocked or ridiculed.

WHO also estimates that about 7.5 per cent Indians suffer from some mental disorder and predicted that by end 2020 roughly 20 per cent of India suffered from mental illnesses. According to the numbers, 56 million Indians suffer from depression and another 38 million Indians suffer from anxiety disorders.

WHO also estimates that, in India, the economic loss, due to mental health conditions, between 2012-2030, is 1.03 trillions of 2010 dollars.

With mental health conditions on a steep rise, and a whole new normal to grapple with, it is critical for business leaders, now more than ever, to take the required action on mental health in the workplaces. Here are a few ways in which the employers can carry out the practice and support the working professionals: 

  • Normalize mental health: The initial step is turning out to be ardently devoted to establishing organizational culture and environment that normalizes the matter of mental health. Perhaps, the pandemic has caused some sort of distress to almost everybody. Hence, the universality of the experience can lead to a decline in stigma only if people, especially the ones with influence, share their experiences and be honest about their mental health struggles. Supporting employees’ psychological and emotional well-being also implies facilitating training for managers on how to support their team members who are battling with their mental health. One needs to move past just setting up the right tools in place and actually focus on altering the culture of the organisation to normalize and embrace the use of these tools. Be it building a psychologically safe team environment or blocking therapy appointments in the calendar or sharing experiences with burnout, business leaders need to set an example. After all, it’s about walking the walk and leading with empathy.
  • Don’t hesitate to be flexible and inclusive: Understand that the circumstances, employees’ requirements as well as your own needs as a leader will keep on evolving. So, keep a regular check on your employees, particularly at transition points. You can help in tackling the issues provided that you know what’s going on. Such open discussions will offer you a chance to emphasize standards and practices that support mental health. Try not to make assumptions concerning what your immediate reports need; they will undoubtedly require different things on different occasions. Adopt a personalized strategy to address stressors like the pressure of working beyond dedicated hours or challenges with regards to the family. Proactively offering flexibility is  key. For instance, you might have to investigate your guidelines and standards around flexible hours, paid time off, email and other communications, and paid and unpaid leaves. Be as liberal and sensible as could practically be expected. And know that being flexible doesn’t really mean lowering performance expectations or the standards of your organization. In fact, the accommodating factor will, in turn, help you and your team to flourish amid challenging times as everyone will feel taken care of. Normalize this adaptability by highlighting how, being a leader, you’ve changed your own behavior. Request the professionals to be patient and understanding with each other as they adjust. They are depending on you and will recall how you treated them during their bad phase of life.
  • Communicate more than what is required: According to what stated in Harvard Business Review, workers who felt that their supervisors were not open about having conversations beyond what is needed have been 23 per cent more likely to experience mental health issues than others, especially after the pandemic took the world by storm. Ensure that you keep your staff informed with regard to any changes or updates. Eliminate pressure where possible by setting realistic expectations about workloads, prioritizing work, and understanding what can be shifted if not critical. Make the professionals mindful of accessible mental health resources and urge them to utilize them. If you’ve shared the resources once, don’t sit back and relax, keep on sharing them at regular intervals. 
  • Track and monitor: Keeping a check on the employees with mental health issues need not be a complicated process. It can be easily taken care of by rolling out surveys at regular intervals to understand how team members are faring now and over time. Direct one on one connects from team members will help in building trust, strengthening bonds, and smoothening team communication and way of working. 

The bottom line

Together, we will have to work to transform the manner in which we view mental health. And no place is more significant than the workplace where we spend a large part of our waking hours. Today, business leaders possess more influence than they used to as today’s talent wants to work for organizations that value mental health, prioritize diversity, inclusion, and support them in all facets of life. Therefore, how about we utilize this opportunity to build the mentally and emotionally healthy working environments that ought to have existed from the beginning.

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