Shama is a psychotherapist with a decade long practice across various aspects of mental health care and awareness. She leads the therapy team at Cult.fit (erstwhile Curefit) and oversees various initiatives aimed at expanding the awareness and care of mental health needs. She is a queer affirmative practitioner along with being a certified REBT therapist from the AEI, New York.
As the pandemic gradually subsides and eventually comes to an end, people will slowly resume regular life activities to go back to building the life as they knew it earlier. Work lives and cultures across the majority of industries have undergone a significant transformation – the most obvious one being the flexibility of working from home. The second, less evident one, are the changes in the individual mental health landscape everyone continued to go through.
The impact of work on our personal lives has intensified as we continue to work from home. Additionally, widespread layoffs, change of jobs, virtual onboarding, have all played their part in adding to the psychological challenges. Possible opportunities to build and sustain supportive and positive interactions with colleagues at the workplace have fallen, further reducing ways to boost job satisfaction. Boundaries between work and home life have blurred for most employees with erratic work hours, constant connectedness via devices, as well as extending work well beyond the expected hours as they continue to work from home. A parallel lack of outdoor activities, social interactions, and continued uncertainty driven by the pandemic has spared almost no one. Crisis and loss on the personal front have wrought havoc for people in multiple ways – emotionally, financially, and physically. This further worsens the situation for individuals.
The extent of stress associated with and resulting from the pandemic itself is also a major factor that impacts people’s mental well-being. Being exposed to constant uncertainty, unanticipated expenses for health care and treatment, as well as having to cope with novel life situations without warning and preparation – all these are important elements to be factored in while gauging the possible extent of burnout and psychological decline in people.
People have experienced a few or all of these problems in some capacity in the past two years. This has triggered a collective sense of exhaustion and burnout. Several employees have been impacted by the same which reflects at workplaces in different ways, such as –
- an increased frequency of leaves,
- poor productivity levels (as compared to their earlier performance),
- reduction in proactive efforts,
- a spate of resignations, and so on.
The impact of compromised mental health amongst individuals may have surreptitious ways of showing up. The need for organizations to consciously integrate ways for regular check-ins is a lot higher now than before.
The ‘new normal’ is yet to look as normal as people knew it to be. Organizations will need to put in a conscious, and continued effort to boost employee morale and spirits during this period. Even without the pandemic, mental health challenges have been a concern, owing to the lack of awareness about it as well as the stigma associated with it. These challenges have impacted employee performance earlier as well. However, the societal tendency to make light of these struggles or maintain secrecy around the same does not allow for healthy and open communication. It feeds into the misconception of mental health challenges not being common enough. This might also impact an individual’s ability to be self-aware and assess the need for help and support. Hence, organizations would also need to identify sensitization and awareness campaigns that can allow their initiatives towards a better organizational mental health to succeed.
Another plausible area where challenges can stem from is the continued threat of Covid infections. Showing up at work physically, interacting with people, using common spaces, long hours spent covered with masks and constant monitoring of safety, and so on, can make it difficult for people to feel like they are back to their normal lives or worse, can trigger more psychological distress and anxiety.
Given the context of seemingly unending problems to cope with, it is crucial for organizations to move towards identifying psychologically safe work spaces as they choose to open up their offices physically or continue with remote work setup. How can organizations achieve this in practice?
The following ideas can be further explored as per an organization’s needs and practices:
- Awareness and sensitization workshops / sessions that can help normalize conversations around mental health challenges and needs for people
- Improved and open communication about non-work aspects that can be made a regular part of the work atmosphere
- Inclusive human resource policies that can drive appropriate actions and conversations through managers and supervisors
- Providing flexibility to make choices regarding place of work – home or office premises – and avoiding standard, mandated practices for the time being
- Monitoring workloads consciously to avoid overloading employees or leading to unreasonable deadlines – these tend to be common factors to contribute to collective stress levels
- Making wellness and well-being a part of regular activities, conversations, as well as meeting agendas
- Encouraging an exchange of positive feedback and messages on a regular, on-going basis
In a nutshell, interventions can be identified and introduced at multiple levels across organizations:
- Predicting or pre-empting possible areas of difficulties
- Identifying and detecting existing problems
- Solutions and remedies that can be implemented for existing problems
As stated earlier, the pandemic has brought forth existing mental health challenges that have been a part of people’s lives for a while now. While these challenges may not be new to us, we are facing a far intensified phase nonetheless. Acting now and acting thoughtfully would be beneficial for both organizations and individual employees in the interest of collective well-being.