With about 40% of Indian professionals battling with either depression or GAD (General Anxiety Disorder), mental health at the workplace is a pressing concern today. That is not the only appalling figure revealed in a study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India. Affecting 42% of corporate workers, depression tops the list of diseases that plague the workplace and is clearly more rampant than obesity, high blood pressure or diabetes that affect 23%, 9% and 8% of professionals respectively. These grim, worrying statistics are a signal that there is a mental health crisis facing the modern workplace and that it is time that the HR department took it seriously.
Age no bar
If you were under the impression that a younger workforce is a healthier one, you stand corrected. It is shocking and quite unsettling to see that almost 55% of employees affected by mental ill-health are under 30 years and 25% fall in the 30-40 age-group. With younger employees (who have their whole lives ahead of them) being affected so gravely, it becomes the HR managers’ duty to delve deeper and understand what can be done within the organization to help employees.
Fighting the stigma
The stigma associated with “mental infirmity” is present practically everywhere across the globe. It is basically a question of degree and in India the degree of shame linked with being mentally unwell is rather strong. Therefore, many employees might never report symptoms of burnout, depression or excessive anxiety. Moreover, many of them might not even be aware of the fact they’re experiencing symptoms of mental ill-health. It becomes the role of the HR team to make EAP services by mental health professionals available to the employees. Moreover, effort needs to be made to encourage every employee to feel secure about discussing their issues in an accepting and non-judgmental environment. Then again, there should be very clear managerial support for these EAP endeavours and the processes need to be monitored regularly and evaluated periodically.
The necessary evil of stress
Stress seems to have become an accepted part and parcel of corporate life. Most of us can’t even imagine a workplace without stress. While a reasonable level of stress is regarded as “normal”, what is reasonable for one employee might be too much handle for another. Stress-management is an area that needs to be looked into. Action-oriented workshops discussing coping mechanisms might help employees learn and use stress-management strategies.
Employee mental health has a direct correlation with the productivity of the organization. While the increased rate of absenteeism, turnover and grievances are the usual negative outcomes of a lack of mental well-being, an even more serious outcome is presenteeism. Often out of job-insecurity, employees force themselves to attend work in spite of being unwell. This could lead to greater chances of accidents and could cost the organization and the employee dearly.
While the psychological well-being of employees is an issue that demands attention, the HR department is not solely responsible for ensuring mental health at the workplace. In fact, HR professionals should not be confused with authorized mental health professionals. Neither should the HR offer what might be considered as counseling unless they possess legal rights and the professional capacity to do so. The management along with the employees themselves need to understand the importance of being mentally healthy as well and work towards making the organization a psychologically safe and enriching place to work in.
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