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While we are caught up in our endless battles with deadlines, deliverables, trying to up and out-do our TATs and chasing one goal after the other, do we often overlook our mental health needs at work? Granted, there are a million initiatives undertaken today by every HR departments and HR consultants to make sure that employees are engaged at work, feel values and well-rewarded, have access to an ergonomically sound environment (not to forget a litany of amenities, perks and benefits!) and are productive. But is that all there is to the pursuit of happiness at work?
It will not be justified to say that the importance of the health of the individual employee has been undermined and ignored. But having said that, there seems to be a dearth of initiatives to ensure that employees are mentally healthy.
What is health?
It’s interesting how we usually picture a person without any overt disease or ailment when we think of a healthy person. Health is more than just the absence of disease. To be healthy is to be holistically sound in terms of physical, mental and emotional well-being. However, an understanding of mental health often poses to be difficult primarily because most issues remain covert for a very long time and its absence is more noticeable than its presence. Mental and emotional well-being is thus an integral component of health that needs to be addressed better at the workplace. Awareness about the need for optimum mental health thus needs to be driven through.
Is EAP enough?
So, you have Employee Assistance Programmes in place? That’s great but is that really enough? Moreover, is it a generic EAP initiative or does it fit with your employee demographics and their individual needs? Not only do you need to ensure that employees avail of these services readily and willingly but also enable them to act on their mental health needs to move towards greater mental well-being. Employees need to be encouraged to introspect and understand their own needs and then seek help if need be. Moreover, they need to be made to understand that they are not being judged for availing a counselling service for example. The stigma associated with mental ill-health is often so overpowering.
Stress is often looked upon as an omnipotent, ubiquitous by-product of work. While there are varied wellness programs and destressing and detox workshops, destressing has unfortunately become simply another box you need to tick off your to-do list. Sometimes even stress management programs seem mentally strenuous to attend. So, how do you ensure that employees destress not just because they have to or wait till the time that they are close to having a burnout before asking for help? It’s thus not enough to have sporadic yoga, breathing and meditation sessions. The idea is to make the art of destressing and mindful living a way of life at work.
Statistic figures of depressed, burned out and overly anxious individuals at the workplace today do not paint a pretty picture. It’s apparent that the services in place are not adequate when it comes to the variety of mental health issues that employees battle with (often sub-consciously). More often than not, these issues are attended to, or rather noticed only when the performance metric get affected and productivity dips noticeably.
While the onus of organizational mental well-being lies with each individual, the HR department should probably take up the task and lead the process of ownership on this. If not for anything else, because they are regarded as the body that is (or should be) of the people, by the people and for the people. Mental illness spans over a wide spectrum and is a question of degree. There are times when each of us needs a little bit of external help to manage our stress better especially with work-life spill-over becoming more common. It’s time we re-think the need to understand and improve mental stress at work and make workplaces happier places to work in.