The Business Case For Mental Well-Being
Rekha Narendra,Vice President and HR Head India, RealPage, 0
Far too long, Corporate India has ignored the importance of mental well-being among employees. While physical fitness has gained prominence since the past few years with companies sponsoring Gym memberships, Zumba classes, organizing yoga camps and cricket tournaments, it took the pandemic to throw the spotlight on mental wellbeing. Cooped up in their houses, not knowing what was happening, the blurring boundaries between work and family life had a crucible effect which increased stress and anxiety levels for many employees.
Unfortunately there is still a lot of stigma around mental health and employees hesitate to discuss it with their managers worried that it might be seen as a sign of weakness. Mental wellbeing is as important or even more than physical wellbeing as research shows that when one is anxious and stressed out it can trigger reactions in the body such as headaches, digestive troubles, increased heart rate etc. Prolonged stress can even lead to extra abdominal fat known as stress belly.
Given that we spend a large portion of our waking hours at office, it’s important to look at some of the factors that can cause stress and anxiety in the work environment and what we can do to counter them.
1)"Do you have a best friend at work?"
Several years back when I took the Gallup survey for Employee Engagement I was puzzled by this question on the survey.
I recollect debating this question with the Gallup team because I strongly felt that work and my home life were clearly demarcated and I did not see why it was important to have a friend at work, leave alone a best friend. But we live in a world today where the line between our work and home lives has blurred more so in the work-from-home scenario caused by the pandemic. Its not just the basic needs of Maslow’s hierarchy which need to be met at work but also the more advanced ones like a sense of belonging and self-esteem. A work culture which is non conducive to this can end up causing anxiety and a sense of isolation.
Organizations must introduce activities and forums which encourage employees to bring their complete selves to work. Involvement in corporate social responsibility will give employees a sense of fulfillment and meaning.
Employee Assistance Programs offer anonymous counseling services by trained professionals. The right intervention at the right time can go a long way in helping the employee not only overcome his or her personal issues but also become more productive.
Employees should be able to trust their managers and be comfortable discussing their concerns and issues with them. They should have buddies at work in whom they can confide if they have a problem. Organizations that allow bullying, harassment and politicking will end up causing a lot of stress for their employees who will soon exit rather than staying in such a toxic atmosphere. HR Teams should offer unbiased listening forums to employees. Employees should feel comfortable highlighting issues without any retaliation or an impact on their career.
Our mental state is a result of several years of conditioning and sometimes the issues are more deep rooted than what you can see on the surface. Situations and incidents at work may end up aggravating these issues. As responsible employers it important to give our employees access to professional help if they require it. Employee Assistance Programs offer anonymous counseling services by trained professionals. The right intervention at the right time can go a long way in helping the employee not only overcome his or her personal issues but also become more productive.
4)Flexible work arrangements
The nine hour work day has to give way to a more fluid and flexible work arrangement which allows employees to not only meet their work deliverables but also shoulder their other responsibilities as a child, spouse, parent or caregiver with ease. Organizations which offer such arrangements are mindful of their employees’ needs and help them to better balance their work and life while reducing stress. Managers should also be considerate of specific employee needs and help them manage their workload in pressing situations. HR teams should focus on training managers in catching early signs of stress and anxiety in their employees and proactively handle them in a sensitive manner.
Not only is it critical for organizations to give importance to mental well-being but also to design a comprehensive approach to dealing with it rather than a piece meal approach. Regular surveys with employees will help to understand their needs in a better manner. Focus on mental well-being is no longer a choice. It has to become an integral part of the People philosophy of the Organization.