This article first appeared in Business World.
Employee wellness and fitness may be on corporate India’s radar today, but even the most progressive organizations seem to struggle with mental health issues. Only 29% of Indian companies had a mental well-being action plan in 2018, even as mental health continues to deteriorate nationwide. If your employee wellness program doesn’t cover this critical aspect, act now – before the cracks deepen and hit you where it really hurts!
Why Employee Mental Health Is Your Problem Too
When an employee is overly anxious, withdrawn, or otherwise unsettled, it’s easy to overlook it or put it down to poor coping skills. But deep-seated problems like stress, anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia are rampant among the Indian workforce and often go undiagnosed or untreated.*
Without help, such employees struggle to cope, take poor judgment calls on your dime, under-perform, call in sick more often, and may even quit work altogether. And this hits your bottom line too. The WHO estimates that India will suffer economic losses amounting to a whopping 1.03 trillion dollars from mental health conditions in 2012–2030!
Even organizations that recognize the need for a mental health strategy often feel overwhelmed about actual implementation. If that’s the case, a simple blueprint can help you proactively and sensitively tackle the issue.
1. Start The Conversation
Your first step as an employer is to open up those lines of communication. A national survey found 71% of respondents linked “stigma” with mental health problems. Company leadership can help change this perception and create a less judgmental environment – when an employee at software firm Olark told her co-workers she needed some time off to focus on her mental health, the CEO responded by applauding her honesty and encouraging others to speak out freely as well.
Social inclusion can make it easier to have such conversations. Barclays’ “This is Me” initiative encourages employees to talk about their personal lives, including mental health. The result? Better retention and greater number of people returning to work after mental health-related leave.
2. Size Up The “Invisible” Problem
Mental health issues aren’t always obvious to the untrained eye, so how do you spot them? Start with preventive diagnostics like self-administered emotional wellness tests that check for triggers and vulnerability. Then, give employees the option to take follow-up tests.
Knowing your people’s flashpoints can help you launch targeted initiatives. In the healthi corporate surveys, the number of respondents who experienced stress, anxiety, or depression varied by gender, age, and sector – for instance, women were more prone than men, especially in retail and IT/ITES sectors. Organization-specific insights such as these can help finetune your policies.
3. Protect and Sensitize Employees
While it’s vital to have a safe and open culture where people can talk about mental health issues without fear of repercussion, ensure confidentiality for employees who have stepped forward. Protect their identity and enable access to secure and private helplines or message boards to interact with professionals.
On the other side, boost awareness of mental health issues across the organization so people can seek and give help. Training/sensitization sessions for supervisors and HR managers are especially vital.
As one survey found, 49% of line managers would actually welcome basic training in handling mental health conditions. FMCG giant Unilever did just that, offering line managers training that helped them identify signs of mental distress in team members. The result? Better employee engagement, reduced absenteeism, and improved productivity.
4. Line Up The Right Help
Giving people ready access to professional help can set the tone for positive change. A three-pronged approach can help:
5. Get Together An A-Team
Mental health is a specialized field so getting it right is also about enlisting the right help. If running programs, hiring full-time specialists, or analyzing data in-house seems like a formidable task, rope in an experienced external health and wellness (H&W) partner to do the heavy lifting.
6. Monitor, Measure, Recalibrate
While a well-charted plan will set the ball rolling, follow up and take stock regularly to ensure program success. Measure metrics like employee response and uptake and do dipstick checks on mental and emotional well-being. Impact on retention, absenteeism, productivity, and general employee perception should also be weighed in. You can then recalibrate the program to boost uptake/success. An experienced H&W partner can again get this done quickly and efficiently for you.
Tackling mental health problems at an organizational level doesn’t need to be daunting, wasteful, or expensive. Do it right and you’ll not only be giving your people a helping hand when they need it most, but also dodging a hit on the bottom line!
* Mental health in India: Statistics
- WHO 2017: Depression: Let’s talk
- 5 charts that reveal how India sees mental health, 2018
- World Mental Health Day: Nearly half of India Inc employees suffer from depression
- 46% of workforce in firms in India suffer from some or the other form of stress
Rekuram Varadharaj is the co-founder and COO of healthi, India’s fastest growing preventive healthcare company.