The elephant in the office

Employee mental health is that one issue everyone wants to steadfastly ignore or pretend does not exist.
Last Updated : 11 September 2022, 03:24 IST
Last Updated : 11 September 2022, 03:24 IST

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Mental health has never received as much attention as it does today. The pandemic in myriad ways highlighted how every individual is vulnerable. Many understood that stigma has no place in mental health-related problems and there are innumerable ways in which support is critical to individual well-being. Ensuring that people have an understanding of mental health problems and access to mental health-related services is crucial when it comes to the growth and advancement of societies. This is no different when it comes to workplaces which increasingly recognise that their growth is contingent upon the well-being of employees.

Evidently, investment towards the mental well-being of employees is directly proportional to the enhancement of productivity within workplaces. This has become even more critical during these post-pandemic times when workplaces are in a state of flux. There is a need to consider unique solutions that account for the needs of employees, find a unique balance between working from home and working offline and create the right culture that balances the social needs and professional roles and goals of individuals as well as organisations.

Emerging challenges, evolving spaces

There are some unique challenges facing the modern-day workforce and workplaces:

* Finding that right balance: Conversations frequently centre around what the right balance is between working online and offline. There is an ensuing debate about what works best. Discussions revolve around whether should there be flexibility or a fixed structure in place that clearly defines expectations.

* Managing boundaries between home and work: As many organisations continue to work in a hybrid framework or provide greater flexibility to their employees, what remains a consistent challenge is drawing boundaries between work and home. Feeling compelled to respond to the needs of the other setting while you are actively engaged in one is a problem that afflicts many.

* Effective communication: Building and maintaining a connection is crucial and continuing to have the right kind of communication in place is essential. In the context of a hybrid workplace, it is critical that channels of communication be assessed, evaluated and facilitated in order to ensure that individual employees do not experience a disconnect from their teams or the larger system.

* Continuity of the workplace culture: Each organisation has its own ethos and values which are reflected in the culture of the workplace. The hybrid models that are currently emerging can make it a challenge for the continuity of the workplace culture. Finding ways to involve and include individuals in the system’s culture while also respecting what individuals bring into the system is important.

* Enhanced leadership responsibility: In the evolving systems that are emerging, the role of leaders is even more critical and at the centre of how systems will pivot towards ensuring that individuals feel integrated, systems function effectively, goals and targets are met and there is a continued focus on well-being.

It is a known fact that employees who experience greater levels of stress struggle to find the right balance between work and home, experience a disconnect from their team members, have a growing sense of lack of support and get into toxic relationships. These issues can emerge regardless of the age, gender, or socio-cultural background of an individual. The greater the levels of stress that people experience at work or the more difficult a workplace environment is, the more likely it is that it would impact their mental health adversely.

Directly linked to growth

For long, outcome measures have looked at the productivity of an organisation, targets being met, the profitability of the system and other such parameters. A shift is needed where the focus is not only on the growth of the organisational system but also on the mental health and well-being of employees. Outcome measures that consider how well employees are doing, the support that is available and accessible to them, the role the leadership plays in providing a much-needed space for critical conversations on mental health, the manner in which the culture is perceived as well as parameters that consider various aspects of mental health are crucial in present times.

The well-being of employees is directly linked to an organisation’s growth in the following ways:

* The greater flexibility that emerges on account of enhanced mental health of employees is an asset for organisations in enhancing commitment towards the system and the ability to manage stressors effectively.

* A mentally healthy workforce is likely to be more creative in the ways it engages with work. This ensures that the processes of solving problems and making decisions reflect an ability to accommodate new challenges and the emergence of creative methodologies of working through situations.

* Employees who feel connected to each other and are in good mental health are more likely to take on greater responsibilities and support each other during times of stress. Having a system in place where there is competitiveness to grow alongside a simultaneous feeling of camaraderie ensures the emergence of a healthy workplace culture.

* A healthy workforce ensures that there is an overall environment of positivity and optimism. Even in the most difficult scenarios, the preoccupation with problems is lesser and the focus is on working to find solutions together.

* Having a workforce that is well mentally and emotionally enables the emergence of systems that are resilient. As employees flourish in their roles and keep diversifying in the skill sets they do possess, what emerges is a workplace that is able to take on changes and challenges.

Creating resources

The pandemic highlighted that mental health cannot be ignored. It is not just an individual’s responsibility but that of the organisations they are a part of and the societies they reside in. In the world we occupy today where there are no lockdowns and there is greater striving towards returning to the pre-pandemic state of normalcy, we can easily forget the lessons we have learnt. However, organisations are coming to recognise that health is not just about physical well-being and providing for the prevention of injuries and physical safety of employees.

What can organisations do?

The promotion of mental well-being is not a one-off thing. It requires continued involvement and investment from organisations. Here are some critical aspects that organisations must continue to work towards when considering the mental health of employees.

* Provide access: While it can be difficult to have experts available at the premises given the gap between the number of experts that are available and the number of organisations, it is important to work towards providing access to employees to take care of their mental health.

* Partnerships matter: It is important to consider creating partnerships with external organisations that provide mental health services for workplaces. Such collaborations can ensure that individuals have the ready availability of support services if and when required.
Ensure information is available — organisations often have resources available, however, employees aren’t always aware of the same. Ensuring that information is available and provided across the organisation’s systems is important. This should be reiterated often given that there are new entrants into the system every now and then who may not have prior knowledge of the same.

* Initiate conversations: Continued conversations about mental health and related issues are important. These need to be initiated by the organisation to ensure that individuals do not feel judged or consider that there would be biases in case they do need to access such services.

* Create platforms where leaders speak: Having the organisation’s leadership speak of the importance of taking care of mental health and well-being and sharing experiential learning can be helpful. It sends the right message through the entire organisation.
Workshops directed towards generating awareness, imparting skills and facilitating the sharing of experiences are helpful in the long run.

In conclusion, real change can occur only when mental health becomes a reciprocal responsibility of individuals and organisations.

The author heads the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at a prominent multi-speciality hospital. She is a clinical psychologist and is a known speaker and author.

Published 10 September 2022, 20:17 IST

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