Mental well-being of employees can get better once they get back to work

What we have observed is that employees have been able to adjust to the new paradigm; albeit in a manner which is still somewhat driven with caution and fear.

One of the biggest learning from COVID has been that workplace-wellness is now an active subject and every organisation needs to focus on this to help improve employee productivity. We in our teams too have had some challenging meetings and conversations partly driven by employee stress and anxiety. But, overall, what we have observed is that employees have been able to adjust to the new paradigm; albeit in a manner which is still somewhat driven with caution and fear. In our clients’ organisations, what we notice now is there is a greater focus on safety because they believe, ensuring safe food at work is a way of enabling employee wellness. This, in particular, seems true for those organisations which are ranked high as preferred places to work. This, in turn, translates into a proactive involvement of the leadership teams in these organisations through their involvement in designing food programs which they consider is intrinsic to the wellness of their employees.

It is indeed a fact today that the long extended lockdown across the world has had numerous challenges for employees. Most western countries are back to work but are now once again experiencing a surge. In South Asia, most countries never had a lockdown but in India the corporate world seems to be using the lockdown as an excuse to stay away from work by extending it way beyond what was envisaged. This indeed is a little strange because the government, public sector enterprises and even industrial manufacturing units are back to work. The only place where we see certain lethargy is in the ITES sector that seems to be now using COVID as a mean to refrain from coming back to work.

There is absolutely a clear indication now that organisations in the ITES space will have to step up and start getting people back to work. This will enhance productivity and ensure that the normal state of affairs which you see elsewhere in the economy is restored here too. There is simply no reason for employees not coming back to work because we are not going to see the end of the COVID problem in the next 2 to 3 quarters. Even if the vaccine comes in and sections of the population starts getting vaccinated, it will take 4-6 months before we even have a semblance of safety envelops developing due to vaccination.

Employees not coming back to work today is creating a bigger problem for their wellness, than it would if there were to come back to work, talk to their colleagues, interact and resume normal duties, of course with the necessary precautions. If paramedic, medical, hospital staff, manufacturing employees, employees in government organisations can work, there is simply no reason for employees in the ITES space not to be coming back to work. It is probably contributing more to the disruption of their mental health than anything else, because lethargy, lack of outdoor activities and absence of physical movement is probably the worst driver of poor mental health than living with the chance of contamination. After all, the probability of the infection is no more or no less than it would have been six months ago and ironically it won’t be any different six months hence.

So, to improve employee productivity, especially in the corporate ITES sector, employees must start coming back to work because that is the biggest natural driver of improving mental health. Mental health of employees trying to work from home is going to deteriorate due to the work-life imbalance. It is a problem of their own making and only they then can be accountable to fix that problem which they seem to have created for themselves. Today, I don’t think any organisation is telling employees not to come to work, it is their choice. However, as long as it is their choice, they will exercise the choice to stay at home even if it is at the cost of their mental health.

It will only change if employees are now told that for the sake of their mental health, they must start needing to come back to work. The day this happens, this problem will eradicate by itself. Managing mental health issues by allowing employees to work from home is exasperating the problem rather than fixing it. So over the next few weeks it would be useful for organisations to ponder what is more important, whether it is to let employees continue in their state of lethargy or to actively engage them and encourage them to come back to work and take the necessary precautions at the workplace so that their mental health can be protected.

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COVID-19 mental well-being


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