Mental Health Matters: How A Silent Crisis Is Affecting Employee Well-Being And Productivity
Until a few years ago, mental health was not that big of an agenda in organizations
Over the years, I have seen the change in how people look at it. And it has changed for good. Organizations are now more receptive towards accommodating their employees’ mental well-being. However, there is still a long way to go. According to a report by McKinsey, one in every four employees is experiencing symptoms of burnout, making them six times more likely to leave their jobs. This statistic is a cause for concern and requires attention across all organizational levels, whether it's a manager overseeing a team, a leader guiding multiple teams, or employees struggling with various challenges. While I acknowledge that organizations are increasingly adopting policies that support mental health, I am also a firm believer that individuals need to be vocal about their issues. I believe it is a two-way street between organisations and employees. However, the path to self-awareness and inner peace is a very personal and private one, and to be trodden differently by each individual.
India, with all its diversity, is already carrying a substantial portion of the global mental health burden. According to the World Health Organization, our economy could face potential losses of over US$ 1 trillion in the next decade due to reduced productivity among employees dealing with mental health challenges.
What is causing this crisis?
Mental health disorders affect around 500 million people worldwide. However, the numbers are different for different industries. For instance, the manufacturing sector ranks among the bottom 10 per cent of industries with a subpar mental health score. Though many jobs within the manufacturing sector are physically demanding, mental health is largely ignored – 60 per cent of manufacturers carry out physical risk interventions, but only 15 per cent assess risks to mental health. And the problem is only growing.
In general, the rise in mental health challenges at the workplace can be attributed to several key factors. For one, work-related stressors are a significant contributor, fuelled by a competitive job market, coupled with long hours and excessive workloads, resulting in stress, anxiety and other mental health challenges. Societal stigma in India around mental health further exacerbates the problem, as employees hesitate to seek help or share their struggles.
Additionally, the 'always-on' digital work culture worsens the situation. Employees are expected and even encouraged to always stay connected to their workspace, even during their off hours – which means that people cannot take a break from their work. This, ironically, hampers productivity rather than improving it since it contributes to digital burnout and mental exhaustion.
The impact on businesses
The mental health crisis isn't just a personal issue, it's a business problem too. According to a study by Deloitte, mental health issues cost Indian businesses more than US$14 billion annually, highlighting its profound impact on workforce efficiency and effectiveness. Furthermore, employees grappling with mental health problems are more likely to take sick leaves or unplanned time off, affecting workplace continuity. The same study puts the cost of absenteeism at approximately $2 billion annually. This underscores the substantial financial impact of poor mental health on businesses.
Additionally, high stress and limited management support drive up employee turnover, necessitating auxiliary recruitment and training, adding to business costs. It’s clear that addressing workplace mental health is essential not only for employee well-being but also as a strategic imperative to cut financial losses and cultivate a more productive, stable workforce.
Addressing the crisis
India's mental health workforce is woefully inadequate, with only one psychiatrist for every 200,000 people. Lack of awareness and stigma around mental health issues also stop people from seeking timely help. However, employers can also play their part in ensuring the well-being of their employees. A recent study by The Workforce Institute at UKG suggests that managers have just as much of an impact on a person’s mental health as their spouses and more so than their doctors and therapists.
A supportive workplace culture where everyone is given work according to their bandwidth, and there is open communication between managers and their subordinates may go a long way in addressing mental health concerns among employees. Being the Managing Director of a company, I always encourage my colleagues to have an open dialogue among their team members. I believe that leaders develop empathy over time which can nurture a supportive and healthy environment. This especially comes into play for women at the workplace since, besides workplace responsibilities, they carry a disproportionate burden in terms of household duties too.
Conducting regular awareness campaigns like mental health webinars, employee assistance programmes, flexible work arrangements and training for managers to recognise the signs of mental distress among their team members are some other intervention measures that can be put in place.
An environment that encourages open communication about personal and professional issues is a positive step towards creating a healthy workplace. However, this will be more effective if individuals possess self-awareness and are committed to addressing their personal challenges. When we collectively work together, we can establish a collaborative and harmonious work environment that prioritizes both mental and physical health. Through these efforts, we can enhance the quality of life for employees and contribute to more productive businesses, and in turn, a prosperous bright future for India. It's essential for businesses to recognize that a company's success is intricately tied to the well-being of its people. Mental health matters and it starts with YOU!
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