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Saying it is not OK when you are not OK- Workplace Mental Health in 2023

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

In the wake of the covid-19 pandemic, industry 5.0, great resignation, layoffs, the Ukraine war, and a host of other socio-economic turbulence, life as we know it has not been kind or just. With many of us having faced a personal loss of one kind or the other in the last couple of years, we have also become more mindful than ever to acknowledge the issues within ourselves and with people around us, including our colleagues. Our country’s earlier dealings with mental health at the workplace have not only increased numerously, but they have also become more real and noticeable.


Changing Talent Landscape Spanning Generation


A natural yet substantial by-product of everything that happened was on people’s health- mental, physical, and emotional. Not surprisingly, the conversations made their way into offices. Although organizations have done a lot to support and improve the mental health of their employees, there is always scope for doing more in this space given the rapid decline of people’s mental health conditions. According to research done by Microsoft in 2022, 50% of employees and 53% of managers reported that they felt burned out at work. The core teams working on employee wellbeing, usually the HR teams in most companies, need to think of fresh and creative measures to support their staff in 2023 and beyond.


Talking about workplaces in 2023, regardless of size or stature, they all have enormous challenges ahead of them. The talent pool has not only become vast but also competitive. The colleagues have not only gotten exhausted, but they are burnt out too. The workplace doesn’t just have millennials, it also has gen Z who are ‘extra’ and ‘woke’ in every sense of the word. They know what they want, and they know how to get it. They know how to make something go “viral” and how to gain traction. If they face a mental health crisis, the world will know about it. So, all in all, companies must ensure they are still profitable while ensuring the next breed of employees are looked after well. Gone are the days when toxic work cultures were the norm and challenging that norm was a sure-shot way to get fired.


We are not saying that toxic work cultures don’t exist. We are saying that colleagues are not having any more of the same. They are demanding better work cultures, benefits, and the environment. The era of Great Resignation dawned on us in the last 2 years, and we saw a rather unusual number of colleagues quitting their jobs in pursuit of better ones. Colleagues nowadays are quick to jump ship if they do not feel valued or included or are lacking a sense of belongingness with their teams and organizations.


Reasons for Deteriorating Mental Health

When we talk about employee well-being, we also need to know the most common mental health concerns that employees face. As per a Deloitte India study in 2022, more than 80% of the employees suffered from at least one form of mental health issue, the most common ones being anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Amongst the causes of their issues, the workplace was touted as the biggest stressor. While companies are under constant pressure to out-perform themselves at every step, every month, quarter, and year, it translates to more stress for colleagues too. The ‘hustle culture’ proved to serve no one, diverse groups of people became vulnerable with no ally groups, and women largely became burdened with the added pressure of household chores, a triple whammy for the ones who had young children and couldn’t avail a domestic help during the lockdown months. With most of us having reeled with unimaginable personal circumstances during the brutal pandemic waves, having to deal with added pressure from our offices led many to a breaking point.



Mental Health at Workplace: A Genuine Concern or Just a Tick-in-the-box?


The question now arises- how did companies react? Well, to put it in a nutshell, it was an HR nightmare that was solidified by numbers but could only be dealt with by bringing about sensitive measures in the workplace to make sure that the employees feel safe. Taking a leaf from the giant ordeal that Indian EdTech startup WhiteHat Jr faced, what with over 800 of its employees turning in their resignation when asked to return to the office, the need of the hour was and still remains to not only be preventive and pro-active but also nurturing towards their employees. The core teams need to bring about policies that give greater autonomy to employees and de-stigmatize the conversations around mental health in the workplace. They need to provide an environment that is physically and psychologically safe for their employees.


We have established that mental place and workplace, both need to seen from the same eye-level. Let’s look at a few ways that companies can approach mental health policies and conversations in the workplace in 2023:


  • Educate your Employees: It needs to start with managers & HR professionals who first and foremost need to educate themselves on the topic of mental health and enable conversations to educate their employees on the same.


  • Train your Employees: Companies need to invest in organization-wide training on mental health in the workplace. Everyone needs to be sensitized towards this topic so conversations can be free-wheeling and judgment-free.


  • Appoint Mental Health First Aiders/Advisors: Companies also need an army of colleagues trained on being mental health first aiders, who can recognize early signs of mental health concerns. These colleagues can act as advisors to other colleagues who may not at first feel comfortable talking about their concerns and guide them to seek the right kind of help.


  • Have Flexible Work Policies: Work policies in today’s times need to be made around the comfort of employees, keeping in mind the very fact that everyone has a personal life that needs tending to. Having policies such as flexible work hours, remote working, covid leaves, covid support leaves, etc. allows for a better work-life balance, especially to accommodate issues of colleagues going through mental health crises at the workplace.


  • Cultivate Work-life Balance: Encourage colleagues to take time off for themselves and also for their families. They should not make a habit of working long hours to prove their worth to their organizations.


  • Celebrate your Employees: Devise creative ways to recognize everyone’s efforts, be it via Thank You cards, treating your team to lunch, or just voicing the same out for everyone to know. This will instill a sense of team spirit and build a strong culture of reward & recognition.


  • Create Allyships: Create allyship/networking groups for colleagues basis their sexual orientation, background, race, etc. to make them feel like part of a community, and foster meaningful interactions.



  • Have Solid DE&I Policies: Companies should have diversity, equity, & inclusion governance and policy frameworks in place and should make sure to iterate the same often.


  • Talk Frequently About your Existing Policies: Organizations should ensure that there is clarity around where to seek help or guidance and communication of this nature should be circulated often to remove the stigma around workplace mental health issues. There should be on-call counseling and a digital repository for self-help that is made readily available to all colleagues.


  • Customize Your Policies Basis Employee Needs: Companies also need to be open to providing customized support to colleagues whenever the one size fits all approach doesn’t work. When companies truly care about their employees’ well-being, they consider a comprehensive understanding of the landscape and couple it with a tailored approach for different groups. Oftentimes, you would see a common theme or pattern basis on which you can take your decisions. More often than not, employees just want to know that their organizations do really care about them.


Although, we may have our core team of managers & HRs who are responsible for executing these policies, the main onus of making sure these initiatives are set off remains with the Leadership of any organization. The success measures should be tied to their KPIs to hold them responsible for building an inclusive and unprejudiced work environment. It is only with sustainable practices that a long-term change can be experienced.


Conclusion

What is going to work going forward is actual effort. Your staff needs to see and feel that you care about them. If your efforts pertain to doing only the tick-in-the-box activities, it won’t be long before your employees see through the façade and decide to move on. You need to lead by example and genuinely create a space for your employees to freely express what they feel, and why they feel it, and for you to provide the right kind of guidance and support. Your colleagues are no longer ‘resources’ to have a transactional relationship with. While they give you their time of the day, you need to treat them well and take an earnest interest in them, their life, lifestyle, family, etc. Be open to understanding them as people without judgments and they will reward you with their loyalty and hard work. You will see a positive impact on your bottom line and Monday blues or absenteeism will automatically start dropping.


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