Why organizations need to look after employee mental health

28 October 2020 Consultancy.in 4 min. read

In today’s challenging environment, investing in a work culture that prioritizes mental health is essential writes Asif Upadhye, Director of culture consultancy Never Grow Up, because happier employees are also more resilient and productive.

But in reality, a combination of the stigma associated with mental illness, lack of awareness and stereotypes about being labelled as ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’ continues to prevent employees from being transparent about their individual struggles.

In 2017, India passed The Mental Healthcare Act which provides people with mental illnesses’ protection and access to healthcare services. To support this, in 2018, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India made it mandatory for health insurance providers to cover mental health concerns as part of their policies. 

Yet, why do only a handful organizations offer structured Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s) to their employees? The answer isn’t as simple as it might seem, because simply offering an EAP won’t fix the workplace well-being problem. Fighting the stigma associated with mental illness is an uphill battle that adds on to an already exhausting struggle. 

Asif Upadhye, Director, Never Grow Up

Even when EAP’s are offered, the utilization rate by employees is often less than 10% owing to the fear of being judged and possibly, even being excluded from work groups. To top it off, leaders and managers within the company need to be sensitized to view mental health as a high-priority issue, rather than just linking it to poor performance or a sign of weakness. 

When employees take a few days off to avail their sick leave, nobody bats an eyelid. But it is still not considered ‘acceptable’ or ‘normal’ to take a day off for ‘mental health’. The probing questions on everyone’s minds range from ‘Are they okay?’ to ‘What’s mentally wrong with them?’ 

Employees are afraid to take time off to cater to their mental health. The conversation around well-being at work is mostly ignored, until it becomes a business concern when productivity drops, stress levels hit the roof and employee morale decreases across the company. 

Getting to the root cause of workplace well-being

According to data analytics and surveys, by 2030, the world will lose 12 billion workdays to depression and anxiety disorders if well-being programs at work aren’t scaled up. But how do companies accurately address the concerns that their employees have, if they aren’t completely aware of it?

In order to gain a roundabout perspective on employee well-being, organizations need to start asking the right questions and invest in training their teams to spot signs of mental illnesses so that early intervention is possible.

Just like physical health, mental ill health manifests in very visible ways. Constant absenteeism, prolonged indecisiveness, lethargy, irresponsibility, anger and poor time management are clear signs that a person needs support. Mental illness can have a massive impact on an organization’s workforce. Spotting behavioral signs such as a change in work habits, physical signs such as a change in appearance and psychological signs such as seeming withdrawn or avoiding interaction is the first step towards opening a productive dialogue surrounding workplace well-being. 

Instead of reprimanding the employee or worse, preparing to replace him/her, organizations will benefit from being empathetic, providing access to professional mental health support and working on a performance structure to help the employee slowly get back on track. When team members are given opportunities to access mental health training, it helps build a positive support system at work that can provide emotional support and aid an employee who might be struggling. 

The well-being conversation starts in the top

When a CEO or senior leader is open about needing a mental health day, it encourages people to follow suit and build healthier well-being habits. Therefore, on priority, invest in a well-being program that views mental health ‘holistically’. A one-size-fits-all approach is just not ideal and forces companies to adopt programs that do not cater to different kinds of emotional concerns. 

Paid counselling or therapy sessions help employees talk through their issues in a safe environment, without their managers or colleagues finding out that they reached out for support in the first place. On an organizational level, sensitization workshops, internal communication pieces and inclusive policies that focus on well-being need to be implemented to encourage a work culture that is receptive to mental health.

Businesses have not only a moral but also a financial incentive to make the well-being of their employees a workplace priority.