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How To Have Mentally Healthier Workplaces

Good mental health enables people to realize their full potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and contribute to their communities

Photo Credit : Shutterstock


According to research, approximately 50% of the workforce in organisations in India suffers from some or other form of stress.

Good mental health enables people to realize their full potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and contribute to their communities. However, the growing burden of mental illness is staggering. At a global level, one-in-four people will likely experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives.

The economic consequences of poor mental health are equally significant. A World Economic Forum, Harvard School of Public Health study estimated that the cumulative global impact of mental disorders in terms of lost economic output will amount to $16.3 trillion between 2011 and 2030. In India, mental illness is estimated to cost $1.03 trillion (22% of economic output) between 2012-2030.

Yet few talk about it. The taboo surrounding mental health is still mammoth. But the problem exists and cant be ignored. The task is how to create mentally healthier workplaces.

We do know based on data that employees are mentally happier when they have good relationships with co-workers, when they feel that they are contributing to the organisation's business goals, when they feel a sense of meaningfulness of the job they are doing.

Employees especially feel mentally happier at the workplace if they feel there are opportunities to use their skills and abilities at work and most importantly if they have a good relationship with their immediate supervisor.

Minimum wage growth, a lack of an opportunity to advance, excessive overtime hours, a work environment that does not encourage teamwork and a boss that doesn’t allow you work flexibility, who micromanages are the top reasons for people leaving their job.

HR leader Sumer Datta feels that, “The first thing that needs to be done is that organisations need to understand the core of their mental health problem. Reasons differ. While for some it may be their career paths, for others it may be the work-life balance, conflicts with peers or seniors.”

According to Datta, we need to focus on human-centered technology which helps organisations in getting crucial insights on what the underlying issues are and then develop solution to counter them. Unilever’s Lamplighter program has seen tremendous success because it understood the area’s of concerns and the best way to counter them.

Ex CEO, Executive Advisor and Founder Cognitiv, Hanumant Talwar, believes that the command and control paradigm, which had been so effective in driving productivity in the past, is now almost outdated.

“There is a huge need to focus on employee’s mental well-being in the fast-changing environment where all around us we are witnessing relationships falling apart, work-stress, burnouts leading huge exodus from corporates. An outdated value creation paradigm with a younger generation (millennials) who are more motivated by self-realization than self-preservation - makes the current organizational value creation model unsustainable. Continuing to do the same things in a radically different environment simply creates more frustration, pain and a waste of precious human resources. Therefore, the command and control style of leadership would need to be replaced with a more trusting and inspiring way of being with each other in organizations. As leaders, our job would have to shift from telling others what to do, to helping us access our creativity and discover for ourselves what the right next steps are. This is a radical change, not only in our DOING but even more importantly in our BEING,” he shared.

He also believes that the focus on the mental well-being of employees is a key priority for everyone and enhances personal and organisational stability, resilience, and success.

“It is imperative that each individual pays attention on their own mental health and creating a mentally healthy workplace.”

Talwar believes an organisation should have strong value systems and beliefs as the guiding principle of an ethical organization. An energised culture - where an employee looks forward to come to work and engage should be created. A Collaborative/ Supportive Environment should be promoted where high stress, unrealistic deadlines, stretch goals and time commitments are eliminated. An environment of managing diversity and embracing different levels of learning ability should be promoted. And a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination should be encouraged,” he shared.

A healthy workplace is one where individuals feel valued and supported, provides a positive workspace, and shows respect for other aspects of a person’s life.

Work places come in all shapes and sizes, mentally healthy working environments generally have a few things in common.

1. The workplace culture is positive: Put simply, they're places where people feel good about coming to work, and everyone's encouraged.

2. Mental health issues are addressed and supported and not ignored: Stress, heavy workloads, unrealistic deadlines, poor communication, uncertainty and other factors can all contribute to anxiety and depression, and it's up to managers and leaders to keep them in check. In mentally healthier work environments these are managed to help contain employees.

3. Helping employees to stay at or return to work has clear benefits, both for the individual and the business.

4. Ergonomics are kept in mind and the workplace has a productive atmosphere, clean, functional and well-lit space, good working relationship with all staff. Employees feel respected, appreciated, incentivized, and rewarded. Signs of intimidation, bullying, sexual harassment, and fear are absent.

5. Wages are commiserated with skills: Providing a liveable wage encourages a committed and sustained workforce.

6. Health, Wellness, & Environment: Provide a comprehensive health insurance plan including smoking-cessation, weight-loss, and substance abuse programs.

7. Open Communication: Keep the communication process transparent. Creating an environment of open communication contributes to a more energetic and productive workforce where all employees can feel invested in the company.

8. Employee Accountability: It takes two to make a healthy workplace. Employees have to come with a "can-do" attitude and be willing to support each other as well as management.

9. Management Accountability: Allow employees to provide work-related feedback to their supervisors. It can be anonymous to avoid the possibility of negative repercussions.

10. Work/Life Balance: We now live in a world where technology is available to keep us connected to work around the clock. Work options such as flexible scheduling, hoteling (reservation-based unassigned seating) or telecommuting ought to be implemented if applicable. 

11. Clear & Positive Values: Be transparent and definitive about what the organization stands for. People in as well as outside of the company should have a good understanding of this.

According to Founder Cognitiv, Ex CHRO and Change Management Expert Sandeep Bidani (India’s First Specially Abled Senior HR Professional), “Creating happier workplaces should be the single agenda for any organization seeking higher levels of engagement and innovation. With people spending more and more time connected to the workplace via emails, flexy working, and virtual teams, individual wellness drives organizational wellness.”

In his opinion the companies that disrupt and innovate constantly allow for experimentation, They do not reprimand failure, they celebrate people who challenge and change status quo.

Bidani said, “that in such environments, people believe they are secure and can go create what excites them. These two factors build happier, more content employees. Stress levels, normally driven by peer and performance pressures, changing paradigms of family and the pressure of failure, can be handled well only if the organization defines it's “Why”, it’s purpose clearly and ensures each employee connects to that “why”.

The empowerment of challenging and changing anything that does not connect to the “Why” is what creates happier, Stress free workplaces, not parties and balloons.”

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