The opportunity to work, be productive, earn a living, and in the process contribute to society is something that we all look forward to. Yet, it is a sad reality that for many people, the thought of work brings only dread.
A 2015 Study conducted by the Associated Chambers of Commerce, found that 42.5% of employees in the private sector suffer from depression and general anxiety, which translates to 425 persons in a workforce of 1,000!
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How do employers tackle this situation and turn it around? To understand this, we spoke to a few HR professionals about the kind of initiatives they’ve set up to help maintain and improve their employees’ mental health. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Introducing Overall Wellness
Tom Varghese, who used to manage talent development for a leading telecom services provider, says that his organisation created a ‘wellness philosophy’ based on four major components – physical, financial, social, and emotional.
He elaborates how they went about doing this. “We had multiple levels of engagement around each theme through newsletters, weekly emails, and external expert sessions. We organised weekly yoga sessions and Zumba classes in addition to regular medical camps. Our employees could also avail a gymnasium, a pool table and other indoor sports during specific hours, which were a great help as stress busters.”
Some other policies in line with the wellness philosophy were, “Encouraging team get-togethers within a specific budget to promote friendly work relations. We also had policies in place that would help employees flag workplace harassment through a strong communication and training campaign. Another way we ensured that our employees weren’t overworking themselves was by keeping tabs on those found to be working overtime on a regular basis.”
Another HR professional, Vinod Khisty, former Head-HR for an IT/Engineering Services company, pointed out the importance of providing the employees with appropriate channels to communicate and express themselves. This could be in the form of larger networking groups or cultural events, and also smaller ‘Special Interest Clubs’ which meet after office hours. These clubs bring together people with common interests such as photography, music, sports and so on.
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2. Encouraging Empathy Amongst Management
It is often observed that first-time managers who have risen up the ranks by merit of their expertise, tend to be insensitive to people’s issues. Training them in people management can go a long way in helping them bring out the best in their teams.
As Vinod shared – “We equip and train people managers to be people-focused and not just task-focussed. Project Managers tend to focus only on the tasks, hence, there is a need to train them to be able to spot issues that their team members might be struggling with.”
Furthermore, Vinod says that they also hold Mental Health awareness sessions for all employees where they talk about the various avenues available to them, if and when needed.
3. Conducting Surveys
Employee engagement surveys are an important tool used by organisations to qualitatively and quantitatively assess the overall levels of engagement of the employees. Through these surveys, you get insights into a general trend towards the work and organisational policies. HR and Senior Management can then use these findings to tweak policies wherever feasible.
The employee engagement score is used as an input to gauge the engagement levels of the staff within the unit, which help the HR take necessary steps towards understanding which areas they need to focus on to ensure the employees are engaged. Through these surveys, they also recognise needs that haven’t been adequately met.
4. Offering Personal Counselling
The one thing that all of the three people we spoke to emphasised on, is the importance of providing access to the services of professional counsellors who can help the employees address issues of relationships, frustrations and so on.
As noted by Shinnie Steven, a counsellor at a leading people management consultancy, you need to keep an eye out for sudden or overtime changes in behaviour. “If the person was outspoken and cheerful, they may have suddenly become withdrawn, moody, and unfriendly. If that behaviour continues for some days, it would be time to have a chat with them. Front-line managers who work closely with the employee should notice these changes and involve HR.”
Tom and Vinod both shared that their organisations engaged the services of an external counselling firm for any employee who needed counselling. The identity of the employee was kept confidential, and only a few key indicators were shared with HR. These indicators helped them plan various initiatives to address those aspects of concern.
While it may not always be easy to spot and help an employee who is suffering from mental health issues, having certain processes in place will help ensure that any employee suffering from them knows that they are cared for by their organisation.
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