Why it is important to design programmes that enhance employees’ mental wellbeing
Recognising that the mental health of employees is crucial to their physical health, productivity, and engagement, companies and startups are focusing on initiatives that support mental wellbeing and mindfulness.
- Ajay, a 35-year-old professional who worked at an MNC, was struggling with work-life stress and performance issues, which led to depression and alcoholism.
- Shilpa, a 25-year-old working at a Bengaluru-based startup, would wake up every few hours at night to check work emails and respond to WhatsApp messages.
- Rajat, a 29-year-old working at an MNC in Gurugram, faced multiple problems including sleep disorder. He tried medication, which made him lethargic and reduced energy levels, thereby affecting his performance at work.
Stories like these are common among today’s working population. But what is to blame for the onslaught of stress? Is it the fast-paced nature of our lives, the competition at work, deteriorating relationships, or the pressure to live Insta-perfect lives? It’s a combination of all these, and more, and is leading to a rise in mental stresses at the workplace.
Amit Malik, Cofounder of InnerHour, a data analytics-driven mental health platform, said employers and corporates are realising the importance of their employees’ wellbeing.
“Employers are also recognising that productivity and engagement at work thrive when employees are mentally well. It also leads to lower iteration rate and reduced absenteeism. Investments in mental health also provide a very good ROI for employers.”
Many corporates and startups are now investing in mental healthcare programmes, which offer employees a holistic lifestyle choice. The services range from yoga, meditation, nutritious diet, and even campaigns and workshops on mental health illness.
Startups like NuPay, Life n Colors, LNC Private limited, and Adtingo Technologies have partnered, for over a year now, with Elate Wellbeing, a startup that provides counselling and support to improve psychological health. Other startups working with corporates include InnerHour, Trijog and EPsyClinic.
Microsoft launched Microsoft CARES in 2017, a platform to enhance employees’ emotional wellbeing and raise awareness about physical, emotional and financial health.
“At Microsoft, we recognise that mental health and wellbeing is not a reason to exclude people from achieving their professional goals. We believe in taking a holistic approach to wellness by looking at the physical, emotional, and financial wellbeing of our employees. Subscription to wellness benefits at Microsoft India continues to grow and we believe it is a significant part of the deal that employees have at the company,” said a spokesperson from Microsoft.
In September, corporates like Blackberrys Menswear supported a global ‘Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride’ in multiple cities of India, where tens of thousands of men dressed in their finest attire rode their motorcycles to raise funds and awareness for mental health among men.
“Blackberrys wants to encourage conversation and end the stigma surrounding mental health. We want to make mental health services more accessible. Talking about it openly and raising awareness is the first step to support,” said Ramesh Kaushik, Vice President Brand Experience, Blackberrys.
The need to address mental health problems
Dr Udaya Kumar Maiya, Medical Director at Portea Medical, said the extent of the challenge that India faces on the mental health front is huge and requires urgent and impactful interventions.
“Unfortunately, access to care for those with mental health issues has been abysmally poor until recently,” he said.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 7.5 percent of Indians suffer from major or minor mental disorders. The global body also estimates that between 2012 and 2030, the Indian economy may incur a loss to the tune of over a trillion dollars due to mental health-related issues. Industry body Assocham claims 42.5 percent of corporate employees in India suffer from some form of depression.
Ashutosh Panday, Cofounder, Elate Wellbeing, said: “The key problems faced by professionals include poor health, work-life balance, relationships, drop in job performance and alcoholism/smoking. Freshers are not able to sleep well and have immense stress. Employees who are married and have children struggle with work-life balance. All this takes a toll on their body and mind, leading to decreased performance at work.”
A study covering more than 500 people and conducted by the Elate Wellbeing team on sleep quality of people staying in large cities and working in the corporate sector, revealed that approximately 67 percent get less than 6-6.5 hours of sleep on an average every day against the required 7-8 hours. This can lead to insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep), obstructive sleep apnea (disordered breathing that causes multiple awakenings), various movement syndromes (unpleasant sensations that prompt night fidgeting), and narcolepsy (extreme sleepiness or falling asleep suddenly during the day).
“The insights clearly point to a bad quality sleep, which is affecting employee health and corporate performance because of reduced productivity, absenteeism etc,” he added.
However, there are signs of positive change too. Mental health awareness is growing and the discourse around mental health is getting more structured. From celebrities sharing personal stories of dealing with the crisis to Twitter threads on managing stress and anxiety, to the recently passed Mental Healthcare Bill, India is slowly making progress in this space.
Good emotional health has spillover effects
With increased awareness, Amit said people are now not questioning why a programme for mental healthcare is required for employees.
“There is a lot of data around about the positive impact of these programmes. Companies realise the multiple benefits of addressing an employee’s mental health— from increased productivity to better company engagement. They are ready to invest,” Amit added.
Microsoft, for instance, has leveraged technology for employee ease and access to multiple facilities such as face-to-face sessions, webinars, live chats, and e-workshops, which employees can access from their desks. This makes health-related content open and accessible to all through a dedicated website.
The Microsoft CARES initiative focuses on the emotional wellbeing of all employees and their family members too. The company believes that by enabling employees to take care of themselves, they are empowering them to “take care of everything else, too”. A confidential counselling service has been designed to help employees through life’s challenges in a mature and balanced manner. Professional counsellors and wellness coaches are available 24/7, through easy access chats, e-workshops, and mobile apps, to assist in developing necessary coping skills to maintain balance in life. Besides this, every month Microsoft partners with 1to1help.net counsellors to conduct Skype sessions on a variety of topics based on employee interests.
Ingersoll Rand, a global manufacturing company, offers its employees access to multiple facilities such as counselling, Ingersoll Rand’s global health challenge, annual health check-up, awareness sessions and financial planning. They have also started an Employee Assistance Program where professional experts assist employees in managing their personal issues that may adversely affect work and performance. The program offers counselling, legal and financial consultation, and crisis intervention services in a confidential manner.
Building a strong workforce
“Startups offer to sponsor half the cost involved in mental healthcare programmes. They share the content and videos on various stress and mental-health coping mechanisms with employees. In fact, one company is planning to offer our programme as a Diwali gift to employees,” Ashutosh said.
Mental health and wellness is a sector that is going to attract more attention in the coming years as stress and depression increase. Most people will seek help as awareness increases.
“People are our asset; so we lend extensive support and investment to take care of their emotional wellbeing. At Blackberrys, we have an open work culture and a strong HR vertical that regularly organises workshops for the employees applying the 'play-and-work theory'. We have open discussions regularly where employees are asked to raise concerns or share problems,” Ramesh said.
(Some names have been changed to protect identity.)