Do we need specific stress or mental health leaves?

HR professionals and leaders are not in favour of mental health leaves. They feel it could meet a similar fate as 'period leaves' for women, which got lost because most women are not comfortable revealing such personal facts.

0
9837

In October 2020, Urban Company erstwhile Urban Clap, the home services company, allowed its employees to take unlimited sick leaves, if they are mentally or physically unwell, or have contracted COVID-19.

Urban company was probably the first organisation in the country to officially announce leaves specifically for mental health.

Last week, Godrej Properties announced a ‘Taking a pause to heal’ initiative, wherein from May 5 onwards, employees were given a break for five days, which included a weekend. They were not required to do any official work during the period, and the clients and customers were informed of the same in advance, so that the sales and customer-centric teams could also take a break.

Another instance is that of Goldman Sachs, where Friday, May 7, was announced as a ‘self-care day’ for all employees so that they could take a break from work, rejuvenate and return charged up.

The number of organisations formalising leaves for stress or mental health issues is very few in India, however, the encouraging factor is that there is a growing concern and acknowledgment of employee stress especially during the pandemic.

“Ensuring mental wellbeing is more about understanding people, empathising with them and creating such policies and practices that can reduce their stress at work. More than mental-health leaves, people need mental peace at this moment.”

Ramesh Shankar S, senior HR leader & former CHRO Siemens

It may be that people are talking about it now because as a society we are all affected due to loss of family and friends. What were just numbers in the previous wave of Covid-19 has turned out to be names we all know.

Add to that people continue to struggle to juggle official work and domestic chores, with employees across ranks battling similar challenges. All of these have added to a lot of mental stress among employees.

However, most companies are yet to structure and formalise a mental health leave policy. The question also is whether or not we need a specific mental health leave policy. It has to be noted that there is still a lot of taboo around mental health issues, though there seems to be prejudice and misconception.

Mental peace

Senior HR Leader and former CHRO, Siemens, India, Ramesh Shankar S feels that giving a mental health leave makes no sense at all. According to him, ensuring mental wellbeing is more about understanding people, empathising with them and creating such policies and practices that can reduce their stress at work. “More than mental-health leaves, people need mental peace at this moment,” explains Shankar.

Shankar cites an example from the past, when he was working with a company as a CHRO. He observed a regional sales manager making calls at 12:30 a.m. for sales reports. When Shankar, who happened to be travelling with that regional manager, caught him taking updates at that unearthly hour, he was very angry with him. He was almost about to fire him for the act.

“Instead of calling them mental health leaves, why can’t we just call them leaves? We can simply increase the number of overall leaves for employees, because many people will not even avail such leaves otherwise. It is just like what happened to the concept of period leaves for women. The policy was totally lost because most women are still not comfortable revealing such personal facts about themselves.”

A senior HR leader who preferred to stay anonymous

“After that incident, I made it a point to personally follow up with his regional team members regularly to find out whether he had been calling them up at odd hours for sales-related discussions,” mentions Shankar. He strongly believes that organisations should strive to ensure that every employee gets to enjoy their personal time with family.

Open, stress-free environment

Manoj Kumar Sharma, CHRO, Aarti Industries, also feels that mental health of the workforce is not just about giving leaves and breaks. It is about creating a stress-free environment at the workplace. In fact, Sharma believes that the main reason for stress and anxiety is that people do not find anybody with whom to share their thoughts or difficulties in life. Therefore, creating an environment where employees feel comfortable and encouraged to open up, talk and share their feelings is what is required to ensure their mental health.

“Creating a culture of stress-free work is a long-term solution that will have a deeper and more positive impact. Of course, if required, stress leaves can be used as an incentive in the process. However, focussing on stress leaves alone will simply be a ‘tick in the box’ activity, which will definitely not address the issue, but offer just a temporary solution.”

Manoj Kumar Sharma, CHRO, Aarti Industries

Expert help

Sharma is of the opinion that it is best to consult specialists in mental health cases and seek their expertise to address the problem of mental health issues at the workplace. These benefits should be extended to the employees’ family members as well. Aarti Industries has tied up with a wellness partner and Sharma claims that his employees and their family members use these services.

“Creating a culture of stress-free work is a long-term solution that will have a deeper and more positive impact. Of course, if required, stress leaves can be used as an incentive in the process. However, focussing on stress leaves alone will simply be a ‘tick in the box’ activity, which will definitely not address the issue, but offer just a temporary solution,” explains Sharma.

Awareness and education

A senior HR leader from the e-commerce industry tells HRKatha, that in India, employers do not understand the problem of mental health and stress. That is why, for them, it is difficult to even come up with good policies. He reveals that at his firm, they focus on educating leaders on what mental stress actually is and the signs to look for, so that they can identify symptoms in their team members and take timely action.

He also points out that people are not comfortable talking about such things openly, and therefore, offering mental health leave will certainly not work.

“Instead of calling them mental health leaves, why can’t we just call them leaves? We can simply increase the number of overall leaves for employees, because many people will not even avail such leaves otherwise. It is just like what happened to the concept of period leaves for women. The policy was totally lost because most women are still not comfortable revealing such personal facts about themselves,” enunciates another senior HR leader.

Just by granting some ‘stress leaves’ to people, we cannot address the issue of mental health. Organisations should focus more on creating a stress-free environment at work and practise this continuously, making it part of the culture, for genuine results.

At Wipro, an initiative, MITR (friend) was started way back in 2004. After thorough analysis and surveys, the Company found that many people were going through high levels of stress. The Company’s MITR counsellors, a group of volunteers, assist employees battling mental stress issues, and the Company has a policy of maintaining anonymity through the entire process.

Probably that’s the way to go ahead.

Comment on the Article

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

sixteen + five =