79% employees feel indifferent superiors affect mental health at work

Playing down the role of leaders or superiors in the mental health of employees, 77% employers hold long, erratic and ‘always on work’ hours responsible for mental health issues at the workplace

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While most employees blame leadership for the mental health issues that emerge at the workplace, the employers choose to underplay the role of leadership. This is clear from the Gi Group report on the state of mental health in corporate India. A good 77 per cent of the employers chose to blame erratic work schedules and peer pressure for the mental health issues in a corporate setup. While they underplayed the role of leaders in the mental health of the workforce, a significant 79 per cent of the employees contradicted this. They felt that leadership is the major reason for mental health issues at the workplace, specifically, indifference on the part of superiors. Only 39 per cent of the employees hold irregular work schedules or work hours and the ‘always available’ mode for mental ill health. An even lower number of employers (38 per cent) felt that leadership or management style affected the mental health of the staff.

Is corporate India ignoring the mental health issues of the workforce? Not really. In fact, just like so many organisations across the world, it has also woken up to the importance of maintaining good mental health amongst the workforce. But the problem is, not all employers think that workplaces should be blamed for the mental health issues of employees nor are they all willing to take formal action to ensure mental health.

Disturbing figures

In India, a significant 57 per cent of employers believe that workplaces may not cause mental health issues but they can worsen them. Only a small 21 per cent employers believe that workplaces can cause as well as aggravate mental health issues.
Out of a total of 1.1 million total registered companies in India, only about 1,000 provide structured employee assistance programmes (EAP) for mental health. That is a very disappointing figure, especially considering the fact that the proportion of corporate India estimated to be battling depression or anxiety disorders is a worrisome 42.5 per cent!
Leaders should give serious thought to the fact that the working hours per week in India is an alarming 48 – 50, as compared to 40 for the US and 33 for the UK.

What seems to be the problem?

Given that 250 million Indians are battling mental health issues, the problem is rather huge, and affects individuals as well as entire households in the country. It is nothing short of a grave economic concern, because according to WHO, it is estimated that approximately US$ 1.03 trillion will be lost in the 2012 – 2030 period, owing to mental health issues in India.

Casual attitude: The Gi Group report, aptly titled ‘All in the Mind’, points out that workplaces add to mental health concerns but do little to address or resolve them. Clearly, Indians are the most overworked employees, worldwide, whereas they are amongst the most underpaid in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Bangladesh, but not all employers believe so.

While 70 per cent of all employers surveyed believe that mental health has an impact, only 45 per cent think the impact is serious and only 25 per cent feel it is significant in terms of organisational performance or growth.

Awareness vs action: While 78 per cent of the employers surveyed believe that workplaces influence mental health, only 21 per cent think that workplaces are potential causes of mental health issues.

There appears to be sufficient awareness among employers, but the gap between awareness and action is rather wide. About 94 per cent are aware of mental health issues and 15 per cent are sensitive to these concerns, but hardly about 9 per cent do something about it.

Even among the 15 per cent of employers who happen to show sensitivity, creating formal measures and policies to ensure the same are rare. Merely one-third of the sensitive employers have implemented EAPs or any formal programmes to address mental health concerns.

Disappointingly, only 53 per cent of all employers have realistically assessed the seriousness and extent of mental health issues.

Lack of seriousness in employees: In general, employees are not very serious about mental health, even though35 per cent have experienced mental health issues, either personally or directly, or through people they know.

Absence of policies: In most cases there is a lack of policies in organisations to address mental health concerns. About 54 per cent of the respondents have no formal policies and mechanisms in place. They deal with mental wellness issues in their own casual ways. Only about 14 per cent have formal policies and mechanisms in place to address issues in this area.

Stigma: Even today, not many wish to discuss mental health issues with anybody. This is the biggest challenge for the HR in dealing with issues in the workforce. In addition not many leaders are interested to openly or actively work in this area. About 29 per cent of the employers are limited by by stigma. About 19 per cent believe that mental wellness is the sole responsibility of the HR. In 16 per cent organisations, programmes pertaining to mental health do not really succeed because people are not willing to come out and speak or participate.

Only a measly 15 per cent of the employees surveyed feel the measures in their organisations are effective. About 33 per cent have no clear idea about the effectiveness of the measures and a good 52 per cent are not satisfied with the same.

However, the positive news is that 82 per cent employers are sensitising their organisations about the issue and are working to make them receptive to mental health concerns. A significant 63 per cent are open to creating multiple channels for people to come forward and share their issues, and 51 per cent encourage healthy interpersonal equations amongst people.

Clearly, even though the pandemic put mental health issues in the limelight, not many employers have really taken concrete action to address these issues amongst their employees. About 48 per cent of the employers have admitted that COVID-19 has impacted mental wellness but only about 29 per cent have taken measures to help those suffering deal with it, whether virtually or physically.

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