While HR is responsible for executing on the people agenda, don’t outsource your team’s wellbeing to them. Make it your priority!
In the past eight months, businesses have experienced an existential crisis like never before. Every day has brought unique challenges for business leaders and it’s been but natural to focus on the here and now. It has been difficult for leaders to focus on a more holistic, longer term picture because everyone is trying to learn and apply new skills in real time. Board directors have seen much more involvement on the governance and strategy aspects, besides helping the business with the much-needed guidance and acting as the sounding boards.
But there is a much-much larger crisis that both business leaders and boards need to pay attention to as of yesterday!
Some alarming statistics are emerging which are extremely telling. It is estimated that around 45% of the employees in corporate India suffer from some form of mental health disorder. This statistic gets worse when we realize that almost 75% of these people will be forced to hide their condition because of the stigma attached to the mental health issues. The World Health Organisation estimates that India will suffer productivity losses due to the mental health related disorders to the tune of $1 trillion in 20 years starting 2012. That is just staggering and the number of people experiencing higher levels of stress, isolation, anxiety disorder due to Covid-19 is up by more than 50%. This level of emotional exhaustion and frustration is unprecedented! This mental health pandemic that is festering under the surface will require more than just first-aid.
While we slowly start creeping towards normalcy, leadership and boards must start focusing on the mental health strategy for their organisations along with the business strategy.
Start the Dialogue
Due to business exigencies (and I’m sure business leaders have had the most stressful eight months themselves!), the internal dialogue has become largely transactional. Remote working has added to this problem and work relationships have become all about the next deliverable or deadline. We have stopped asking our team members how they are feeling! A large number of people are telling us that their work culture has become too impersonal and no one cares about what they are going through! And these are the people who are most likely to experience a breakdown in their mental health.
CEOs need to shift their personal agenda. Talk to your people and ask them if they are okay! While HR is responsible for executing on the people agenda, don’t outsource your team’s wellbeing to them. Make it your priority!
It takes a lot of courage for employees to open up about their emotional and mental challenges so it’s important to create a safe environment where they don’t feel judged or are perceived to be weak. Leaders need to improve their listening skills and try to understand where the employee is coming from. Sometimes just the ability to share without judgement is enough to provide comfort to an individual. Providing a swift solution may not work. Sharing personal stories with team members and being vulnerable in front of them will go a long way in assuring them that they are not alone.
Change the Perception
One of the best ways to bring the mental health challenges in the open is by changing the rhetoric. Run a campaign on mental health internally where stories are shared and a dialogue is encouraged with mental health professionals. Providing platforms where expert knowledge is made available and people openly start discussing their challenges and success stories will be a game changer. The fact that the organisation is investing in this area will be enough to give employees the comfort that they are in an environment where they are being cared for. Including the families of employees in these initiatives will be even more effective in addressing the issues.
Make Mental Health a Part of the Board Agenda
As a part of their governance agenda, boards should start monitoring the health and wellbeing of the employees. While management may be well meaning, it is very likely that the exigencies of the business are not giving them enough bandwidth to focus on the employees’ emotional health issues. The board can drive this agenda and guide the management in prioritizing these initiatives. It will be a good idea to initiate a quarterly pulse survey to review the state of productivity challenges and evaluate if the initiatives in play are providing any relief. This will help the organisation to stay ahead of the curve and take swift action based on what the workforce is trying to communicate.
Board members can also help take care of the leadership and provide a willing ear to listen to their issues. Stress is not limited to any level or department – business leaders are carrying the maximum load and need a safe and secure environment for their challenges to be heard as well.
The author, Anita Belani, is Co-Founder of Emotionally.
Ref. Economic Times HR, India Times