Opinion Papers

Thursday February 15, 2024

Executive Briefings Business & Management: The Work Place

Mental Health – A Growing Problem

Construction workers and miners, traditionally involved in physically arduous occupations, and now even office employees that remain glued to their chairs, acknowledge cervical damage as work-related hazards. Employers have become mindful of such disorders and provide therapeutic help. However, the issue of mental depression and stress-induced conditions, such as anxiety are not as easily recognised. Mental illnesses have a social stigma attached to them and whilst this has begun to change, the fact remains that an acceptance of reality is frustratingly slow. Employees are, therefore, susceptible to escalations in their conditions. The demands of urban living with the pressures of stressful commutes and a decline in the quality of life, have aggravated matters and hence the urgency to acknowledge their impact.

IMA India undertook a study, entitled the Mental Health Insights Report, based on the outcome of a detailed survey, followed by a dozen interviews with top executives. Findings suggested approximately 80% of respondent companies recognise that mental health impacts, either moderately or seriously, their businesses. This impact takes various forms, including employee morale, engagement and productivity, but also absenteeism and work quality. Staff turnover is firmly affected by mental health. The HR function uses various tools to track mental health and these include employee engagement scores, exit interviews, behavioural changes together with a few others. This is significant progress, compared to the situation that existed no more than a decade ago, where the very concept of mental health was hardly recognised, even less discussed.

Whilst, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that anxiety disorders affect any particular age group, the survey proposed that those between 35 and 45 years of age are more likely to be affected. Contrasting a physical ailment, mental health comes up against several barriers that are in the way of providing employer support. Topping the list, is the stigma and a lack of awareness of its very existence. Often there is employee reluctance to seek assistance. Also, there is inertia or a lack of buy-in from an organisation’s leadership. Workload and other pressures override the importance of this issue. Frequently companies do not have the appropriate resources to offer help and, even when they do, there is a sense of embarrassment amongst individuals to seek it.

Surprisingly, only a minute fraction of respondents has structures and processes that integrate mental health into their organisational culture. However, on the flipside, 30% have a dedicated mental health programme, against 20% that have hardly recognised this issue. Research suggests that a pre-emptive approach can help mitigate several challenges, but often companies that experience only a moderate business impact do very little in this regard. Possibly they do not see a strong business case.

In terms of the way forward, what is ideal for companies, is to firstly, allocate budgets specifically targeted to this issue. Secondly, develop employee assistance programs, either through an in-house therapist or an outsourced agency; organise stress management workshops; and most importantly, host mental health awareness training and campaigns across the organisation. As it happens, based on our report, approximately 60% of companies hold mental health workshops, which is an excellent start. Our report addresses a number of issues on this subject and explains how companies are leveraging technology to identify and mitigate problems amongst their workers. It serves as a useful guide to business managers to understand issues and integrate processes to address this growing problem.