The Effects of Employee Mental Health on Organisational Health

Gurrit K Sethi

Gurrit K Sethi

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Gurrit K Sethi, Founder, MIINDMYMIIND, contributes to healthcare by bringing to life new concepts which enhance accessibility, helps providers re-engineer businesses, works with Global Challenges Forum (a Swiss Foundation) on sustainable health initiatives. An avid traveller and voracious reader, these attributes provide her with incisive insights about people and systems and what drives them

The effects of poor mental health of an employee on the productivity of the organisation are subtle and often go unnoticed. More so in larger organisations, as the effects could be infectious and viral out as an unwanted and unwarranted imprint on the culture of an organisation

Poor employee mental health costs India Inc around US$14 billion yearly. Around 80 per cent of the Indian workforce has reported mental health issues over the past year’, reveals a recent survey by Deloitte.

If these statistics are to be believed, it is indeed high time that we understand what this means for businesses on ground!

How often do we hear these or similar statements?

  • I was unable to sleep last night so need a strong coffee
  • I am not feeling too well – have a constant headache, unable to concentrate
  • I have a back issue
  • I have a migraine
  • Oh I am having a panic attack!
  • Colleagues complaining of muscle aches, blood pressure, fatigue, acidity
  • I was unable to sleep so I am not feeling very bright.

And the list goes on… Ask any medical specialist and they will brush these aside as not really medical issues and probably resulting out of over thinking.

Then there is a different set of statements one hears:

  • I am wondering why I have been entrusted this responsibility. I do not think I am good enough for it
  • Because of issues at home, I do not have any peace of mind there. When I come to work, I get to gossip with my colleagues
  • There is too much work!
  • I am stretched! And stressed!
  • This is how it works here! Get used to it!

These have become commonplace jargons of the corporate goers. How many of us are not guilty for having said at least a few of these?

What do these utterances tell us? Because, how an individual manifests issues and concerns like these, or even experiences these, invariably gets shaped by the environment one is in. It is reflective of the atmosphere and belief systems of the workplace. And on the rebound, these also end up shaping the environment around the naysayers. Negative thought processes always have a higher ripple effect than the positive.

These also point to poor mental health and to poor coping skills of common place issues and problems perhaps. It is the same persona that one has in the personal space that we carry to the workplace. And the tensions and effects of one does carry forward to the other. This is a pointer to how we perceive health as well — physical and mental, how we seek to treat the concerns and create coping skills. The generic health statistics of both mental and physical health say a lot about this — we bear 30% of the world’s mental health burden, we are third highest in obesity, we are the diabetes capital of the world and similar for cardiac diseases! It is a no brainer that the work place will be affected! A healthy body and a healthy mind go hand-in-hand.

In essence, the examples of the utterances, also point to the culture of the organisation. To put it in a more common place language — these reflect if it is a happy workplace environment or not. Are people wasting their time in such expressions or are they driven to find solutions. Are people motivated enough to perform well? Are they able to overcome daily workplace issues? Is there a way that enables them to cultivate their skills to do better?

Workplace achievements fuel a sense of growth and well-being. The cheer is not merely because the people are happy, but a lot more goes into creating this positive environment. And creating this is indeed the responsibility of the leadership and leadership at every level and rung of the organisation, not just the HR. As the organisation size goes up, this needs to be a more structured approach to overcome the various complexities of a business environment.

Do reflect back on the instances when you achieved your target. Did the motivation to achieve play a role in the achievement? For that matter, reflect back on our childhood instances of achievements. What motivates us to expand our capabilities?

Unfortunately, such statements are now commonplace. And no, this is not just the outcome of COVID. Yes, COVID did expound it to a degree, but the problem has been brewing for long and is finally showing up in the statistics. In the eagerness for growth, we have been pushing the targets higher, we have been focussing on ‘performance’ albeit without the environment for performance. The pink slip culture seeped in and did take away the security of survival thus converting this to a deed for survival itself.

The health issues — physical or mental — do also show up in forms of absenteeism, insurance costs etc. These have been well researched in some countries around the world. While these are more tangible aspects of the costs incurred, the culture of negative whispers across the corridors can be worse because of the infective nature of negativity! Loss of productivity in terms of quality output is difficult to measure.

A work environment is like setting the temperature of the room. Too cold and you are inactive, too hot and you are again in a not so active situation. To thrive, the right environment is critical. And we have pushed ourselves probably in the wrong direction. Is it not surprising to have seen the year of the great resignation? Or the number of people now choosing to set up their own shop, happy to survive on lesser?

Each one of us thinks of ourselves as a good manager, a good person. However, how many times do we hear of people talking about their good managers? Very few! Should this be a reality check for those of us who consider ourselves super bosses? Yes, the two statistics do not add up!

So, what can we do? Yes, we do have Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) working in our organisations. Are these enough? Because most of these are a tick in the box as a necessary HR activity to be done! This journey of the turnaround has to start with every CEO / COO / C -suite employee across organisations.

Can we create an environment where these can be addressed from a ‘ground up’ approach and re-establish a culture of growth and achievement and rectify and address behaviours that are counterproductive? After all, a working person spends most time of the productive day at the workplace. In many instances today, where the workplace has encroached the home, the problems can be different, and, also need a solution. The right environment can in fact be used to erase the negativity of the system by implanting the right perception and the right treatment / problem solving behaviours.

There is a huge need to infuse positivity, security and cheer to churn these numbers around. This also means earning more! So, a little spend on the right programmes to build awareness on health, a little handholding with the right learning and development programs and well-defined fruitful support for health needs is the need of the hour. And this would differ from organisation to organisation given the nature of the industry and the work profiles.


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