Updated: Nov 23
With over 1.3 billion people under lockdown in India, things are bound to get stressful. Despite the pandemic claiming lives across the world by putting the physical health of over seven billion people at risk, the mental health impact of COVID-19 will be felt for years to come. It’s been roughly half a year since organizations have started to work from home and cracks are already beginning to appear on the surface of the virtual workplace. The fact of the matter is, while the economy might be able to hit the pause button for a while, the same principle doesn’t apply to well-being and mental health.
From Zoom fatigue to household responsibilities, employees are finding it difficult to adjust to the ‘new normal’. And the question on everyone’s mind is - ‘Is any of this normal?’ At the end of the day, the onus of helping employees cope with mental well-being falls on the shoulders of leaders, managers and effectively the organization at large. It is no secret that poor mental health contributes to low productivity, decreased workflow and morale.
Nipping it in the bud
While anxiety and depression might be terms that are familiar to some, the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses at work often go unnoticed. Now, with a large number of employees working from home, it has become increasingly difficult to identify mental health problems. Given the unpredictable nature of the situation, employees are grappling with isolation, anxiety, job insecurity and the constant fear of catching COVID-19.
Statistically, one in seven Indians suffer from a mental health issue. Employee well-being is less about offering perks and flexible working hours, and more about providing counselling services to help address mental health concerns in a safe, secure environment. Most companies don’t have a formal recruitment policy that addresses mental health, let alone actual resources to successfully integrate employees with mental health concerns into the workforce.
Without a structured Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place, companies will be forced to also bear the increased costs that are associated with poor employee well-being.
The numbers are alarming
In 2019, Archana Muthappa, a senior corporate communications professional conducted a dipstick survey on mental health and well-being in the Indian PR sector. Over 65% of the respondents reported lack of sleep as the major outcome of stress, while 52% have had episodes of physical manifestations including nausea, binge eating and lack of appetite. According to the World Health Organization, mental health accounts for about 15% of the total disease conditions around the world. Yet, mental health stigma and stereotypes result in it being shoved under the carpet, allowing it to get worse over time. For public relations and corporate communications professionals, the 24/7 news cycle has created a need for content generation and communications round the clock. The urgency to respond to crisis situations, manage reputation, evaluate risks and take immediate action can be detrimental to mental health.
While the pandemic may have helped shed light on the importance of understanding and addressing mental well-being especially in the corporate sector, organizations have a long way to go before well-being becomes an integral part of their day-to-day operations. Sensitizing and training employees to spot signs of distress will create empathetic teams that listen and support each other. Thereby, slowly inching towards a work culture that thrives on positive mental health.
With World Mental Health Day around the corner, addressing the stigma around mental health, providing counselling support to employees working remotely and creating policies that are inclusive of well-being at work are a few steps that organizations can take towards mitigating the corporate mental health crisis.