All over the world, work environment and work patterns are rapidly changing. Automation, a gig economy and ageing workforce are just some of the factors that present huge risks to employers, employees, the economy and the environment. The fast pace of innovation, insecurity around employment status and a drive for efficiency are putting increasing pressures on people, which can lead to stress and potentially result in mental ill-health. Hemant Sethi, Country Head India, British Safety Council India shares an interesting insight into the mental health condition in India.
Mental well-being in India: A European opinion poll conducted by EU-OSHA had found that more than half of all workers considered stress to be a common factor in their workplace. In 2017, the Stevenson/Farmer review Thriving at Work estimated that 15 per cent of UK workers have an existing mental health condition. In India, surveys conducted last year by Optum and 1to1help.net, two of the leading providers of employee assistance programmes to Indian organisations, showed a significant increase in the number of workers who are severely depressed or who are vulnerable to taking their lives due to rising stress levels. The World Health Organization estimates that India will suffer economic losses amounting to a staggering 1.03 trillion dollars from mental health conditions between 2012 and 2030.
Work-related stress, a major factor: Most surveys report that among the causes of work-related stress are: job reorganisation or job insecurity, working long hours or excessive workloads, as well as bullying or harassment. A significant cause of concern is that many workers think that stress is not handled well in their workplace.
Workplace policies and activities to promote and protect employee mental health and wellbeing vary widely. Although some significant progress has been made to tackle the stigma associated with mental ill-health, employees with poor mental wellbeing are still very reluctant to disclose it to their employer.
If they do this, they are less likely to feel supported than if they had a physical condition. While there has been collective effort in recent years amongst businesses in general to improve employee engagement and wellbeing by creating a supportive environment for their people, research shows that when it comes to managing stress, organisations are still not making enough commitment.This is probably the reason why many employees are also relying on the internet to seek help.
In the study of top Google searches in 2016 in the UK, it found that work featured in five of the top ten words for stress and work-life balance. ‘Time management’ rendered nearly 100,000 average yearly searches. ‘Work stress’ features in 34,440 searches and work-life balance in 23,160 searches. People also looked up how to ‘reduce work stress’ 12,720 times and how to handle ‘pressure at work’ - 9,480 times.
Longer hours at work and work stress are in direct proportion to each other considering that high level of stress often lead people to conclusion that they need to work longer to boost productivity. However, spending longer hours on a project doesn’t always mean more is achieved. People often do not realise that the quality of time spent working is more vital because working five hours at hundred per cent efficiency is better than eight hours at fifty per cent efficiency.
Managing workplace stress: Good management of workplace stress benefits both the organisation and its employees. Among the most commonly used stress-reducing solutions are wellbeing programmes, employee assistance schemes and flexible working arrangements. As well helping employees to remain healthy, such initiatives boost their loyalty towards their company and give them confidence that their contribution to the company is valued.
Professor Dame Carol Black, UK government advisor on health and work and a passionate campaigner for better mental health and well-being articulated the importance of the link between health and safety when she said: ‘You can’t be a safe worker if you’re not a healthy worker’. She also provided an economic argument for investing in employees’ health and wellbeing: improved welling in the workplace can improve productivity by up to 25 per cent.
The British Safety Council has published a guide on Managing Stress at Work which contains stress management standards recommended by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to be followed in the UK. The guide also features several good practice recommendations for managing stress in the workplace, such as:
Maintain good communication: They can ensure that their employees feel valued and encourage a culture of openness. It is essential for managers to continuously have open lines of communication with their team members about their well-being.
Flexible work options: Companies should strive to ensure that jobs are more flexible, depending on individual circumstances and needs. Wherever possible, it is advisable to consult with employees before making any changes or taking any decisions that are likely to affect them. Employees need to be encouraged to ask questions so that they feel involved.
Understand and learn more about stress relievers: Organisations need to be more proactive in educating all their employees about root causes and symptoms of stress, ways of dealing with it, as well as about available sources of support and guidance. Managers could point employees to mindfulness apps or podcasts which are known to help people manage stress.
Pay attention to early signs of stress: Managers need to be more attuned to the signs of stress among their staff. Some common early signs of stress are poor concentration, low mood, feeling overwhelmed, depressed and irritable. Once managers identify these symptoms, they should encourage their staff to report them to the human resource department, a medical professional or an employee assistance programme, if the company has one.
Practice what you preach: Managers should actively promote a healthy lifestyle by having a good work-life balance, managing working hours, using full holiday entitlement and taking lunch breaks. It is now more important than ever for organisations and employees to ensure that stress and mental health problems are treated with the same seriousness as physical ill-health....