Recently, a city-based online counselling platform threw up some shocking data. Nearly 62.5% of professionals across sectors deal with symptoms of anxiety and depression. Why? Insecurity at work. The fear of losing one's job, having too much or too little to do or failing to maintain a work life balance has significantly deterred mental health, while employers sit back in silence. With company policies lacking mental healthcare programmes and the stigma that continues to exist around these conditions, people end up dealing with the ramifications of problems that could have been avoided entirely through timely intervention, says Joyeeta Chakravorty.
ePsyclinic.com, an online platform that provides therapy and counselling to clients, conducts some 800 sessions a month from Bengaluru. Interestingly, 60 per cent of those who use its services are seeking counselling for stress caused by work pressure and job insecurities and only 20 per cent are trying to give up smoking or early stage drug addiction. A few are adolescents with issues of love and career, but the bulk are adults in the workplace, throwing up questions about the causes of such anxiety among employees and what can be done to help them. Is the answer a change in our work culture?
A study titled ‘Mental health status of corporate employees’ by 1to1help, an employee assistance programme, involving over 6,000 employees in multiple cities, seems to indicate that we do as going by its findings one in every two employees shows signs of depression. As many as 80 per cent of the employees covered by the study exhibited symptoms of anxiety and 55 per cent of depression and were seeking professional help. Even more worryingly, the number of people at risk of suicidal behaviour had gone up from 2.1 out of 10 in 2008 to 8.21 in July 2016, the period of the study.
Getting over a mental health issue is a four-step process : Awareness, acceptance, seeking help and undergoing treatment patiently. What’s important is maintaining consistency in following the treatment. We need to educate people and ensure they understand that mental health issues have to be treated, a specialist has to be consulted and the person has to undergo the treatment consistently for at least six to eight weeks.”
— Satish Kannan CEO DocsApp
Another eyeopener is a recent study by YourDOST.com, an online counselling and emotional wellness platform, which says 62.5 per cent of professionals across sectors are suffering from anxiety and depression due to occupational insecurity. "There is fear of losing the job or losing the promotion to someone else, leading to depression. Employees should be able to balance work with their personal lives, but many can and many cannot," observes Dr Mohan K. Isaac, former head of the Department of Psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Sciences, and consultant to the Union government on mental health policies.
There are studies to prove that more accepting workplaces have happier employees with better productivity. However, not a lot of workplaces are accommodating. Business and corporates should support mental healthcare programs and incorporate best practices in their company policies, including special time-off for anyone who is suffering to cope with the situation. There needs to be acceptance of this condition and a supportive environment at the workplace.
— Ms Anna Chandy, Chairperson - Board of Trustees, The Live Love Laugh Foundation
Dr Vijayakumar, psychiatrist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Whitefield also reveals that workplace pressure is a significant problem among patients, who come to it for stress and anxiety related issues. “With competition increasing in the industry, we are seeing a rise in these cases of late. We counsel the patients depending on the severity of their problem and explain to them the significance of balancing their work and personal lives,” he adds, stressing that it is important for employers to take care of the mental well-being of their employees as this will result in a win-win situation for both.
The Japanse principle of minimising hierarchy, which was first introduced by HMT in India, should be introduced by other companies too on a regular basis. Everyone at the workplace should be treated as a devotee of the work at hand. Obviously, roles are defined but the hierarchy is not emphasised. It’s also important to have good HR managers
— Dr Ajit Bhide, head of the psychiatry department at St Martha's Hospital
Dr Ajit Bhide, head of the psychiatry department at St Martha's Hospital, too reveals that 15 per cent of his adult patients suffer from work-related stress and more than half have purely work- related problems. “The reason is either work overload or work underload. There are people, who are not respected for their particular skills and then there are others, who are just sitting on the bench with no work, which also brings on its own kind of stress. There are companies, which have a good work culture but not all," he regrets.
Causes of work-related stress
- Work overload or under-load
- Lack of clear responsibilities, job description
- Unrealistic deadlines
- Job insecurity, career uncertainty
- Low participation in decision-making
- Isolated working conditions
- Poor communication
- Poor relationship with supervisors
- Interpersonal conflicts
- Non-supportive culture
- Underutilisation of skill
- Shifts, inflexible schedules
- Sexual harassment
- Workplace bullying
- Demands on time
- Fear of failure
- Doubts about choice of career
- Sleep disturbances
- Appetite issues
- Weight gain
- Physical aches and pains
- Low moods, constant crying, mood swings
- Inability to concentrate
- Emotional outbursts
Accessible HR personnel are the need of the hour
If work pressure is getting to employees today, the key lies in timely intervention, say mental health experts. "What we need are good human resources (HR) managers. They should be friendly, accessible and reach out to every employee in some fashion. If employees are suffering from mental health problems as a result of workplace issues, the HR department should allow them to vent their troubles. And for this, they must have a personal link with every employee. This is crucial," says Dr Ajit Bhide, head of the psychiatry department at St Martha's Hospital.
The doctor also stresses the need to give less importance to hierarchies in an organisation. "In Japan they follow a principle where roles are defined, but everyone is treated the same with the priority being the work at hand . This can possibly be introduced in our companies as well," he suggests. Dr Bhupendra Chaudhry, consultant psychiatrist, Manipal Hospital, says about 40 per cent of the patients he sees in a month, are seeking solutions for work-related stress, and believes this can have many causes such as bad behaviour of colleagues, work pressure, poor treatment by seniors, a bad work environment, too much commuting time to work and so on.
“Since there is no single factor, it's important to identify the causes of the stress before seeking professional help. Also, if there is immense work pressure, too many working hours or overload of work, it’s important for the employee to have an open discussion with his or her seniors. The organisation too must provide ways for people to deal with stress and anxiety. Seeking counselling and speaking to close friends is another way out as talking about problems always helps," he adds.
Consequences of work related stress
- Physical ailments
- Poor work performance
- Accident proneness
- Tension and conflicts among staff
- Harmful substance use
- Depression, suicidal ideation