Addressing mental health concerns should be key focus of employee assistance programs to boost productivity

November 25, 2020 11:28 AM

Over the last 2-3 decades, there has been a rapid growth of the private sector in India, with various MNCs setting up their operations in the country.

The most valuable resource available to a company is the human mind.

By Prakriti Poddar,

In 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported that millennial Indians spend more than 52 hours at work in a week on average. The number is staggeringly high as compared to counterparts from 25 other countries. Long hours of work coupled with performance pressures, family priorities, office politics and financial worries are exposing employees to stressors affecting their mental health adversely. As a result, 4 out of 10 working professionals in the country suffer from depression or anxiety. Mental illness has a serious impact on workplace productivity. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), loss of productivity due to mental illness costs the global economy $1 trillion loss annually. With growing concern over stress and mental issues at the workplace, there is an immediate need to act on these concerns and introduce effective Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to maximize the support to employees.

The Urgent Need to Care for Employee Mental Health

Over the last 2-3 decades, there has been a rapid growth of the private sector in India, with various MNCs setting up their operations in the country. However, along with the growth of employment opportunities several stress-related challenges have also cropped up at workplaces. A study by SHRM showed that a finance/banking company with 500 employees on average, suffers a loss of Rs 100 crores in productivity because of stress-related issues. The study also pointed out that an ITES/IT company with 10,000 employees on average suffers Rs 50 crore loss owing to stress among employees.

When the stress-related issues combine with the daily strain of our complex society, companies experience a significant fall in employee-engagement along with increase in absenteeism and employee turnover. With clinical depression rising at a steady rate over the past few years, it has also led to an increase of different ailments such as cardiac disorders, hypertension, diabetes and obesity. All these can significantly contribute to productivity loss and direct medical costs.

How Employee Assistance Programs can be the Game Changer

It is quite inevitable that in today’s fast-paced world where everyone one of us are falling short of time to meet deadlines, achieve goals, and targets, stress is bound to take over. A study in 2016, consisting of more than 6000 employees from different Indian cities found out that 55% of the respondents had depression symptoms while 80% had symptoms of anxiety. An Employee Assistance Program can be the first step to support the psychological and mental well-being of employees in an organisation. Though EAPs have been rapidly adopted worldwide by several organisations and are usually a critical component of employee benefit programs, in India their adoption rate has been sluggish. The good news is with mental health gradually grabbing public attention, corporates are now realising the preventive role of EAPs in mitigating the effects of stress and anxiety among employees.

A well-designed EAP program addresses all issues from different aspects of life that ultimately give rise to mental health issues. Devised to help employees deal with personal and professional problems that may affect their performance, an EAP offers workplace assessments to identify practises and behaviours that are contributing to mental health problems. Other than that, EAP teams also assist employees with personal concerns related to family, marital, finance, conflict, grief and substance use.

Stress-related issues like decreased performance, absenteeism and health problems not only affect an employee but also affects the overall workforce. In addition to that, employees experiencing high levels of stress may become more argumentative, less communicative and defensive at work. Investing in EAPs can open the doors to support such employees to discuss their issues and improve their well-being. Studies have shown that when EAP is introduced, employee productivity increase, healthcare costs are reduced and return on investments increase.

Bottom Line

The most valuable resource available to a company is the human mind. Other than productivity, companies rely on employees to drive sustainable success and deliver their mission. Future-proofing and safeguarding this resource is the best way forward for companies to realise their goals and thrive in this competitive market. Employee Assistance Programs introduced by organisations should adopt a holistic approach to employee wellness by taking into consideration different aspects of their life that can trigger mental stresses.

(The author is Global Head for Mental Health at Round Glass, Managing Trustee Poddar Foundation. She can be reached at prakriti@poddarfoundation.org. Views expressed are personal.)

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