“This COVID-19 wave is more gruesome, important for companies to make sure employees feel they are heard”

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May 11, 2021 2:09 PM

Marcos Segador Arrebola, Managing Director of GI Group said that work-life balance tops the concerns in a workplace but it was interesting to see that only 1% of the surveyed employers have instituted practices to ensure a healthy balance.

mental health index, GI Group, The State of Mental Health in Corporate India, Work Life balance, appraisal-related anxiety, covid-19 pandemicIndia Inc. is in the midst of appraisal season. With the season returning after almost two years, anxiety amongst employees has also increased by multi-folds.

Covid-19 has helped highlight the underlying mental wellness related challenges in the Indian corporate sector. While companies are working round the clock to align their efforts to identify and address stressors that directly or indirectly impact them, there still is a huge gap that needs to be bridged. In an exclusive conversation with the Financial Express Online Marcos Segador Arrebola, Managing Director of GI Group, India talked talk about how India Inc. is faring at the mental health index, the importance of mental health at the workplace, practices that a corporate can adopt to make its work environment healthier, appraisal anxiety and more. Excerpts:

Mental health has mostly been associated with personal reasons but the report by GI Group has highlighted that workplaces also play a pivotal role in aggravating mental health-related issues, could you please elaborate on that?

The year 2020 underlined the importance of mental wellness for Corporate India. It is quite evident that workplaces also play an important role in defining an individual’s mental wellbeing. Factors like salary expectations, work-life balance, leadership style of the manager and anxiety over career growth are one of the top factors that add to mental stressors.   As a leading Industry player for the last two decades in the field of Staffing and Search & Selection in the country, Gi Group has had a consistent and unique exposure to the workforce reality in India. This is what motivated us to pursue this topic in detail in our recent report “All in the Mind- The State of Mental Health in Corporate India”. This report is an exhaustive study focusing on the different stressors that aggravate/hamper employee wellbeing.  Some of the insights that we found are clear statements on the issue, like that 78% of employers believe that the work environment can hinder mental wellbeing. Further, while 94% are aware of mental health issues, only 15% are sensitive to mental health concerns, out of that only 9% take awareness to action.  Equally noteworthy is the absence of seriousness among employees, even though about 35% have experienced issues related to mental health. But I would say this issue is coming into focus and we expect that both awareness and action on this issue will increase significantly over the next couple of years.

How are the different sectors of India Inc. like banking, IT, FMCG amongst others fare on the mental health index? Can you share some interesting observations?

While analysing the report there were many interesting points unique for every sector, for example, IT/ITeS and BFSI have high awareness levels across both employers and employees. The FMCG and Automobile sector have low awareness levels in employers and the FMCG and E commerce sector have low awareness levels amongst employees. In general, awareness levels are higher among employers than among employees. Also, awareness levels increase with organization size. Large organizations are most aware at 53%, followed by medium sized (34%) and small (13%). In spite of its close proximity to the issue, only 49% of the sample size of the healthcare sector believed that every 1 in 100 adults is faced with mental health-related challenges which are comparatively very low as compared to IT/ITes and BFSI segments.

Also Read | Appraisal anxiety in the Covid-19 pandemic-era

What are the kinds of practices that a corporate can adopt to make its work environment healthier? 

I firmly believe that a healthy work environment enables a motivated workforce. Minute alterations in the simplest of conventional practices can also make a huge difference, for example allowing a free flow of communication between ranks rather than going through a list of checkpoints makes the employee feel that their seniors are approachable while enabling better communication amongst peers. In addition to a channel for seamless communication, leaders who ensure a culture of steady work-life balance have also been seen to have a more motivated workforce.  At Gi Group, we are continuously working towards improving the overall physical and mental well-being of all our colleagues. We prioritize the mental well-being of our employees and firmly believe that it contributes to individual and company success. This aspect of the company’s culture has helped create a group that is still willing to help one another, even in these tough and unprecedented times, we have gone above and beyond to ensure that every employee knows they can rely on the organisation and their co-workers for support.

Marcos Segador Arrebola, Managing Director of GI Group

With work-after work-life lines blurring owing to COVID-19, how did this aspect affect the mental wellbeing of employees across categories?

Work Life balance has emerged as the top most concern area.  BFSI, E- commerce and healthcare & pharmaceuticals sector along with Bangalore, Mumbai and Hyderabad, represent the top sectors and cities that rank work-life balance and work-related stress as the top concerns at the workplace. Work-life balance tops the concerns in a workplace but it was interesting to see that only 1% of the surveyed employers have instituted practices to ensure a healthy balance. 35% of the surveyed employers stated that promoting healthy work-life balance will help in addressing mental health issues but there is still a huge gap in awareness and addressing the gap.

Since there is another lockdown kind of situation, what are the measures that an HR/employer can inculcate to ensure similar mental stressors are not repeated?

This COVID-19 wave is way more gruesome as compared to the previous one. During these times, it becomes important for employers and HR representatives to make sure that their employees feel that they are heard at all times. Owing to the work anxiety coupled with that caused by the current situation, burn-outs have become more common. To combat this while taking a cue from the report, it is important to ensure that there is a balance between work-life and after work-life and adapting to a more empathetic leadership role. Similarly, Gi Group has also instituted policies to nurture mental well-being and has introduced Employee Assistance Program (EAP.) The program comprises regular interpersonal sessions while also promoting personal contact points with individual team members. Understanding that women make up more than half of our workforce, we have implemented flexi work hours, helping each of our employees to better handle their personal- commitments.

What are some interesting trends that you noticed from non-metro cities?

The study was conducted in Delhi NCR, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and Pune, out of which Pune showed high awareness about the issue and had also accounted for high accountability whereas Kolkata, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad displayed low accountability and awareness about the issue. Chennai and Pune have also introduced mechanisms for assured privacy allowing affected employees to attend counselling and therapy sessions which is something that is still missing in many metro cities.  We also noted that industries in Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai believe that long/erratic work-hours have a significant impact on mental wellness whereas a section of the industries in Chennai and Hyderabad also believe that leadership and management styles play a huge role in mental wellness which is a huge step that helps in working towards an optimum mental wellness.  Additionally, we also recorded that 42% of employees surveyed in Ahmedabad displayed greater awareness about aspects of mental health. 36% of the sample size from Pune shared that mental health and wellness have a lower impact on the work environment.

Appraisals are around the corner; how do you suggest employees deal with appraisal-related anxiety in a pandemic?

India Inc. is in the midst of appraisal season. With the season returning after almost two years, anxiety amongst employees has also increased by multi-folds. During these times, employers and HR representatives need to ensure greater levels of empathy across levels.  While as earlier suggested that people are now more aware about the idea of mental wellness but often find it difficult to relate with symptoms of anxiety. To combat that, employers and HR representatives can help in identifying the system and share study materials and questionnaires that can help employees identify the triggers.   One aspect that can also help in reducing anxiety is to elaborate on the accomplishments in the last year. This can be done by zeroing on a set format and sharing major accomplishments in a detailed manner. These accomplishments can be both, work-related as well as team-building related.

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