Helping employees deal with mental health issues: Takeaways for startup founders

October 7, 2020 2:43 PM

An employee’s behaviour at work, thoughts and mental approach has a direct bearing on the productivity and attentiveness of the person in the workplace.

It is an old saying that only a healthy body can house a sound mind.

By Shumita Kakkar

Mental health problems are probably one of the biggest challenges but not yet accepted openly by most. Despite this, there is little to no awareness or acceptance of the issues, especially among employers. The common perception has been that an employee’s mental health or happiness is their personal matter with the company or business owners having nothing to do with it. However, the ground-reality is vastly different. An employee’s behaviour at work, thoughts and mental approach has a direct bearing on the productivity and attentiveness of the person in the workplace. Helping employees take care of their mental health is probably one of the most significant investments an employer can make towards keeping the entire organization healthy.

In the absence of an encouraging or understanding work environment, employees tend to conceal their mental health status and as a result, under-perform or become less productive at work. In factories and workshops, such lack of focus and attention leads to accidents, losses and compensations. However, the situation is completely reversible if employers pay an attention to the problem and take well-directed steps to make the workplaces mentally stimulating. Let’s look at the most effective measures:

1. Work life balance: Many people in India work longer hours, clocking weekends and even leaves for work. However, the number of hours put in may not often be the right yardstick to measure an employee’s contribution to the organization. Without work-life balance, employees suffer burnouts and lose interest in their work. Employers should encourage them to maintain work-life balance and live a healthy and enjoyable life.

2. Remove stigmas: In a country like India, mental ailments are still considered contagious and people try to distance themselves from anyone with such issues. Such stigmas, bias and baseless behaviour against those going through a mental illness can prove detrimental. It is important to encourage open discussions, town halls and set up communication channels for employees facing mental issues. They should be encouraged to speak out, discuss and seek support for their problems in a manner similar to the physical health problems.

3. Encourage employees to live healthy: It is an old saying that only a healthy body can house a sound mind. Prolonged illnesses, injuries or other health scares such as the COVID-19 pandemic can make employees stressed and mentally unwell. Employers can make provisions for things like free health screenings, health insurance, and encourage their staff to take care of their wellness, take rest when feeling unwell or mental burnouts. Paid sick leaves might appear as a cost in the short run, but in the longer term, they can do wonders to an employee’s loyalty and lead to better output from the employees in future.

4. Provide access to support systems: These days, there are digital platforms that can assess employees’ mental health conditions and provide counselling, expert guidance and solutions to these problems. Employers can connect with such holistic platforms for screening of their employees’ mental health. Further, they can work with the affected employees to help them recover from their conditions and lead a mentally as well as physically healthy life.

The above-mentioned steps can help in creating a healthier and positive workplace environment where employees are able to communicate effectively and confidently about their mental health. This expression of care and support might even make the employees recover faster and contribute better to the organizational output!

(The author is Founder, United We Care. Views expressed are personal.)

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