People spend a considerable amount of their waking hours at their workplace and a toxic workplace environment can play a havoc on the mental health of employees. In this article consultant psychologist and psychotherapist Atashi Gupta explains how work environment impacts mental health and what can organizations do to make a visible and meaningful difference.
Let us in the first place understand and acknowledge the very fact that no work could be performed without an effective coordination of mind and body. The workplace thus must provide all deserving means and system which will not only help in maintaining the soundness of both mind and body but also even find out means and ways to improve upon current status of them as well.
Mental health – the ignored reality
Mental Health is undoubtedly as important as physical health to the overall wellbeing of individuals, societies and countries. It affects how we think, feel and act. It is important in every stage of life from childhood till adulthood through adolescence.
It is quite common to see that while people recognize and acknowledge physical illness, they are ignorant about mental illnesses. Unlike physical health, they do not recognize mental health in the first place. And if they do, most of the time they are not forthcoming about it (like in case of physical illness) and avoid discussing or taking help. The reason being, still it is a taboo to be suffering from a mental illness because it is generally perceived as being insane or off-balance. This is true in family settings and at the workplace.
It is gradually but surely being observed and recognized the psychological condition or mental health of employees plays significant determinant in their overall health and stressors at the workplace remains to be a contributory factor to a range of physical illnesses like hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular conditions, amongst others. In addition, it also lead to burn-out amongst employees, considerably lowering their ability to contribute meaningfully in their professional lives as well as personal one.
World Health Organization revealed that 7.5 percent of the Indian population suffer from different forms of mental disorder. World Health Organization also predicts that about 20 percent Indian population will be under ambit of mental illness by the year 2020. It is also revealed that globally 264 million people suffer from depression and out of that most of them also suffer from an anxiety disorder. The situation is quite alarming for India where as per ASSOCHAM study, 42.5 percent of Indian employees engaged in private sector, suffer from depression and anxiety (The ASSOCHAM study in 2015).
Work environment and mental health of employees
Work engagement always makes an individual healthy but negative work environment can lead to physical and mental health problems. The workplace affects an employee’s physical and mental health either way. They spend at least one-third of their day at their workplace. In some cases, it is close to half a day. It is easy to list out attributes those might affect their physical health like cleanliness and hygiene. Similarly, the pro or anti congenial work environment at the workplace affects the workforce deeply and can have a huge impact on employee’s mental health.
Several research findings indicate that in India excessive workload, career development, organizational conflict, environment, and structure are the sources of stress at the workplace. The impact of stress at the workplace can have both positive and negative. This stress divided into Eustress or positive/good and Distress or stress response to an action as being negative. In the organization, there are two types of stress. They are Challenge stressors and hindrance stressors. The challenge stressors related to job load, competition, and repeated changes of organization. On the other hand, hindrance stressors obstruct the employee from achieving the goals (Podsakoff. N. P., Lepiine. J. A., 2007, “Differential Challenge-Hindrance Stressor Relationship with Job Attitudes, Turnover Intentions, Turnover and Withdrawal Behavior: A meta-analysis”, Journal of Applied Psychology; Colligan Thomas W and Higgins Eileen M., 2006, “Workplace Stress-Etiology and consequences”, Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health). The findings also revealed that at the time of stress the male employees feel frustrated and lack of concentration whereas female employees feel frustrated and exhausted. As a result headache, muscular pain in male employees is common whereas female employees face obesity, high blood pressure. Psychologically this frustration and exhaustion can create depression, anxiety, resentment. As a result, it leads to hostility at the workplace, lack of patience, low confidence, interpersonal conflict, decreased quality of work and lowers productivity.
The congenial workplace can have a positive impact on the workforce. “The stimulus workplace could increase the motivation to achieve their goals associated with the work and career development,” said Mr. Ganguly, employee of a well-known IT company.
Optum’s study in 2016, found that 46 percent of Indian employees suffer from some form of stress at the workplace. Therefore many a time the pressure related to the employee’s job can cause of their depression and anxiety disorder.
“Stress at work is a known cause for certain symptoms such as anxiety, depression, etc. often leading to serious physical illnesses like hypertension and diabetes” said Ms. Priyadarshini Ray, Director – Program, in the Non -Governmental Organization.
“Daily life equates stress, especially at the workplace. We go through various kind of stress basically unable to meet the demand of the job like meeting the deadline, pressure to get the job done from others etc.” said Ms. Shampa Chowdhury, Manager of the development sector.
Intensely demanding work schedules, and performance pressure of modern time, can lead to stress in Indian employees. For instance, one of the employee from the IT industry revealed that the main problem of the IT industry is “Stretching individual’s capacity to the limit with false promises”. He also pointed out that in at the time of recruitment, the manager motivates his associates for hard work by selling the team members a golden dream of carrier graph. But by the time the associate realizes the truth, the same boss becomes an impeding factor for their future success. “Every IT professionals must have gone through this situation,” he said. The delayed promotion, overtime hard work, not getting prolonged leave are the main cause of their depression and mental health problem. The daily dissatisfaction and grievances can lead to their smoking habits, he stated (an employee of a popular IT company).
A study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics found that most of the workers experienced a “lot to moderate” stress at the workplace. In India, almost 82 percent of Indian people are suffering from stress. Compared to other generation, people with age group of 35 to 49 mostly face some form of stress which are related to physical well-being, financial security and workplace wellness revealed by Cigna’s 360 wellbeing survey, 2019. Global findings reveal that in India men (85%) are more stressed than working women (82%).
Hence the worrying modern working environment can cause and exaggerate employee’s mental health problems. Therefore it is important for companies to take more care of employee’s mental and emotional well- being and take it as significant the issue at the workplace.
Suggestions – action needed
Workplaces maybe taking steps but most of the developing country like India has no specific policy or strategy for addressing the mental health issues at workplace. The companies are not given much attention to mental health issues like physical health. There is a need to give more attention to this significant issue. So it is essential to take comprehensive strategies for employee’s mental and emotional wellbeing so that they can do their jobs well and can prevent their burnout. Followings are some steps that the company can take to help their employees to maintain healthy mental state at the workplace:
- Promote awareness to protect the employee’s mental health issues.
- Design a training program which can help employees for developing skills and knowledge to perform their work effectively. Further, these skills can help them to motivate themselves and most importantly to balance themselves emotionally.
- Provide a training program to improve their coping skill, so that they can identify the sources of their job stress, identify how they can respond to specific job stressors.
- Motivate employees by giving positive reinforcement, treating people fairly, setting work-related goals, restructuring jobs, satisfying employee’s realistic need
- Provide professional guidance when they are in need. Give them the opportunity to consult with the Psychologist for guidance and counselling.
- Create a healthy working environment which ensures a favourable attitude towards co-workers.
- Ensure communication between employer and employee, so that employee can interact anything without any hesitation when they face a problem.
These above-mentioned steps can create a healthy environment at the workplace. This can also help to protect, promote and support mental health at the workplace.
For example Ms. Chowdhury, Manager at a reputed firm said “in my opinion one should be efficient and competitive, it means one has to constantly improve on oneself, always seek for improvement and passionate about their work, we can cope with the stress if we have an awareness about constant seeking guidance to improve our knowledge and expertise about the area of our work then we will not suffer from helplessness”.
In addition Ms. Ray, Director in the Non – Governmental Organization said “if the workplace is inclusive, non-judgmental and provides a compassionate take on performance, it could actually contribute positively towards the mental well-being of its workforce. When people are eager to go to work every morning, it is a good sign both for the individual and the organization.”
Too little, too late
In India, few organization and corporate sector consider mental health as significant issue and emphasis are given on the mental and emotional wellbeing.
Few take new initiative for mental health care in which they dedicated to mental and emotional wellbeing of their employees and incorporate the leave for mental health issues as medical leave. They also start different training programs on mental health issues for their employees.
The comprehensive, non-judgmental and empathetic working environment can create positive mental health at the workplace. A healthy mental state increases productivity and therefore makes perfect economic sense for the organization as well. It also ensures that attrition is low, which saves a huge cost. Often people leave due to stress caused by individuals or work culture or a negative experience. Hence leaders should ensure that training is available at all levels which teaches people how to deal and manage their peers, subordinates, superiors, and teams. Human Resource policies should be in place. While swift action should be taken in case of any kind of wrongdoing, there should be ample opportunities for growth and development for all employees. For this, it is important that there is trust in all relationships and interactions across the organization. This needs to be developed in the nascent years as it sets the work culture, which is then largely adhered to by new employees.
About the author
Atashi Gupta is a consultant psychologist (RCI Registered) and psychotherapist with 18 years of experience in the field of mental health. She has done her M.Sc. in Applied Psychology with specialization in Clinical Psychology from University of Calcutta, her M.Sc in Dementia studies from University of Sterling, United Kingdom, B.Sc in Psychology (Hons.) from University of Calcutta and Post Graduate Diploma in Psychotherapy and Psychological Counselling from Jadavpur University. Her passion is to help people to understand and find their problems and help them to draw on ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ resources to solve their problems or issues. Moreover, she helps people to explore issues of concern to them in a way that helps them to decide what to do.
She is the recipient of award from St. Jude Childcare Centers for helping children and parents to overcome their problems and maintaining calm and discipline at the centre with remarkable confidence, professional competence and compassion.
She is also the proud recipient of scholarship from Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, United Kingdom for her dementia studies and research.
Atashi is an avid researcher who has published her work in various reputed publications. Atashi has guided large number of students who completed dissertation work on the geriatric mental health issue under her supervision at Calcutta Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology. Her interviews have appeared in various national dailies/magazines and have been aired on television as well. She is credited for developing an interactive self- learning CD-Rom for young people, Behaviour change communication strategy paper, counselling guideline. Atashi is also a trainer and has conducted training on mental health, psychosocial health and counselling issues at Calcutta University, West Bengal State Aids Prevention and Control Society (WBSAPCS), Save The Children , Child In Need Institute, Family planning association of India and other well-known government and non- government organizations.