With mental health issues on the rise, here’s how companies can step up to build a healthy work environment.
This article has been sponsored by Accenture.
How often have you braved your personal life problems and put on a happy face at work?
For Divya Mohan, this facade wasn’t simply a matter of a day, but rather months. The reason — an abusive marriage.
A fairytale love story that began with her and her partner meeting at the workplace, being on the same team, getting close and eventually getting married, soon took an unhappy turn. Divya was often physically abused, and repeated incidents finally became unbearable for her.
Horrified after one such incident, Divya, in an attempt to confide in someone found solace in her managers at Accenture where she was working as an Operations Assistant Manager. They saw to it that not only did she receive the help she needed but that her abuser was no more a part of the organisation.
This was the start of a better life for the single mother. In time to come, happiness presented itself as an opportunity for her to participate in a knowledge exchange program in Sweden.
“I viewed this as a chance to re-evaluate my life, career and take on new challenges,” says Divya, adding that the trip accelerated her professional career in ways she hadn’t imagined.
Today, Divya is an assistant manager at Accenture Operations and is happily remarried with two kids. Though the road to happiness was a long one, she says she has her team at work and managers to credit for handling the situation and supporting her in a myriad of ways.
‘You shouldn’t have to fight your emotional battles alone.’
For Divya, coming to the workplace every morning with a smile on her face was tough whilst internally she was battling her demons. But, she isn’t the only one. Employees around the world are often victims of mental health issues.
In 2018 Accenture set out to understand how mental health affects the lives of people in the United Kingdom as a part of a project ‘This Can Happen’. The study brought about startling revelations.
In a blog titled ‘IT’S NOT 1 IN 4, IT’S ALL OF US: Why Supporting the Mental Health of Younger Workers Starts with Organisational Culture’, it was revealed that in contrast to the belief that one in every four people was dealing with emotional challenges, the actual figure is nine in every ten who are fighting a battle in their head.
The team then decided to probe further and explore in which age group this was most dominant and were shocked to know that it was the younger age groups where this was common.
At a time when the start of a new career should have been a precursor to feelings of excitement, Accenture noticed this had the opposite effect. The reason stated according to the study was that this group “felt unprepared for the realities of working life before joining it”.
The problem needed to be addressed. As Accenture’s 2019 Equality=Innovation report showed, in the most inclusive and diverse cultures, employees’ willingness and ability to innovate is 11 times higher than in the least inclusive and diverse organisations.
Lakshmi Chandrasekharan, Managing Director – Human Resources, Lead Accenture, India agrees. In a blog titled ‘Building an equal world, where everyone feels like they truly belong and can thrive’, she adds that the unprecedented year that we have experienced due to the COVID pandemic has only made things more challenging when it comes to employees’ mental health concerns.
“The pandemic has deepened some of the pre-existing inequalities,” she says. “Despite the strides, we made as a community towards creating a more equal world over the years, we probably reversed the progress made in many ways.”
With everyone’s lives having been taken on a roller coaster of sorts, some people are still reeling from its effects.
“Organisations need to amplify their efforts to rebuild lost ground,” adds Chandrasekharan.
How corporates can be more sensitive
Showing up to work despite dealing with mental health concerns has been the norm for a long time now, but steps can be taken to change this. Corporates around the world are slowly beginning to acknowledge that their employees are human and need a reset.
Those at Accenture suggest that the first step is to break the stigma associated with mental health and this can be done by encouraging open conversation.
As teams sit together to brainstorm ideas and the company’s growth, it is crucial for them to also be able to speak about their mental health. After all, only when one feels good can productivity at work improve.
Not just Divya Mohan but other employees at the company too have benefitted from routine training that has been conducted to help employees adopt healthier habits. For instance, Thriving Mind initiated in 2020 is a self-directed learning experience that includes courses that help one navigate anxiety, and stress and also manage their ‘worry time’. For others who wish for a more personalised form of support, there is the Employee Assistance Program that provides help around the globe, 24 hours a day, for employees and their loved ones.
“Advocacy plays a key role in driving positive change and we have developed a voluntary network of more than 1,600 mental health advocates who regularly reach out to their colleagues so that everyone can have a colleague who is ready to listen and discuss mental health issues, and we can proactively provide support where needed,” Chandrasekharan is quoted saying in an article in The Times of India.
Help is always at hand
But, while steps can be taken at higher levels to show employees support, what also matters is what is done at the team level.
“In Accenture’s culture of equality, it’s not just okay for our people to talk about their mental well-being and get the support they need, when and how they need it — it’s encouraged,” says Dr Tam Brownlee, Chief Health Officer at the company.
In a blog titled ‘From the top down, we’re prioritizing mental health and well-being’, she explains that her responsibility is of improving the well-being of 600,000 people at the company and says the technique she uses to do this is simple. I convey the message to them: ‘You matter’.
Here are some ways corporates could cater to their employee’s mental health.
This can either be done at the individual level or an official level. People in leadership positions simply lending their team workers a listening ear could go a long way.
Take care of yourself
When employees take care of their mental and physical health, only then will the company as a whole move forward.
Dr Brownlee suggests, “Show your team that they are here for a reason; We need your gifts. We need your skills. We need your talents. So, let’s come together to do that.”
Make people feel included
She adds that the virtually connected world that we’re experiencing right now is going to be with us for a while.
“Beyond the pandemic, we also have challenges that impact who we are and how we show up.” Making employees feel included despite geographical distances is what will go a long way in creating a holistic workspace.
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