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Is mental health support a key element of inclusive work culture?

A decade ago, conversations around mental health support at the workplace were simply swept under the corporate carpet. The stigma around depression, anxiety, and stress was so prevalent that these issues were not even acknowledged. But today, 81 per cent of workplaces have increased their focus on employee mental health.

As we peel back the layers of corporate norms, it becomes evident that mental health support stands as an irreplaceable pillar in creating an environment where every employee can thrive. Just as the human mind holds endless potential, embracing mental health support is the key to unlocking the untapped potential within each individual.

We are all a combination of our experiences, the expectations we have of ourselves, and those that people have of us, and sometimes it is natural to be overwhelmed. How each one of us reacts to these stimuli is different, and that is what makes us unique. Investing in employee well-being is the first and most important step in fostering such individuality and building a great organisation.

The World Health Organization estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy approximately $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. Investing in mental health support not only benefits individual employees but also yields significant economic returns, creating a win-win scenario for both employees and organisations.

Breaking the Stigma and Fostering Acceptance

Only 13 per cent of employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health in the workplace. According to a study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 9 out of 10 employees who experienced mental health challenges reported facing stigma in their workplace. This stigma often leads to employees hiding their mental health conditions and delaying seeking help, impacting their well-being and productivity. Picture a workplace where individuals feel seen, heard, and supported. A place where every employee is working towards growing the business, unhindered by the stigma associated with mental health challenges. Leading new-age businesses, our actions and values set the tone for the entire organization. Hence, the onus is on the leadership to actively break down the stigma surrounding mental health. This will further inspire a ripple effect, empowering others within an organization to do the same. We need to create an environment where employees can thrive, leading to enhanced productivity and optimal performance. This encourages diverse viewpoints, creativity, and collaboration, leading to breakthrough ideas and solutions. When employees feel safe to express themselves authentically, they can contribute their unique talents and experiences to the collective success of the organization.

Enabling equal access to resources

Indian workplaces have come a long way when it comes to de-stigmatizing conversations around mental health challenges. In the face of “the 2020 pandemic”, mental well-being took centre stage, and workplaces started embracing mental health support policies. The industry has taken a step forward in not just acknowledging but also providing resources that are accessible, equitable, and culturally sensitive. As an ecosystem, we need to position ourselves as an ally in the mental health journey of our employees and remove barriers to access such as cost, stigma, and logistical challenges. Around 80 per cent of Indian companies have gone the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) way to offer access to trained professionals. They help employees address personal and work-related challenges, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being. New-age companies are revisiting, rehauling, and restructuring their policies to incorporate mental health support as an integral part. This includes providing flexible working hours, paid mental health leave, and additional health insurance coverage for mental health treatments. Such policies ensure that employees have the necessary resources and support to prioritize their mental well-being.

Acing the talent attraction and retention game

The younger workforce of today is drawn in by an organisation’s progressive and inclusive cultural code. They seek more than just a paycheck; they yearn for a workplace that values their holistic needs and provides a supportive environment. Today’s generation appreciates diversity and seeks to be a part of a company that embraces different backgrounds, opinions, and experiences. Prioritizing diversity and inclusion in hiring, leadership, and decision-making processes increases the appeal of companies to the younger workforce. It is important to remember that collaboration and innovation are fostered by an inclusive culture.

According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), for every dollar invested in mental health treatment, there is an average return of $4 in improved health and productivity. This highlights the significance of providing accessible mental health resources to employees, as it not only benefits individuals but also contributes to overall organisational success. Our mental health support policies act as a value addition, drawing in the best and brightest minds who are eager to contribute their skills and expertise. Once they join our organization, these policies become the glue that keeps them engaged, committed, and loyal. By offering resources such as counselling services, flexible work arrangements, and mental health leave, we create an inclusive culture that meets their needs beyond the industry’s tick boxes. I believe that investing in mental health support and promoting a culture that does not discard young minds not only attracts young talent but also cultivates a team of empowered individuals who are motivated to grow and thrive.

Creating workplaces “Where the mind is without Fear”

A recent report by Indeed titled- “Where the mind is without fear”, states that a psychologically safe environment is a key component of diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DI&B) efforts. While devising policies for an all-inclusive workplace environment, we need to remember that mental health is not one-size-fits-all. Right now, we are all operating in a piecemeal manner, providing Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), counselling sessions, and interventions aimed at alleviating stress and improving motivation and productivity. But due to the unconscious biases at play, we are collectively running behind to reach the desired outcome. The need of the hour is to devise a compelling policy and cultural framework for mental health support and to make it the core of every organizational structure. Employees who receive mental health support and engage in self-care activities are better equipped to manage stress, make effective decisions, and maintain focus on their work responsibilities.

Over the past decade, workplaces have made significant strides in addressing mental health challenges. The once prevalent stigma surrounding mental health is slowly being dismantled, creating an environment where every employee can thrive. Organisations now understand the economic and personal benefits of investing in mental health support. By taking proactive steps to provide mental health support, we can unlock the untapped potential within each individual. The focus should be on creating a future where mental health support is integrated into the fabric of every organization, allowing employees to flourish and contribute their best.

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