Mental Health in the Workplace: Why resilience and relevance matter

From expanding access to quality mental health care to fostering community and peer support to avoiding burnout through early intervention, there is much we can do to foster mental wellbeing

Arundhati Bhattacharya
Updated: Jun 3, 2024 12:39:09 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

Once relegated to the shadows, mental health is now central to public discourse. Especially since the pandemic, more people are willing to talk about mental health within the workplace and beyond. Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, are unafraid to prioritise their mental wellbeing. Encouraged by their peers and celebrities opening up about mental health issues on social media, young people recognise that it’s no longer something to be ashamed of. Mental illness can happen to anyone, anytime; it’s no one’s fault, and it’s ok to seek help.

This shift in mindset couldn’t have come soon enough. Gen Z and Millennials are grappling with increasingly high levels of fear and uncertainty triggered by several crises we’ve witnessed in the last three years: COVID-19, wars in Ukraine and Gaza, the pressure to conform to unrealistic standards on social media, and more.

According to Deloitte, over half of Gen Zs (53 percent) and 45 percent of millennials in India say they feel anxious or stressed all or most of the time. That’s higher than the global average. Meanwhile, within the workplace, the 2023 Asia Mental Health Index found that 60 percent of Indian employees are feeling more stressed than last year. Fifty-three percent report that their mental health is negatively impacting their productivity, while 43 percent feel a sense of helplessness.

So, how can we tackle this crisis?

Cultivating resilience and relevance

While mental health disorders may not always be preventable, there’s a lot we can do to reduce their incidence. In my experience, the first step lies in building resilience.

When I was growing up, resources were scarce, and hardships were common. By learning to overcome these challenges as children, many of us developed the mental and emotional resilience necessary to weather much of life’s later storms.

Today’s youth aren’t always given a chance to cultivate that kind of resilience. I see parents go out of their way to indulge their children’s every whim and shield them from all forms of disappointment or failure.

Of course, children must feel provided for and safe. But I wonder if we’re taking our protective parental instincts into overdrive. By not teaching our children how to navigate adversity early in life, are we inadvertently depriving them of the opportunity to learn from setbacks, regulate their emotions, and develop essential coping mechanisms?

These are important questions to ask because we live in deeply uncertain times. If we want to thrive both in the workplace and beyond, we need to adapt, persevere, and quickly bounce back from obstacles.

Having a sense of relevance is also crucial. We all want to feel like we matter and that our lives have meaning and purpose. My generation was taught that our purpose lay in caring for our ageing parents (apart from our children). Today’s youth don’t necessarily have that obligation. Many parents are independently planning for their old age and exploring alternative care systems.

Also Read: Philanthropy for mental health should focus more on community-led models

While this puts less pressure on the younger generation, I wonder if it divests them of a sense of purpose and relevance crucial to mental wellbeing. Relevance comes from being of service to others. Whether through small acts of kindness or large-scale social initiatives, caring for people pushes us to transcend our self-interests and discover a purpose beyond material success or personal accomplishments. In the process, we gain a sense of fulfilment that can do wonders for our mental wellbeing.

Mental health is both the individual’s and the employer’s responsibility

While employees do their part to develop mental resilience and relevance, workplaces also have a role to play in supporting mental health:

Encourage employees to seek help when needed: Given that mental health can still be an alien concept to older employees and those from smaller towns, workplaces would do well to raise awareness around the issue. You might, for example, run regular mental health workshops and training sessions that teach your employees how to recognise signs of mental distress within themselves and others early. Make it easy for them to know who to talk to or where to go for mental health resources.

Lose the judgement: Help your employees understand that by reaching out for help with a mental illness, they’re doing both themselves and the business a favour. Create a safe and non-judgmental space where colleagues can feel comfortable expressing their feelings and concerns. Let executives lead the way by demonstrating empathy and compassion for their teams’ mental health and encouraging honest and respectful communication.

Make mental health support ubiquitous and easy to access: Getting help for a mental health condition should be as simple as consulting a doctor for the flu. You might consider providing free therapy sessions for your employees or including mental health coverage in their medical insurance plans. Self-care activities like yoga or mindfulness can also help alleviate workplace stress. At Salesforce, we organise a weekly ‘Camp B-Well’ with sessions ranging from how to set up a balcony garden to how to cook healthy food. These activities and 1:1 counselling do a lot to improve employee wellbeing.

Promote work-life balance with regular time off: When I was at SBI, every Saturday was a half-day working day. That left very little time over the weekend for colleagues posted in rural areas to visit their families. Women, too, would spend most of their Sunday catching up on domestic chores and then return to work on Monday, more exhausted than rested. So, I pleaded with the government to offer at least two Saturdays off each month while making the other two full working days. When it was finally implemented, it didn’t change the number of employee working hours but significantly reduced stress. I realised that the more opportunities we afford employees to rest and recharge, the higher their mental wellbeing and long-term job satisfaction.

Also Read: Some philanthropists are supporting mental health causes. More should follow the lead

With mental health becoming a global public health issue, we must find solutions fast. From expanding access to quality mental health care to fostering community and peer support to avoiding burnout through early intervention, there is much we can do to foster mental wellbeing. With measured and thoughtful action, we can gradually build a healthier, happy, and resilient world for generations to come.

Arundhati Bhattacharya is Chairperson and CEO of Salesforce India.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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