Employee Mental Health in the Digital Age: Prioritising Well-being in Indian Organisations

November 3, 2023
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In today's age, where everyone is hustling at work and scrolling through social media, little attention is paid to how it affects mental health in its entirety. The digital revolution has entered work and lifestyle through numerous apps, some that connect to work and others that help you disconnect from it.

An American business professional, Tony Schwartz once said, "The way we’re working isn’t working." Easy accessibility to digital devices and constant internet connection have skewed the work-life balance in Indian organisations. However, the tides are changing as employees focus more on mental health over high salaries. Recent findings reveal nearly 88% of employees in India (versus 70% in the US) would exchange their high-paying jobs for comparatively low-paying ones for their mental well-being. 

Understanding and addressing the overlap between technology, workplace culture, and employee mental health is thus relevant and essential for every organisation. In India, 48% of corporate employees are at risk of poor mental health. Some of the sectors that bear the maximum brunt of mental health risk are e-commerce (64%), BPO (47%), banking (41%) and IT (38%). Employee mental health in the workplace can no longer take a backseat. 

The Digital Revolution And Its Impact on Mental Health

The Rise of the 24/7 Work Culture

Work timings are no longer confined to the traditional 9 AM to 5 PM routine. People tend to extend beyond their work hours, running on a few hours of sleep. According to a report by the International Labour Organisation, Indians have been putting in longer work hours, and the number is only growing upward. 

Source

Digital Distractions and Barrage of Notifications

Smartphones leave access to a lot of information at our fingertips. A study finds Indians spend one-fifth of their waking time on social media, OTT and gaming. This constant buzz of alerts, messages and updates affects focus and decreases productivity. Disconnecting from social media may fuel anxiety or the ‘fear of missing out’ on something. With constant interruptions, dedicating well-demarcated time to work or family becomes challenging. 

Feelings of Isolation

While remote work has been a blessing in many ways for its flexibility and reducing commute time, it also brings its set of challenges. Buffer's State of Remote Work 2022 report found that 24% of remote workers struggle with loneliness. Remote employees miss out on casual interactions and camaraderie with colleagues. Staying at home for long periods of time without regular bonding with team members affects employee mental health with loneliness. Isolated individuals may start feeling detached from their work over time, affecting their productivity. 

Digital Dependence and Its Implications on Mental Wellness

Over-dependence on digital devices creates an addiction to staying connected. With numerous social media platforms, people have more infotainment with reduced attention spans. In a survey conducted by Screen Education, an average employee spends 2.5 hours each workday accessing digital content that is unrelated to their job. The constant drive to check messages, reels, tweets or read news updates can lead to anxiety, depression or even physical problems like digital eye strain.

While the digital revolution has proved its many tangible benefits for global expansion, it has also posed challenges regarding employee mental health and well-being that organisations must acknowledge and address. 

The State of Employee Mental Health in Indian Workplaces

India is dubbed a powerhouse of human resources, especially regarding IT engineers. The country contributes 31.7% of STEM graduates in the world. However, the below stats highlight how employee mental health in the workplace is a growing concern that needs to be addressed. 

  • In 2022, 59% of the employees reported experiencing depression. Emotional exhaustion or burnout and irritability were other common mental health symptoms experienced by employees. 
  • In the same year, 33% of the people continued to work, paying no heed to their mental health. 
  • About 61% of employees from IT and ITES industries reported experiencing mental health symptoms at the workplace.

The Stigma Around Mental Health

Mental health in India is very interconnected with its diverse socio-cultural tapestry. Despite the growing awareness, there is a deeply ingrained stigma in talking about mental health issues. Many people fear talking about their problems because of the perception of people around them. This shocking sentiment is backed by a survey by The Live Love Laugh Foundation, which revealed that 47% of participants would be highly judgmental of people with a mental illness. This creates a sense of reluctance to express what one is going through at work or at their home. 

Another significant factor that affects this is the widespread generational gap in understanding mental health. While the younger generation of employees might be more aware and vocal about their mental well-being, the older generations may dismiss it altogether. This includes many helming leadership roles with a team of the younger generations. This creates a space for conflict and frustration, leading to more mental stress about work. 

Case Studies

One of India's leading IT giants, Infosys, has taken commendable steps to promote employees' mental well-being and wellness. Their employee assistance program, HALE: Health Assessment and Lifestyle Enrichment, offers free counselling services, workshops and self-help resources. However, such proactive measures are still nascent compared to global companies that have integrated mindfulness practices and mental health initiatives into their work culture.

A few other companies have also recently started introducing mental health benefits, such as additional leaves and counselling sessions for their teams. Instructor-led yoga or dance sessions are held to help employees break the monotony of work and regain focus. 

Indian organisations are slowly making strides by prioritising employee mental health in the workplace. There is much scope for deeper integration of employee mental health benefits that address family issues or the demise of a loved one. Adopting a multi-faceted approach that combines policy changes, awareness drives, and accessible support systems can help create healthy work environments in the country.

The Significance of Employee Mental Health Benefits

Employee mental health issues, if unaddressed, can adversely impact productivity, morale and overall workplace harmony. In India, employees spend a significant portion of their day at work. A report finds an average Indian office-goer spends 7% of their day just commuting to work. 

Employee benefits are essential components of a work contract within this transition of work culture into remote, hybrid or teleworking. As the lines between work and personal life blur, giving a customised employee benefits package can play a pivotal role in shaping an individual's overall mental health and improving your organisation's retention rates. A study finds that 79% of employees will likely stay at a company that provides high-quality mental health resources. 

Mentally Well Employees Contribute More Effectivel

The saying "A happy employee is a productive employee" rings truer than ever when addressing employee mental health. The return on investment is also higher with better employee mental health benefits. Deloitte UK report finds an average return of £5.30 for every £1 invested in mental health interventions in 2020‒21.

A direct correlation between mental well-being and enhanced productivity has been observed over the years. A mentally fit employee results in reduced absenteeism, better problem-solving abilities and improved interpersonal relationships. Scholarly studies suggest that employees with good mental health show a positive working state and devote themselves to tasks more enthusiastically. 

Best Practices for Supporting Employee Mental Health in the Workplace

Creating a Stigma-Free Environment

Stigma remains the greatest challenge for people not taking any steps to manage their mental health symptoms. As we are slowly learning and creating awareness about the importance of mental health, it is essential to normalise the conversations around it. 

Instead of the generic water cooler conversations, asking the person about their well-being is essential. Anonymous reporting of mental challenges or issues faced within the team should be allowed. It will help employees to come forward and discuss what’s affecting them. The managers can exchange ideas using this gathered anonymous data. Cross-team exchanges can help to devise best practices for the entire organisation. 

Hosting workshops, sharing resources and inviting experts to discuss common mental issues can dispel myths. It fosters an openness where employees feel safe to share their struggles without judgement. It can help the team members to become more supportive and help them cope. 

Offering Flexible Working Hours and Remote Work Options

When running a remote business, flexibility is one of the key factors to consider from both employer and employee perspectives. Allowing employees to work from home or remotely can also improve productivity. A mandatory time off every few months will also give employees the time to recharge, reboot and regain confidence to work harder once they are back. By showing the employees that you care about their work-life balance, organisations can expect better productivity and performance. 

Incorporating Regular Mental Health Check-ins and Team-Building Activities

Employee mental health benefits offered in a company should not be limited to one annual session. Routine check-ins should be encouraged through surveys or one-on-one sessions with experts. It helps to gauge the effect of your program. Activities like meditation sessions, group exercises or hobby classes can be refreshing breaks. Organising virtual team-building activities can create a sense of camaraderie and unity.

Collaborating With Mental Health Professionals

According to a pre-pandemic report by Optum Health International, out of 1.1 million actively registered companies, only 1,000 had an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Employees should also be able to access external therapists who can help them to address their concerns. Having professional counsellors on retainer or setting up employee mental health benefits programs can provide the necessary expertise and support.

Challenges in Implementing Employee Mental Health in The Workplace 

Not all organisations dedicate time and money to employee mental health programs. So, the implementation of initiatives is also riddled with challenges. 

Overcoming Societal Prejudices

The societal stigma around mental health can often overshadow the importance of initiatives. Changing ingrained perceptions is a monumental task that requires consistent efforts. The upper rung of the organisational hierarchy must also benefit from such initiatives to understand their importance to the entire team. 

When big organisations start taking steps, it could inspire many others to follow suit and introduce EAPs. 

Finding the Right Balance Between Digital Advantages and Mental Well-being

Despite the benefits of digital tools, they also contribute to mental stress. It is important to leverage technology and use telemedicine or online consultations. The telemedicine market in India is expected to reach $5.5 billion by 2025, indicating sustained demand for digital health platforms. However, striking this balance between technology and ensuring mental wellness is a continuous challenge.

Budget Constraints and Lack of Expertise

Limited resources and expertise can hinder the implementation of comprehensive employee mental health benefits, especially when dealing with a distributed workforce

Outsourcing these tasks by partnering with expert employers of record can help. 

How EOR Companies Like Rapid Can Assist in Setting up Employee Mental Health Program

Employers play a pivotal role in shaping their workforce's mental and emotional well-being. With globalisation and the ever-evolving digital age, organisations are uniquely positioned to influence and be influenced by global trends. For foreign companies expanding in this diverse land, local understanding, cultural nuances and compliance with Indian laws remain paramount.

You can trust Rapid EOR (Employer of Record), which has an impressive two-decade track record in India. Our long-standing experience equips us with an intricate understanding of the landscape, making us invaluable partners for foreign companies venturing into the Indian market. 

Rapid's expertise goes beyond mere provisioning of standard employee health benefits packages. We curate customised packages tailored to the organisation's and its employees' specific needs. This ensures that initiatives resonate with creating genuine value and impact on employee mental health in the workplace. 

Navigating local Indian laws and ensuring compliance can be a tedious task. Our 20-year journey in the country ensures that all employee benefits, including mental health programs, align seamlessly with local regulations, thereby eliminating potential legal pitfalls.

Supporting teams scattered across different geographies is essential in the age of remote work. We have a comprehensive remote work framework, ensuring that irrespective of their location, every employee has access to the tools, resources and support they need, including mental well-being initiatives.

By partnering with Rapid, foreign entities can confidently expand in India through informed decisions, genuine care for their employees and a deep commitment to their well-being.

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