As lockdowns are easing offices are gradually shifting to their previous work from office mode from work from home method. While the shift in work pattern may bring a little momentary disruption in the workforces, there is a concern lurking ahead for the organisations – post lockdown mental health issues. What should be done to tackle this challenge?
What’s the buzz on returning to the office after working from home for the past 18 months? Are we all going to snap out of our universal state of languishing and be infused with joy and energy again?
The prospect of actually brainstorming with colleagues face-to-face, walking down the corridor to the coffee machine, talking to a room full of people, and having real huddles instead of virtual breakout rooms fills me with both delight and apprehension. For someone who derives so much of her sense of self from her interactions with others, I am surprised at my own reaction to the prospect of active socializing and face-to-face interactions after months and months of self-imposed distancing. There is this amalgam of contradictory feelings that make me tired and reluctant to make the effort.
Senior leaders in companies that I have spoken with on this subject have varied outlooks. Some are all set to resume full operations as per pre-pandemic levels, while some are going to assume the wait-and-watch approach and make decisions along the way. Still, others have already decided that they will work out a half-and-half methodology and ask some essential services to come into the office and the rest to work from home…permanently!
Human capital is as important as financial capital (…) Putting human resources at the top table has real business benefits.~ Leena Nair, CHRO, Unilever (Time)
Leena Nair, Unilever’s Head of HR, said in her interview with Time magazine earlier this year, “Human capital is as important as financial capital (…) Putting human resources at the top table has real business benefits.” Do we need to underline the case for sound mental health and its direct connection to productivity? Clearly, the business case for investing in the health and wellness of employees reinforces that this should be a strategic priority for all organizations; especially when you learn that you will earn back a return of five dollars to every dollar invested!
How will this work for organizations and employees?
Organizations will need to examine all their policies and processes that assume people will work in a certain manner. This may mean that ways of working will need to be re-negotiated with bosses, teams, clients, contractors, and vendors. It will mean taking a step back and looking at the big picture while also stepping up close and taking heed of the details.
While most organizations have EAP support set up for their employees as part of the wellness agenda, the kind of nameless anxieties that are likely to crop up in nearly every person will certainly impact productivity and relationships. Some of the everyday little anxieties could be the still-present fear of infection, worrying about young children/older dependents at home you’re away at the office, the dreaded commute, and being unable to ‘turn the video off’ because you are now sitting in the same room as the others or go and take that 15-minute power nap between meetings.
Organizations should ask themselves if there are safety nets in place by way of a supportive team and access to appropriate professional help if required.
Then there is the insidious quality of grief. Whether you are in the full-blown throes of it or just waiting to be triggered by some innocuous everyday happening; whether it is grief over the loss of a loved one or a more subtle grieving over lost opportunities and relationships – organizations are going to have to acknowledge that it is there for everyone and that each person will have a different way of expressing and dealing with it. Organizations should ask themselves if there are safety nets in place by way of a supportive team and access to appropriate professional help if required.
- Mental health aligned policies
- Trained first responders
- Awareness on mental health
- Review of processes and policies
- Sensitization of managers
- Support groups and emotional safe spaces
- Flexible work timings
People are not going to be calling the EAP services for such challenges. However, these frissons of disquiet will not be wished away. Managers will need to look to their own emotions as well as those of their teams since these little niggles will worm their way into behaviours if ignored. Like trickles of water, they can imperceptibly wear down the mental health of a person. Can we equip employees to recognize signs of poor mental health in themselves as well as in colleagues and give them the basic skills to address this?
The role of trained First Responders, such as First Aiders from www.mhfaindia.com, is early recognition and intervention to prevent an involuntary slide into poor mental health. These first responders will be able to spot signs of deteriorating mental health and direct the person to EAP support if required.
A mental health policy will provide clarity to all employees on what support is forthcoming from the organization apropos their wellness.
A mental health policy will provide clarity to all employees on what support is forthcoming from the organization apropos their wellness. Awareness of signs of poor health, whether physical, emotional, or mental, will help in early intervention. Obviously, the environment and culture are important too. Openness and collaborative efforts will only stem from trust and positive energies. Companies will have to walk the talk and ensure that implementation of intent is actually demonstrated and visible.
While hybrid workplaces open up many opportunities for people, policies would have to evolve with this.~ Krish Shankar, Group Head HR, Infosys (ToI)
Krish Shankar, Group Head HR at Infosys, said in his interview with the Times of India the other day that while hybrid workplaces open up many opportunities for people, policies would have to evolve with this. He also talked about the extra pressure on working caregivers with digital intensity going up. Organizations will have to address the challenges of burn-out with such blurred work-life boundaries.
What can employees do? Burn-out is NOT an option!
As the pandemic eases and we get off the high-alert mode, there is bound to be exhaustion from the months of tension and being on constant stand-by for any emergency. For teams that have been at the forefront of supporting others, the exhaustion will be higher. While change may be welcome, it will not be easy.
Routines and schedules will have to be restructured. Habits that have been recently picked up will now be second nature and change will have to be at a conscious level. Writing down new tasks and calendaring them will help reduce the sense of being overwhelmed. When one is overwhelmed, remember to do: one breath, one task, one day at a time!
Self-care is really important. Remember, you have to put your own oxygen mask on first – only then will you be in a position to help anyone else. So, what exactly does self-care consist of? First, you should be aware of your own wellbeing – both physical and mental. Try to catch any signs of poor health in yourself and address them. Be proactive in your efforts to stay in good health. For instance, try to:
- Have a routine
- Eat healthy
- Stay hydrated
- Stay connected with friends and family
- Connect consciously with beauty around you
- Have a daily gratitude practice
- Do at least one daily act of kindness to someone, even yourself
- Ask for help
Working with others:
While the onus is on organizations to provide resources and environments that are supportive of employees, these cultures are built by people’s behaviours that are demonstrated by each of us. So, at the end of the day, you and your colleagues are your organization’s culture. Remember to:
- Be supportive
- Show compassion
- Communicate effectively
- Demonstrate Openness and Collaboration
- Take ownership
- Enable talk of vulnerabilities without judgement
Leaders and managers are inevitably the ones to lead any campaigns by demonstrating the change they wish to see. If they can normalize conversations around mental health and vulnerability, the willingness to share becomes naturally greater and the barrier to reaching out for help is considerably reduced.
However, being aware of distress in others means you have to be tuned in as a human being. This means you must be connected enough to sense a change of feeling, thought, or behaviour. If you notice any changes that are worrisome or that indicate the person is under undue stress, reach out. Sometimes that’s all it takes – a word of support, an outstretched hand.
(Cauvery Devika Dharmaraj has been working in the field of Human Resources since 1992. She is also extensively working on mental health at the workplace.)
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Autofintechs.com. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)