It’s remarkable how behavioural patterns at the workplace have a bearing on productivity, performance and professional relationships. A 2017 report by the World Health Organization revealed that depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions affect over 57 million people in India (that’s almost 20% of the total number worldwide). With workplace stressors on the rise, there is an ostensible correlation between extreme stress and poor mental health, as evidenced by a 2016 survey of 30 Indian companies that reported 46% of employees suffering from extreme stress. Even worse, those employees who were classified as high-risk admitted to having considered suicide.

Mental health problems can be life-threatening to employees and become counterproductive for employers too. Depression, anxiety, stress and a gamut of other issues are directly linked to absenteeism, compromised productivity and elevated healthcare costs. Reports show that mental health can account for more medical leave than even serious conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, asthma, and diabetes.

If you’ve been neglecting mental health at your workplace, here are some strategies to help you create a conducive mental health habitat:

Build a Holistic Environment

Physical stimuli can go a long way in shaping the mental landscape; inspiring themes, uplifting palettes, and open layouts can be wonderful sources of motivation. Your workplace environment is also influenced by imposed lifestyle practices. Pushing your employees to work late into the evening or expecting them to remain connected in their personal time can be surefire ways to trigger stress. Respect personal space and find ways to incorporate wellness into your company’s ethos. Meditation workshops, flexible workdays, and professionally conducted stress management classes are some measures you can take.

Review Your Leave Policy

We’re seeded in a culture where medical leave must be attested by signs of physical evidence – a fever, a cold, a wound, anything with symptoms to show for it. Yet, with invisible symptoms – at least at face value – workplace stress is as much, if not more, a cause for concern. Ideally, there should be a provision that recognizes it as a legitimate reason for sanctioning leave. Employers might want to give ‘stress’ leave, distinct from other forms of medical leave. This can be an effective measure of good health practices.

Formulate a Mental Health Agenda

A policy or manual that lays down the protocol for mental health issues is imperative in weaving a fabric of understanding, sensitization and respect. How to help an employee return to work after a prolonged mental health-induced leave, how to deal with a subordinate reporting mental health issues; and prescribing norms for maintaining contact with an employee who is coming back to normalcy. If you introduce stress leave as a formal part of your wellness program, be sure to lay down expectations regarding goals and responsibilities as well as the back-to-work process.

Create a Support Framework 

When employees know they’re cared for, they’re likely to perform a whole lot better at the workplace. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are designed to provide personalized mental health support through complimentary counseling and open-door access. EAPs address a whole spectrum of personal issues and are pointed at enhancing health and wellness.

By opening conversations and bringing change to your workplace, you can boost your employees’ self- esteem and morale, thereby improving the performance of your organization.

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