After having worked for two years in the corporate sector and one year in an NGO, and as I grow older, I have realised the importance of having a safe and nurturing culture in office spaces. Every office space has stress, anxiety, and failures associated with it. While some office spaces go out of the way to create a nurturing environment for its employees, some do not pay heed to the mental well-being of its employees and only focus on getting the work done.
In the world that we live in, we need to revisit the environments in our office spaces and put a conscious effort in revamping it. It’s high time we push for and have mental health policies in the places we work. However, we need to be quite clear and aware of how we build these policies and its aim.
In a capitalist world, what one would focus on is profits. But to what extent?
The more I hear about work experiences of my peers, the more I wonder about the kind of world we are working towards. Work seeps into every aspect of our lives. Technology has created a culture of working all the time. It is as if the employers are always in control of our lives.
One can get a work email anytime. We are allowed work from home but in fact end up working all the time. Some employees have to work more than the regular 8-10 hour shift since technology allows them to interact with clients in different time zones.
In addition to this, the idea of community is completely amiss in many work spaces. Employers treat their employees as human resources and nothing more. This allows for them to view their employees as just numbers devoid of humanity who can be replaced, overworked, disciplined, and exploited. The division of labour that I have heard of from my peers in companies like IBM scares me. It is as if a project is divided into the smallest of chunks and assigned to each person who works like a small cog in a large wheel. This creates alienated employees and breeds a culture of indifference wherein one doesn’t care for each other in an office space and works without paying heed to their mental health.
According to a World Health Report, while employers want to make full use of their workforce, without the mental well-being of their employees, there cannot be complete productivity. These studies also point out to how mental health policies increase the profits of a company instead of reducing it. Mental health issues in office spaces lead to decrease in the number of working days effectively utilised, leaves, lower and slower productivity, resignations, and sometimes a hostile workspace. This in-turn may also affect the personal lives of the employees. Thus, WHO (World Health Organisation) recommends having mental health policies in office spaces so as to improve the productivity of organisations.
While the suggestion is valuable and needs to be considered, one should be careful of how and why we are building mental health policies. There is a tendency for organisations to have policies which may look like it is beneficial for the employees, but all it is doing is false care. For example, I have witnessed how some companies have employee outings, yoga-classes, meditation, ensure that employees have access to everything that they want within the office space (such as food, games, gym, etc.). But instead of understanding and addressing the roots of mental health issues, all it does is temporarily destresses the employees, so that they can be exploited more.
Having said that, there is a necessity for having strong mental health policies and revamping of office-culture in organisations. Employees must be treated as more than just human resources. However, there is a lot of work to be done.
A study recently indicated how more than 40 %of corporate employees in India suffer from depression. How do we start addressing this malaise that is present everywhere?
Understanding the interaction of employer-employee and between employees-bosses are participative or authoritative, the way employees are recognised for the work that they do and the discrimination (based on caste, gender, sexuality, religion, disability) existing in office spaces is significant.
Even more, there is a need to break the stigma within office spaces surrounding mental health-issues and instead work on how one can support someone dealing with mental health issues. The means can be varied from providing access to psychological assistance within or outside the office space, sensitising the workforce, providing sabbaticals and ways of reinstituting employees who have undergone a mental health-issue, and learning from other organisations when it comes to the best practices.
The most important point is to treat mental illness the same as a physical illness because in some cases, it does hamper one’s ability to work, productivity and responsiveness. This will allow one to see mental illnesses at the same level as physical illnesses.
Thus, having temporary fixes as mentioned above, or individualised care will not be a true solution. Office spaces, within their limitations, can be communities of employees who nurture each other, who break the stigma and have open conversations around mental health issues. Office spaces can and should be putting humanity and a fuller life in front of profitability and productivity. We need to live more and produce less.
This article was first published here.