HR Insights

Dec 12, 2022 10 min read

Normalizing Mental Health at Workplace

Author leads the HR vertical for Industry at FICCI Quality Forum-the training and consulting wing for FICCI. In her current role she consults Industry HR spanning various sectors of Indian Economy and finding sustainable solutions on their People specific issues. Her key focus is to help organisations build structural long-term capability through People Strategy, Structures, Processes, Leadership & Learning interventions and managing Diversity and inclusion. In her current role she is committed to creating to the growth of the industry through capability building and HR advisory services.


Mental Health issues are not new at the workplace, it has always been there a very long time now.

With a black swan event like COVID 19 in the backdrop which fundamentally challenged the way workplace behaviours are redefined, we must introspect as organisations if we are paying enough attention towards mental health of employees and what are the steps have, we have taken to ‘normalise’ the whole issue. This article is an endeavour to enable organisations to bolster their focus on mental health and wellbeing journey.

Why Mental health needs focus now – more than ever before?

Let us understand that why are we hearing this term – Mental Health more often than not-specially at workplaces , few numbers will help and set a context-

  1. 1 billion - people live with a mental disorder and it is expected that in the next 10 years, depression will put more burden on nations than any other disease*

  2. < 2%- Countries spend less than 2% of their health budgets on mental health. For India, it is less than 1 % *

  3. About 50% of mental health disorders start by the age of 14 itself *

  4. India was the only country where the percentage of our youth (15-24) that felt people experiencing mental health issues should reach out to others was a minority **

Source - * WHO

              ** UNICEF

By now with these numbers in sight, it’s evident that we cannot ignore this issue anymore and if required face it- face head on if we want a healthy, happy and engaged workforce which is key to the success of any organisation . In fact, it’s no more a ‘nice thing to do’ rather it’s a business imperative in the current scenario as healthy employees – both physically and mentally drive more engagement which in turn fosters productivity and better performance.

Self-health check- Assessing the terrain

In the Indian context, we have diverse set of companies which are on the continuum as far as maturity towards mental health is concerned and each of these journeys are different. Its best to start from where they are and decide where they want to be. The companies need to self-diagnose and check where they are in the journey – from strategy, systems, processes, leadership vision, integration in benefits programs etc standpoint and decide where and how will they want to start.

Creating Awareness- ‘normalising ‘mental health’

We also need to create enough awareness about the topic, somehow over the years we have paid so much and perhaps only focus on the physical health and discounted mental health challenges as ‘personal’ issues; not knowing that being healthy or ‘looking ‘healthy isn’t enough- its holistic health- physical and mental which is crucial for overall employee wellbeing. Another impediment is that more often than not talking about mental health is considered a taboo in our society-thanks to years and years of conditioning on the subject. No one wants to talk about mental health openly as they do on physical health.

It’s a catch 22 situation- unless we normalise mental health, no one is willing to come out and talk about his/her challenges both at personal and professional front and unless we have more and more people talking openly about it, we can’t normalise the whole thing. In such a scenario, companies must come out with structured learning strategy which includes building capability across levels and hierarchies including leadership. More often than not managers and leaders inadvertently cause mental health issues to their teams, not because they want to but because they are not trained enough how to handle situations at work which later may lead to burnout, stress, anxiety, and whole set of mental health issues. Also, managers and leaders in the want of not showing their vulnerable side and fighting their own demons; may also face mental health issue- creating a vicious circle.

Tone from the Top

Mental health should not be considered as an initiative which is left in isolation on learning department for doing sessions, webinars, and trainings alone. For all mental health programs to fructify in real sense, the leadership needs to walk the talk- they need to have conviction on the importance of the topic and ensure its aligned and tied with the organisational strategy. It could be as simple as talking about their own mental health issues, sharing their own stories in town hall meetings, their communication on the social media – all this brings in authenticity and make employees also comfortable to come forward and talk about their issues openly.

Taking help from experts

Understanding mental health issues is a complex thing- and we need experts – psychologists and psychiatrists who can understand symptoms and suggest solutions- at emotional and cognitive levels. We must have systems and processes where employees struggling with MH issues are comfortable confiding and getting support to overcome these challenges. Companies onboard EAP solution providers anchored on technology platforms to provide complete support to employees. Another approach which is seen in many matured organisations is to create Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) which act as an informal or sometime formal community which provides support to employees struggling with MH issues. These are trained champions who not only understand challenges at a high level but guidepost them to experts- it serves a dual purpose- it normalises mental health- when employees see a number of champions who are one amongst them who rally the cause, they become more and more comfortable in coming forward and seek help when required plus they are seen as credible allies who are available to the employees at workplace most of the times.

Its time that we make a sustainable shift in the whole way we approach Mental Health, we must understand as organisations, leaders, and managers that its ok to be not ok and gone are the days when these issues were pushed under the carpet conveniently. As leaders we must understand that employees bring their whole self to work, and it’s imperative that we make an environment at workplace which is conducive to overall wellbeing and employees feel that sharing their mental health issues is simply not a weakness but comes from place of enormous strength.

Sadly, too often, the stigma around mental health prevents people who need help from seeking it. But that simply doesn't make any sense. Whether an illness affects your heart, your arm or your brain, it's still an illness, and there shouldn't be any distinction...we should make it clear that getting help isn't a sign of weakness it's a sign of strength and we should ensure that people can get the treatment they need."



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