After having worked 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 its own 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 instead focus on getting the work done. In a precarious 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 at.
These policies may be overt and covert. However, we need to be quite clear and aware of how we build these policies and its aim.
Produce More, Live Less.
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 to. I can see how work seeps into every aspect of our lives. Technology, which instead of easing our work has created a culture of working all the time. It is as if the employers are always in control of our lives through technological means. One can get a work email any time, one needs to be vigilant of the conversations in office WhatsApp groups, one is allowed to work from home but in fact works all the time from home, and some of the employees work in more than an 8–10 hour shift since technology allows one to interact with clients from different countries in different time zones. What this does is that work takes up our mind-space most of the time.
Employers treat their employees as human resources and nothing more. This allows for one to view their employees as just numbers devoid of their humanity who can be replaced, who can be overworked, who can be disciplined, and who can be exploited.
In addition to this, the idea of community is completely amiss in many workspaces. Employers treat their employees as human resources and nothing more. This allows for one to view their employees as just numbers devoid of their humanity who can be replaced, who can be overworked, who can be disciplined, and who can be 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 as a small cog in a large wheel. This creates employees who are completely alienated from the work that they do. It breeds a culture of indifference wherein one doesn’t care for each other in an office space, wherein one work without paying heed to one’s mental health. This devastates not only the individual but has an impact on the society too.
The False-Care Pitfall
While employers want to make full use of their “workforce”, without the mental well-being of their employees, there cannot be complete “productivity” as many studies (mentioned in the World Health Organisation report) point out to. 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 a decrease in a number of working days effectively utilized, leaves, lower and slower productivity, resignations, and sometimes a hostile work-space. 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.
But instead of understanding and addressing the roots of mental health issues, all it does is temporarily de-stresses the employees, so that they can be exploited more.
While the suggestion is important 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.
Live More, Produce Less
Office spaces, within its 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.
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 percent of corporate employees in India suffer from depression. How do we start addressing this malaise that is present everywhere?
We need to understand the roots of mental health issues by taking a holistic relook at work-hours, how work is assigned, understanding if the interaction of employer-employee and between employees-bosses are participative or authoritative, the kind of work that is assigned, the way employees are recognised for the work that they do, the way in which they might be getting alienated from the work that they do, discrimination (based on caste, gender, sexuality, religion, disability) existing in office spaces, and if employees are treated as full human beings in every act and thought.
We need to break the stigma within office spaces surrounding mental health-issues and instead work on how one can support someone undergoing mental health issues. The means can be varied from providing access to psychological assistance within or outside the office space, sensitizing everyone regarding mental health issues regularly, 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 health as a disability which can many times lead to physical disability wherein the individual may not be able to work, be productive, or responsive. This will allow one to see mental illnesses as the same level as physical illnesses.
Lastly, we need to not fall into the pitfall of false-care. Mental health issues are many times stemming from the ways in which the organisation works or the way in which work is organized. Thus, having temporary fixes as mentioned above, or individualised care will not be a true solution. Office spaces, within its 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 fuller life in front of profitability and productivity. We need to live more and produce less.