What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the phrase ‘employee wellness’? Chances are you’re thinking of physical fitness, exercise, healthy eating, and prevention/management of lifestyle diseases like hypertension, diabetes, etc. But an essential component that we seem to lose sight of is employees’ emotional wellness. Puneet Manuja, co-Founder and COO, YourDOST, in this post, highlights on how corporate employees’ mental health and emotional wellness has been affected and how nearly 36% of them suffer in silence with no one to turn to. In a fireside chat, Puneet discusses the company’s technology platform that offers stigma-free therapeutic solutions to create happier workplaces followed by an authored piece on the consequential impact of an employee’s wellness on an organization.
There is only one life that we have on Earth and leading that life in the most meaningful way is always what we want. As human beings age, it becomes important to cultivate a balanced emotional wellness regime, which is essential for finding happiness and success in life. But, with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the globe in various ways, trauma, moral injury, and grief started looming over most of us. The pandemic severely impacted the mental health of people, irrespective of age, gender, and occupation, with increased levels of clinical depression being identified.
In this emotional wellness context, HCITExpert Blog writer Anusha Ashwin approached Bengaluru-headquartered YourDOST, an organization that counsels on good mental wellbeing and coaches on emotional wellness. Amidst the pandemic, YourDOST ensures to make this world a better place by providing online counseling through an emotional support platform designed to foster mental wellness.
Puneet Manuja, co-Founder and COO, YourDOST, in this post, highlights on how corporate employees’ mental health and emotional wellness has been affected and how nearly 36% of them suffer in silence with no one to turn to. In a fireside chat, Puneet discusses the company’s technology platform that offers stigma-free therapeutic solutions to create happier workplaces followed by an authored piece on the consequential impact of an employee’s wellness on an organization.
FIRESIDE CHAT: Puneet Manuja, co-Founder and COO, YourDOST
Anusha Ashwin: Digital technology is a double-sided sword. On one side, the tech burden is causing severe mental distress to employees in all verticals and on the other side, the same digital technology is used to address the issues pertaining to mental health. What is your opinion on this?
Puneet Manuja: Digital technology is the need of the hour. What is important is how we use that technology. Like everything else, the excessive use of digital technology is indeed tremendously unhealthy.
The pandemic has naturally led almost all conventionally offline activities to shift to an online mode. It has become a necessity for work as well as the only option available for maintaining social connections. If it weren’t for technology, the whole Indian corporate machinery would have come to a grinding halt. Also, people would have felt even more isolated than they actually did as a result of lockdown and social distancing. What’s important is that we inculcate healthy technology usage habits into our lives.
From a mental and emotional wellbeing perspective, the pandemic has been an emotionally distressing experience for most, for numerous reasons. Thus, the need for effective professional emotional guidance is of paramount importance. In a situation where the traditional offline model of counseling is not viable, digital technology has allowed Indians to access this guidance when they need it more than ever. There are 3 major advantages of this:
- Protection from Stigma – Seeking professional support is still considered a taboo by many in India and the fear of judgement keeps them from seeking support even when they’re in desperate need of it. But technology allows us at YourDOST to provide a private, confidential and judgement-free platform that keeps its users completely anonymous throughout the platform. The professionally trained psychologists and coaches at YourDOST help users cope with difficult times – stress, depression, self-image issues, relationship issues, academic pressure, etc. and also support you in your quest for self-improvement like developing healthy personal relationships, work-life balance, building confidence, dealing with peer-pressure and more. This provides them an outlet to express themselves and seek guidance freely.
- Availability – Physical availability of good mental health professionals is scarce in India and thus over 13.81 Indian crore people still go without the professional support that they need. Technology allows users from anywhere and everywhere to connect with mental health Experts for professional guidance 24×7 through YourDOST. It makes sure that you have uninterrupted support no matter where you are.
- Accessibility – Quality professional mental health support can get quite expensive in India. A therapy session can cost Rs 800-2,500 per session and it can take upto 3 months of weekly sessions for therapy to be effective. In a country where per capita annual income stands at Rs. 1.22 lakh (Source), that’s unaffordable for most.
Indian corporates too are realizing this and a technology-based platform like YourDOST has allowed them to increasingly extend online emotional wellness services to their employees. We have onboarded over 100 corporates as partners in the past one year wherein their employees and dependents get access to free online counseling services, self-help training, and webinars, etc.
As with all innovations, there should be balance and control by being mindful about the problems that can arise due to digital technology and ways in which it can help to promote better personal, social and mental functioning.
Anusha Ashwin: Ever since the first COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdown, consumption of digital format content has seen an exponential rise among the youth. How has this digital consumption brought a detrimental effect to the mental wellness of these youth and what best can be done to intervene?
Puneet Manuja: The increase in digital consumption in itself isn’t a negative thing. It has made life greatly easier during these difficult times. Problems arise when there is a lack of control and increased susceptibility to misinformation, cheating, and bullying.
As the time spent online increases to an unhealthy degree, so do problems. Nobody, be it youth or older people, was equipped to deal with such challenges and such an abrupt and drastic transition. There is certainly a likelihood that they may fall prey to the adverse effects of digital exposure. Thus, it’s important to look at avenues to educate the youth about these effects and teach them to be mindful of the exposure and monitor their usage in an age-appropriate way in order to prevent this negative impact.
Anusha Ashwin: How are new-age technologies like AI and ML assisting in the therapy/intervention aspect of mental wellbeing?
Puneet Manuja: Mental health as a field is human and patient-centric. There is a need for experts to have a relationship with a patient, understand their emotions, observe their behavior. Soft skills are significantly important here, something that AI and ML are still not equipped to handle. Thus, compared to physical healthcare, the adoption of AI in mental health has been relatively slower.
However, Artificial Intelligence and predictive analysis will definitely play a role in the near future, in assisting therapists as well as optimizing the end-user experience, before the models are predictable enough to provide counseling.
Anusha Ashwin: The second COVID wave in India has had a gruesome effect on many individuals. How has YourDOST stepped up its services to help tackle mental distress and this month also being a month for creating positive mental health awareness?
Puneet Manuja: For employee wellness to become effective, we strongly believe that intervention needs to be at the holistic level- Individual, Team, and Organization. At an individual level, there are interventions around instant access to professional psychologists and coaches 24×7, self-help, and assessment tools. At the team level, there are interventions for managerial training, diagnostics, and communication. At the organization level, we work with the leadership on strategy, diagnostics, and awareness.
Ever since last year, when the pandemic struck, we have been conducting webinars and training to help our clients’ employees overcome the adverse emotional effects of the situation. We also started conducting weekly relaxation sessions to help calm their minds. Many found them very useful and relaxing
With the second wave, things changed. We saw that everyone was experiencing torrents of emotions, anxious about the safety and well-being of themselves and their loved ones.
What we are doing differently in the second wave is having our experts proactively reach out to employees who have their dependents or themselves affected by COVID or have lost their loved ones, to support them in these delicate times.
Apart from these, various organizations have started task forces to help employees or their families to arrange hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, etc.
Talking to employees going through grief or are affected by COVID requires empathy and patience. As this might not be a skill everyone has, we have started a training program called “First Responders’ Training”, which trains the task force on being sensitive while interacting with their co-workers. The training also focuses on self-care for the volunteers as it gets overwhelming for them also to deal with these cases every day.
What’s the cost of ignoring your employees’ emotional wellness to your organization?
Hint: It’s more than you think!
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the phrase ‘employee wellness’? Chances are you’re thinking of physical fitness, exercise, healthy eating and prevention/management of lifestyle diseases like hypertension, diabetes etc. But an essential component that we seem to lose sight of is employees’ emotional wellness.
In fact, as per a survey conducted by LinkedIn in 2020, only 23% of Indian professionals are offered emotional support resources by their employers. This is alarming considering 55% of Indian working professionals reported a rise in their stress and anxiety levels during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not just this. According to a study conducted by Assocham, 46% of the Indian workforce suffers from some or the other form of stress. Another study by Microsoft found that around a third of workers in India face increased burnout at work.
To put it mildly, India Inc. is stressed. So, the question is, what cost are companies paying by ignoring employee emotional wellness? At a very basic level, an obvious effect is a loss of productivity. But let’s dig a little deeper and look at the factors which lead to this and their effects:
1. Higher Absenteeism
As per a 2016 study, the work absence rate of employees with poor mental health is around 5% higher than those with good mental health.
Not only does this affect an employee’s individual productivity but also their team’s productivity. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), co-workers of employees who are absent from work, are perceived to be 29.5% less productive when covering for them.
2. Fall in Morale
High employee morale is absolutely essential for the success of a business and cannot be undervalued. A company’s culture and even profitability are a direct consequence of employee morale. According to a 2017 study, positive employee morale can boost a business’ profitability by 21%.
But a lack of adequate emotional support can cause employees’ morale to plunge significantly. During the 2020 Covid pandemic, Indian employees reported up to a 26% net increase in feelings of loneliness. Consequently, as per SHRM, 44% of business leaders reported a fall in their employees’ morale levels due to isolation.
3. Loss of Talent
The provision of good emotional wellness support is something that working professionals are increasingly looking at to choose who they want to work with. According to a 2018 survey, 87% of Indian professionals said that workplace wellness programs are important for them and help them choose between two potential employers.
The cons of losing out on attracting talent are well known and can adversely affect the future success of a company.
4. Financial Loss
Overall, if employee emotional wellness is ignored, it directly affects the company’s bottom line. As per the WHO, depression, and anxiety alone cost the global economy a stunning US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity. India alone is expected to suffer economic losses to the tune of US$ 1.03 trillion between 2012-2030 due to mental health conditions alone. It would be an understatement to say that the economic impact on India Inc. is enormous.
What’s more, is that the huge ROI organizations can reap from investing in employee emotional wellness resources. As per research for every US$ 1 put into the treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US$ 4 in improved health and productivity.
It is overwhelmingly obvious that if organizations continue to ignore their employees’ emotional wellness, they run the risk of incurring massive losses both in financial and human capital. On the flip-side, any investment made towards ensuring employee emotional wellness is well worth it and an absolute necessity for any and every organization.