An Interesting Link: Productivity At Work And Employee Fitness (Part 2)

Part 2: Mental Fitness

As I wrote in my previous article, the complex multi-factorial work-life challenges in today’s Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA)) world are virtually unprecedented.

Interestingly, a sizeable part of such challenge is related to a wide variety of internal organizational factors. These often include changes at the senior management level or in the key corporate policies, or the likes. More often, the changing aspirations and outlook of both the younger and even the aging professionals, in the midst of newer complexities of life – not well-understood by the management, invite such a situation.

Taking note of the influencing factors:

Meeting challenges of some of these disruptive changes, many companies are working on the respective influencing factors in various critical areas.

According to an article, titled “Meeting the Challenge of Disruptive Change”, published by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) in its March-April 2000 issue writes: “Our research suggests that three factors affect what an organization can and cannot do: its resources, its processes, and its values.” It then elaborates by saying that the second factor – processes, also means what the company leadership uses to transform resources into products and services of greater worth.

These processes, I reckon, encompass the effective use of various ‘employee engagement’ programs. As a part of which, employee fitness programs are now being encouraged at the corporate level, seriously. I have discussed in my previous article, the ‘Physical Fitness’ aspect of improving employee productivity at work. in this article, I shall dwell on improving the ‘Mental Fitness’ facet of the same.

The area deserving greater attention:

Curiously, not as much attention and care are being taken towards ensuring a robust ‘mental fitness’ level of employees, which is as important, if not more, to achieve the same corporate objectives. A right combination of sharper mind and a healthier body will rather have a synergistic effect in this regard.

Recent data:

The January 18, 2018 article titled, “Now Is The Time For Wellbeing Programs To Focus On Mental Health,” published by the Forbes Magazine presented some interesting facts.

It wrote, employers are increasingly taking greater interest in employee wellbeing. In 2017, the average employer in the United States spent around USD 693 per employee on well-being initiatives per year. This figure is rising around USD100 per year, the author said.

However, the majority of such investment were towards physical health activities, such as installation of gym facilities on site, or giving employees fitness trackers to monitor activity levels. It was less clear, though, whether similar investment extends into mental health programs, as well.

Mental health issues at work higher than physical health conditions:

The October 2017 study titled “Thriving at work“ highlighted that the United Kingdom faces a significant mental health challenge at work. While there are more people at work with mental health conditions than ever before, 300,000 people with a long term mental health problem lose their jobs each year, and at a much higher rate than those with physical health conditions.

Another article appeared in the Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine also observed that mental health problems have an impact on employers and businesses directly through negative impact on productivity and profits, as well as an increase in costs to deal with the issue. In addition, they impact employee morale adversely.

Mental health – the Indian scenario:

The World Health Organization recognizes that the impact of mental health problems in the workplace has serious consequences not only for the individual, but also for the productivity of the enterprise, including the developing countries, such as India.

For the country, the National Mental Health Survey 2015-16 also reveals that nearly 15 percent Indian adults need active intervention for one or more mental health issues and one in 20 Indians suffers from depression. Noting this ascending trend in the prevalence of mental disorders, workplace mental health is an essential need for the Indian Corporates to respond to, urgently.

Alongside, a 2016 study by Optum – a leading employee assistance program to many Corporates, with a sample size of 200,000 employees and covering over 30 large employers, unveiled a seemingly astonishing fact. It reported, as high as 46 percent of the workforce in India suffers from some form of stress. The same issue is applicable to the Government employees in India.

Intriguingly, its budgetary allocation to the National Program for Mental Health has been stagnant for the past three years. At ₹ 35 crore, the program, reportedly, received 0.07 percent of India’s 2017-18 health budget.

Mental health continues to be a taboo:

The ‘Thriving at work’ report further said: “Behind this, our analysis shows that around 15% of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition.” “We found that in many workplaces, mental health is still a taboo subject and that opportunities are missed to prevent poor mental health and ensure employees who may be struggling to get the support they need. In many instances, employers simply don’t understand the crucial role they can play, or know where to go for advice and support,” the paper underscored.

As the above Forbes study said, it could also be due to the fact that a large number of employees believe their mental health problems are not affecting their work, so there was no need to tell their boss.

Focus only on merit, ignoring mental health may have a shorter life:

As we see around, many organizations, including large pharma players in India, are increasingly following different systems of recognizing merit to boost employee productivity. One of its visible manifestations gets reflected in the corporate policy of ‘pay for performance’. It fundamentally means: ‘exceed goals to earn more.’ This by all means is one of the very effective tools of not just achieving business excellence, but in fostering a sense of competition within the performers, besides good corporate governance.  In this context, a question often raised is: Does focusing only merit, sans adequate mental health, carry a shorter life for improving employee productivity?

Conclusion:

This process of recognizing merits, focuses mostly on boosting employee productivity, and very rarely on meeting their mental needs, wants, aspirations and outlook. As a result of this single minded corporate focus on professional merits alone, work-stress starts creating additional pressure, over and above the employees’ own family, social and other personal stress factors. It often leads to job burnout – slowly shifting the work productivity in the reverse gear, alongside an adverse impact on the quality of life of individuals.

There are instances when the employees resort to unwanted shortcuts, snowballing the situation, but only when these get detected. There are ample such evidences in the Indian pharma industry, as well. Several global pharma majors, such as GSK have taken some measures in this area. Nonetheless, it needs to go beyond what a large number of these companies display on their wellness initiatives for employees, in the respective websites.

I hope, this well-proven interesting link between employee productivity at work and their mental well-being, will be noted by more and more Indian companies, especially in the pharma sector. This may prompt them to look for a win-win blend between corporate excellence, employees’ merit-based performance and their fitness needs – both physical and mental. That’s, I reckon, is the minimal corporate requirement today, in this area. Once in place, it will keep evolving at a rapid pace, with the collective cerebral inputs of the respective organizations.

By: Tapan J. Ray 

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

 

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