Mental Health at Work: It’s time employers took notice of the other pandemic

Mental Health at Work: It’s time employers took notice of the other pandemic

The COVID-19 experience has created in its wake a new pandemic – that of mental health. In India, traditionally, there has been minimal engagement by bottom-line driven company leaders to enhance mental wellbeing at work.

But recent reports, e.g., the Deloitte Mental Health Survey, published in September 2022, have aimed to deliver a jolt to this reticence. The study found that poor workforce mental health costs Indian employers around $14 billion each year, that 80% of the Indian workforce has reported mental health issues, 47% of respondents consider workplace-related stress as the biggest factor affecting their mental health, while societal stigma prevents around 39% from taking steps to manage their symptoms.

Further, 33% of respondents continued to work, despite poor mental health, while 29% took time off and 20% resigned, to address their mental health challenges.

Despite such evidence, there are currently no Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) norms mandated by law in India, to deal with mental health at work. Consequently, employers operate in a piece-meal manner, with Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), counselling sessions and interventions aimed at alleviating stress and improving motivation and productivity. But in the absence of norms and standards, such initiatives often fail to reach their desired outcome. The need of the hour is to formulate a robust framework for enhancing mental wellbeing.

Now, for the first time in India, the authors, in collaboration with psychologists at NUVAH, have developed the prototype for a more detailed framework. This preliminary schema is based on validated psychological research, it is implementable and scalable in the Indian context, and contains tools and measures to quantitatively gauge the level of mental wellbeing and psychological safety, across the talent base in companies.

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A high-level sketch of the model is outlined below:


The process starts with the creation of a comprehensive policy. Companies should ensure that commitments to prevent ill health and injuries and promoting well-being at work are included, and accordingly draft a policy for managing mental health and wellbeing.

This new OH&S policy should then be communicated to all personnel. One of the main reasons why well-intentioned organization-wide policies fail to make an impact on the ground is lack of awareness. It is essential that the top management sustains a clear and transparent line of communication with its people, through periodic updates, roadshows, in-person or virtual townhall meetings, as well as newsletter bulletins.

Companies should appreciate that a number of factors, such as economic downturns, pandemics and ecological crises, mergers and acquisitions, changes in work processes or in mode of operations, including remote or hybrid work for extended periods of time, will likely have an impact on mental health within the organization. Management should conduct internal audits at periodic intervals and use the findings to assess the effectiveness of identification and management of psychosocial risks, identify gaps in performance as well as opportunities to improve their management. Inputs to management reviews include audit findings and data on incident investigations and corrective actions taken to prevent psychosocial risks to workers.

Before deploying any mental health policy, companies need to ascertain the present level of mental health within the workforce, through a behavioural assessment, such as the one developed by NUVAH and peer-reviewed by psychometricians. This behavioural assessment covers the five major dimensions of psychological safety, as outlined below.


  • Supportive Leadership Behaviour: The set of practices that create safety by communicating expectations clearly, providing guidance, and allowing marginal failures.
  • Supportive Organizational Practices: A set of practices that give employees a feeling of being supported, respected for their contribution and engages them in a learning environment that is geared towards professional growth.
  • Team Characteristics: A set of practices that improve employee engagement and a feeling of belongingness in a team; a space where people can grow and develop skills of collaboration and creativity.
  • Relationship Networks: A set of practices within teams that make space for creative collaborations through active conversations and redressal systems incase of mishaps across the organization in a seamless manner.
  • Individual Differences: An attitude of fairness, respect and equality to promote employee individuality and organizational diversity.

The responses of these behavioural assessments will yield rich behavioural insights about employees’ feelings along the various dimensions and thus help to focus management’s interventions on key areas.

Avik Chanda and Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay are the authors of ‘Work 3.0’

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Author: Shirley