Episode 11 The Mental Health Memo: Finding Headspace in the Workplace

On the latest edition of Thoughtcast by Onething. Sonakshi has a chat with Karthik Hariharan, a counselling psychologist to discuss mental health implications of the modern-day workplace. They chat about mental health awareness, and social media misinformation. Furthermore, a large portion of the discussion speaks specifically to the Covid-19 pandemic, and how the work-from-home culture changed augmented our schedules for the worse. The podcast also suggests tactics and strategies which individuals can employ in their daily lives, with relative ease, to reduce the burden of burnout and lead mentally healthier lifestyles. We also get into what companies can do for their employees in the same regard, and some real world examples which have worked wonders. Catch real world mental health insights, from a professional, on this episode of Thoughtcast by Onething.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Hey guys, welcome to another episode of Thoughtcast by Onething. Here we have Karthik with us who is a counseling psychologist and works with working professionals and kids to help deal with their mental health problems. Today, we will be talking about mental health in the workforce and I feel that’s a very important topic or to be touched, especially due to COVID and people having to work in a different manner or change their patterns of working from offline to online.

And also deal with a lot of negativity around themselves. So how can employees, work towards better mental health and how can companies, help them in the process, is something we’ll discover with you today. Let’s actually start with the basics, right? We’ve all gone through a lockdown. It’s been, it’s been hard for everyone.

Some people have [00:01:00] had it pretty hard, many others even harder. My first basic question to you, is this, what did you experience in the pandemic when you were secluded when you were alone? Either with or without family, what were some of the basic issues you faced as a human being? I think it was just a very different pattern.

It’s not like I had not been home for a month or two just by myself. Just being around all of this, made me a lot more anxious.

I mean, that’s something I went through, but, I felt like I personally overcame it as soon as I started stepping out a little bit, but that’s something you couldn’t really afford one month down [00:02:00] the line, something that not everyone had the privilege of doing right. The last time we experienced the pandemic was a hundred years ago.

So no one actually knows what is a pandemic response right. And as companies, I feel like companies have come together have tried to brainstorm around it, have tried to figure out what it is that they can do for their employees. But I think the first step is to actually talk about it. The first step is to actually hear people out and understand what problems do they have.

So answering your question, people have gone through depression. The depression rates are much higher. People have gone through pandemic anxiety, for people who have, been caregivers, they’ve gone through caregiver stress, right? Who’ve been primary caregivers to their, you know, people at home? And for people who have constantly been caregivers around their house or their society, there’s also this thing as compassion fatigue.[00:03:00] 

So people are losing the ability to be compassionate. People are losing the ability. Be empathetic or sympathetic around their own households, let alone their companies to do something about their own mental health or about the mental health of their friends and family. The awareness of mental health has picked up significantly.

However, at the same time, Instagram is a platform where everyone has this right or freedom of speech to express themselves. It does not mean what they’re expressing might be the right thing. So along with the pros of increased awareness, the cons are that not everyone has access to correct information.

So actually, that’s where, that’s what we want to talk about also, right? Like what can companies do to make sure that, their employees have access to mental health resources? [00:04:00] I think one of the simplest resource that, most companies can adopt is, basic training on mental health awareness.

Right. Just exposing their employees about what is mental health, right. So many companies, they don’t actually do that. They expect people to simply know that, or they’re like, oh, my employees are on Instagram. I’m sure. You know, they know about these things, right. Or, you know, we have it in our company.

It’s probably a part of the company insurance where they can probably, you know, go and get help or whatever it is, you know, different companies operate differently. But some basics that companies can definitely adopt is, like how they do diversity training or how they do like. You know, harassment at the workplace training, like basic HR, you know, compliance training that, that companies [00:05:00] have.

One of them can be training on mental health awareness. You have to ensure that the employee is actually feeling safe and knows that you’re there for them even in the time of need. And when they just need a day off, why does he need to have a fever? Like, I can’t get out of my bed today. There are a lot of people who go through things like BPD, but they can usually function, right.

They don’t have a problem, but they do have their off days. Like it’s very difficult to call your manager. I’m sorry, I just need to take a leave because I’m feeling extremely anxious, but that’s something that should change, right? Like if someone has a physical illness, societies and companies, even they’re more accepting of a physical, physical than compared to a mental illness and I completely, hear you.

I do. I really do. That’s the first thing, right? To understand that, just like how a physical illness is curable, but needs time and needs compassion. [00:06:00] Same thing. Most mental illnesses are also curable and need time and need compassion. I feel like if people can start treating mental health the same way as they treat physical health, then we can work around it.

Right. We can say, okay, this person, like how in, in the case of a fracture, you need to go see a doctor, right? Probably once a week or once in two weeks. Similarly, if a person needs to go see their therapist, right. I might need a half-day from work. Or, I might need to leave work early or might have to take a day off because they are unable to function, such things should also be allowed.

People need to start incorporating that, just to start normalizing that, right. Let’s look at more permanent things like, like, let’s say your eyesight, right? Your eyesight might not come back to a six by six, but you wear glasses to correct your vision, right? And if glasses don’t work, eventually people [00:07:00] might even go for a laser, but it might not be viable for everyone.

You know, they’ll have glasses now, similarly in mental health, what is the equivalent of glasses that help you cope and give you perfect vision, some sort of support that ensures that you still have perfect vision, just because your eyes are not perfect. Right? People need to see mental health professionals.

If they feel like they’re having troubles with their own mental health, it’s just like any other issue in India, we go to a psychiatrist for medication and we go to a psychologist for counseling therapy and things like that. You need to see both kinds of people if you feel like, okay, if, because a psychologist can not prescribe you medication, right?

So you need to know that you are going to the right person and you need to, [00:08:00] I’m not advertising anyone here, but like Fortis hospital does a fabulous job, right. They have a mental health department where the psychiatrist works in conjunction with the psychologist, right. To give you holistic mental health advice.

To ensure that your problem is managed, treated, taken care of fixed in whatever capacity it is. As I said Fortis might be, the right place to go for them because they work in sync. But like if there’s Fortis around me, how do I choose which doctor do I need to go to? We have apps like Practo now right where you can just look up a good psychologist or a psychiatrist in your area.

We have apps like CureFit, right? The cult chain of the group, like we’ve got apps at our own disposal where you can book an appointment with a psychologist, right? Start somewhere, start with a reference, ask a friend, ask a family member, ask [00:09:00] someone who you think might know as a good psychologist. If no one in your circle knows anyone.

Just Google. If you tell someone my bones are hurting, it’s more complex. Yeah. Now they won’t say Hajmola kha-lo. They’ll be like, okay, I hear you. That sounds serious. Why don’t you go get that checked? Right? This is called the response or rather first date where you hear the person and then you respond.

People need to start doing the same thing with mental health, right. At a workplace. If someone tells you that they are having a problem, rather than saying, oh, go see a therapist. Which can come off as a little, you know, rushed. Yeah. Something better to do is to just hear people out and maybe not give advice, just hear them, know that they are feeling heard, and then help them and respond in a [00:10:00] way that says, Hey, why don’t you go and get help?

Because this is beyond my jurisdiction or beyond my expertise. A lot of people find it hard to confide in their manager and rightly so because they might feel judged. And a manager might not know whether this is genuine or not. It is a problem on both ends. And that’s why it’s easier to confide in peers.

And, that’s why it’s maybe easier to confide in a separate authority altogether, as the HR. So that is a simple technique. But if a person has to go to a manager, then yes, you’re right. They need to have an open, honest, and transparent relationship where a person can feel comfortable enough to confide.

And we need to create the kind of a work environment that allows for that. If a person goes to some person, X, that person X needs to be someone who can listen to them, [00:11:00] who can be non-judgemental, who can guide them in a certain way, who probably has basic mental health expertise. Otherwise, a lot of companies that I know now hire psychologists at the workplace, which is the best thing to happen.

I mean, that’s actually so cool that, people who can’t afford it also can go. And people who are hesitant who want to just give it a try, when they see that their peers are doing it, it encourages them. There are so many factors to this to an employee, mental health and feeling welcomed, and feeling safe.

I mean, you can equate that to Maslow’s pyramid, right? In terms of security, safety, and then esteem, right. Self-esteem needs and things like that. So all of those felt like tick, tick, tick, tick, tick covered, right? Once those things are taken care of an employee can really focus on the work and, and derive a sort of pleasure [00:12:00] from their work, look forward to their work, or even derive a sense of self-worth.

From their work, although that’s not a healthy thing to do, people do that. Right? Yeah. And that’s what really drives performance, other programs. Right? So whether it’s a buddy program or it could be like, having, an employee assistance program where you have people other than your manager, who’s coaching, you can have a mentor program where, you know, you have someone in the company who’s senior who you can go to, who can guide you, who can mentor.

Who can put you on like, a success part? There are a lot of programs that HR anyways has, which ensures that people are talking to people. People are getting help from people. But if we look at exclusive mental health programs exclusively, I feel like definitely, you need to have like maybe spaces like a town hall, right?

Not all companies have a town hall where people can talk about pressing issues. Right, where [00:13:00] people can talk about what it’s like for them and how can they solve problems that employees are facing, uh, that might not only concern the company but might also come like, you know, concerning their private lives.

Things like that. Things, I mean, are, I’m sure there are plenty of ideas out there, but at the core of it, I think that people should definitely. Talk more about mental health issues. Not because it is a fad or it’s a fashion, but because people are genuinely facing problems, right? Yeah. Even most of the bigger companies, right?

Like in startups, you still get to meet people around you, you know, that you’re responsible for more things, you’re reaching out to more people in companies like the big fours and even PWC, you have to have these. Measures are in place to make sure people are actually talking to each other because everything is happening [00:14:00] digitally.

Given now the work-from-home situation as well, people barely get to see each other. And this is, work is now it takes at least eight hours off your day. Right. Which means you don’t have enough time to work eat, sleep.

It’s crazy. Let’s paint the picture of a family, right? An average employee. Who’s probably, you know, between 30 to 40 years of age, they have kids, they have their parents. So they have to let’s say log-in, at 9:00 AM, right along with that, they have to ensure that their parents are fed. Their children are fed.

And on their own laptops attending online school while they themselves have to start, you know, dealing with reports, their team, their managers, Everything. Right. So they’re working through the day. While, you know, whichever [00:15:00] house help has also come, you know, to help them with, you know, cleaning or cooking or some people don’t even have that.

So they have to cook themselves. They have to clean themselves. They have to ensure that children are on their screens and not sleeping. And after all of that, they have to also manage their own screen time and the screen time of their children and still have reported finishing, still have things to do.

And after that also like. Once, you know, they, as the day progresses it’s tea time. They’ll probably take a break. They’ll probably have a conversation with their kids. They have a conversation with their own parents. And then again, they’re back to the laptop, right? As convenient as it is to not have to drive to your workplace and back, let us not forget that the screen time has increased drastically and after a day’s work after a normal workday.

And also workdays are no longer normal because you see [00:16:00] what you can do with your team at the desk, right. Where you are like, oh, can you pass me that file? Or, Hey, have you seen this report now? Even that has to happen over a video call that has to happen over, over email coordination is now 5x, right?

Like it’s, it’s what you could do in an hour now takes much longer. Right? So they are spending more time at work technically right now. A common misconception that a lot of managers have is, oh, you’re saving, driving time. Yeah. You know, or you’re at home, you know, it’s, it’s easier for you, but that’s actually a misconception.

We’re spending more time doing work-related things. Despite being at home. And while being at home, they are frustrated that they’re not getting enough quality time with their own family members. So after people spend, you know, their typical Workday at home, How do they chill, Netflix more screen time.

It’s [00:17:00] it’s even if they don’t do Netflix, even if I think simple hacks, you know, where they take a tech break, where they are not looking at the screen, like. But what happens if people don’t what happens if people don’t take a tech trick? Yeah. Oh yeah. That’s it’s really bad for their brains. Let’s begin with that.

Like from the blue light. To the way you experience dopamine, right? Because you’re constantly being driven by sensory input. So if you don’t get a break your capacity to feel a sense of joy, starts coming down because your tolerance is too high. Right. So, uh, these things need to be looked into because then they start affecting people’s moods.

Uh, people start looking forward to, you know, Any sort of a screen to just simply wake up, how many people wake up in the morning and have to look at their phones just to feel like they’re waking up. And then they feel that sense of, [00:18:00] dreariness throughout the day where they’re just tired and they don’t feel like they’re themselves and they will probably need a cup of coffee, but, you know, and then slowly sleep deprivation starts kicking in, there’s a huge list of problems.

Really. I think I’m pleased in terms of what companies can practice companies around. Start giving their employees, uh, you know, a day off in a month across to say, okay, take a break, you know, a tech detox break, right. Employees are working over the weekend as well. Who’s keeping track of that. Yeah. Like, I mean the work timings and the working hours that employees are actually putting in, uh, after the work from home, it’s been significantly higher and usually like, usually feel like someone, in India working professionally in India.

That how much time are you spending on a day-to-day basis? Bare minimum of nine to 10 hours that they’re spending on work, which [00:19:00] might seem like it’s just an hour more than what is actually the labor law. But when you accumulate all of that, it’s 40 extra hours in a month, which is a lot, right. That time can be spent on.

Spending time with your family, as you said, taking a tech break or what actually addressing your mental health for a lot of people finding the time is a real issue. Yes, it definitely. So, yeah. You know what, speaking of finding the time and other issues, something that I definitely think about is that, in terms of company practices, I feel like managers need to be more aware of their employee’s home reality.

It impacts their work. It impacts their work. Every day we spend, how much time can they spend on work is also, something that you measured with. You have to take it on a case-by-case basis. Yes, you do. And it definitely is a case by case [00:20:00] basis because you see when your employee comes to work. You know, everyone’s, everyone’s in the same space.

Everyone has the same eight hours, everyone’s working together, but when they’re at home, Right. Some employees looked forward to coming to work because they could use the canteen or they could eat at the company, but now they have to cook their own food. Not every employee, not every person in your team has access to house help.

Right? Not every person in your team might have aging parents. Not every employee in your team might have kids. You know, some are older employees, some are younger, you know, some have like two kids, some have no kids, some are married, some are unmarried, two different people have different commitments at home. So our managers being compassionate towards that, are they understanding of that?

And what are managers doing to make work a happier and safer space [00:21:00] for their employees? So that the employee feels like, you know, my work takes care of me and I’m happy to work here. So that’s the question that we really need to be on. Yes. are we happy at work?

Yeah, I am doing amazing. So I think with that, let’s wrap up this discussion. Thank you so much for taking the time out and actually giving us, actionable measures that people can take immediately without investing too much into it. Whether it’s financial resources or human resources, all you need to do is be a little more empathetic and a little bit more, a little bit more on a personal level, I guess, be a little more empathetic.

And then obviously have initiators that we spoke about, in place so that people feel good to work with them. Absolutely.

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