Work Place… Mann Ki Baat

People Tree / Kishore M Shah

The writer stresses on the importance of mental health and hygiene at the workplace

More than 260 million people are living with anxiety disorders. A recent WHO led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity. Mental health in the workplace was the theme of World Mental Health Day 2017 on 10th October.

Over the last decade, through several assignments, informal discussions with interview panellists (both recruitment and exit), articles,etc.,there seems to be a growing trend of issues related to mental health and hygiene at work place. Speaking or sharing openly one’s neurotic behaviour is still considered taboo. Maybe as Indians, we are conditioned to be emotionally tolerant especially with superiors and intolerant with sub-ordinates, but even the management is consciously turning a blind eye and giving a cold response to this topic.

The entire focus and the language of the organization heads or board members, Learning & Development (L&D) chiefs towards the issue of “mental health and hygiene” seems to be so prescriptive and rhetoric that it is conveniently dovetailed and tagged as “Mind set issues” with a blind belief  that it can be corrected by few training programs and improving “engagement survey scores;” but deep down these ignored, unresolved mental health and hygiene issues are not only destroying the organization’s human fabric but they are also contagiously affecting the personal lives of several sub-ordinates and their families.

Sub-ordinates,executives, operators are struggling to voice the “neurotic” behaviours of their superiors fearing work place harassment and consequences.They are badly caught between the devil and the deep sea, for if they report, they will be targeted and if they do not report, they will have to suffer in silence. The situation for female staff is further worsened as they have dual responsibilities of managing work and family to add EMI, lifestyle pressures and growing job insecurity forces them to be numb.

There are no provisions for regular mental health and hygiene assessment analysis of employees; neither are industrial psychologists on board

Let us peep into the process of recruitment and transitions to senior positions both in corporate and the government sector. In corporate, the selection process and the succession planning process is over decorated with the super standardised “Assessment and Development centres”, job descriptions and competency assessment. I am not devaluing these tools and techniques but the existing system does not adequately factor the missing link (neurotic behaviour) thus making it a risky proposition. There is lack of sincere effort to factor the role incumbent’s “mental hygiene/health” as one of the KRA or KPI.

There are no provisions for regular mental health and hygiene assessment analysis of employees; neither are industrial psychologists on board. The top management and investors are also myopic; as long as the person meets numbers everything is pardoned; or alternatively, there are open trade-offs to buy peace!

The scenario in the Government sector is still worse; as they promote people based either on years of service or compliance issues. The intent must have been good; but in the current scenario, this is a recipe for disaster.

If one reflects retrospectively, then in the past, the society, market, work dynamics were relatively stable, uncertainty was either minimum or insulated; but today’s scenario where “consumerism” is at its peak, pumping daily dose of “incompleteness” and conditioning “instant gratification “by hook or crook methods are quietly  pushing not only individuals but even groups and organizations into a “mass depression”. In such scenario, nobody will ever take even small risks; and each one will play extra safe – this will cumulatively dip the overall performance of the organization.

The neurotic behaviour of superiors is often masked or disguised and demonstrated:

1) In the name of “maverick”

2) In the name of “discipline”

3) In the name of “larger cause” or “big picture”

4) In the name of “top line and bottom line”

5) In the name of “change management”

6) In the name of “sacrifice”

7) In the name of “competitiveness”

8) In the name of “being among the top three”

9) In the name of “compliance and insubordination”

10) In the name of “ignorance”

The ground reality is that neither the business heads are aware nor they have the know how to deal with psychological issues. To add to this, we hardly value human life and well-being; so we have never bothered to create healthy channels for observing, sensing, diagnosing, intervening and action researching the issues related to the “mental health and hygiene” of the employees, our construct is stereotyped which directs all root cause analysis and solutioning in the domain area of sub-ordinates and a belief that people at the top are “super humans or demi-god” and whatever they do is deemed right and the problems in organization are minus them!

Neurotic behaviour of superiors often forces sub-ordinates to resort to negative coping mechanisms like suicides, jobhops, VRS,and litigations.

The reasons for neurotic behaviour are deeply embedded in both nature (genetic) and nurture (conditioning) of the individual, transactional analysis theory of Eric Berne “I am OK and you are not OK” seem to come handy to give us some instant insights about the root causes. We all are aware of the “Stimulus-Response” mechanism. Any stimulus first hits our emotional make up; and then based on its maturity which also includes shades of neurotic elements, it processes the stimulus and then pushes it to our cognitive make-up (intelligence) and then we see a resultant action.

According to Eric Berne there are 4 types of basic conditioning (parenting and social interactions) which may happen during our early childhood and they are as under

1) I am OK and you are NOT OK

2) I am NOT OK and you are OK

3) I am NOT OK and you are NOT OK

4) I am OK and you are OK

The first 3 contribute immensely to build neurotic elements; and thus when one experiences a particular stimulus or trigger, it may activate their neurotic behaviour which would manifest into work place / domestic violence or harassment!

Even Shultz had proposed a similar theory based on the concept of “valency” that every person has 3 basic needs

1) Need for Inclusion

2) Need for Control

3) Need for Affection

If any of the need is deprived beyond a tolerance limit in early childhood, it gets manifested later in life as a neurotic behaviour.

It is not that those with neurotic behaviours are completely ignorant about it but because it is accepted, it encourages them further; hence there is a pressing need of creating an unobtrusive system which keeps a tab on such behaviours and proactively prevent the negative manifestation. Organizations should have zero tolerance for neurotic behaviours, And HR administrations should encourage those who suffer with such traits to freely ask for help to deal and heal.

There are some highly reliable and valid on-line psychometric instruments which give deep insights and coaching suggestions, associations like ISABS, Sumedhas, and Aastha regularly conduct “process-labs” to facilitate such issues. Organizations religiously conduct routine health check up; but it is restricted conveniently to “physical fitness” but today’s work system needs both mental and physical fitness assessment.

Senior “managerial” cadre is the only cadre which can mobilise the “thinkers” and “doers” they are positioned to ensure that there is healthy balance between top and bottom line and if their mental health and hygiene is ignored or unattended, then the organization will soon dip into a downward spiral .

It is high time that the business heads, HR heads, government secretariats put their heart and soul to legitimise mental health and hygiene as one of the crucial assessment and development criteria in selections and promotions, while simultaneously creating platforms within the organization for early detection and to facilitate the employees to deal with neurosis. Noted writer V. S. Naipaul once quoted that, “the only lies for which we are truly punished are those we tell ourselves.” Let us, with pride, work towards mental health and hygiene at the work place and only then will we develop in the true sense.

I conclude with Amrita Pritam’s famous lines, “peace is not just absence of violence, peace is when the flowers blossom!”


The writer is an organisational development and talent analytics consultant. He is also the founder sponsor of Goa CSR Awards. He is the recipient of Limca Book of Records and Business Goa Award.

He can be contacted at shahkishorem@gmail.com

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