Expand focus on mental health and address burnout at work

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In recent years, there has been a significant shift in culture and working practices as organizations recognize the importance of overall employee wellbeing, with a specific emphasis on mental health. Several ongoing discussions indicate that employees around the world are dealing with burnout, stress, and mental health challenges. In fact, recent surveys and studies point to higher burnout rates among Indian employees compared to employees in other geographies.

Mental Health (representative image)(Unsplash)
Mental Health (representative image)(Unsplash)

This trend of more professionals experiencing burnout in the workplace can significantly impact their mental health. This growing concern is prompting progressive employers to adopt comprehensive strategies to address and reduce the negative effects of poor mental health and burnout in the workplace. Organizations now recognize that fostering a mentally healthy workplace is not only a moral obligation, but is also crucial to employee productivity and retention, all of which leads to organizational success.

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This article explores the growing focus on mental health, the impact of burnout and some of the steps organizations are taking to create healthier, happier and more supportive work environments.

By definition, burnout occurs when an individual suffers from a state of exhaustion, lacking physical and emotional strength and motivation, usually due to prolonged exposure to stress or frustration. Factors that contribute to burnout include excessive workload, lack of control at work, insufficient recognition, and limited support. Burnout, characterized by chronic stress in the workplace, is a major concern that can negatively impact employees' mental health and job performance.

Burnout can have adverse consequences for employees, affecting their physical health, job satisfaction, and overall life satisfaction. Mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, are closely linked to burnout in the workplace. Employees who experience burnout may experience lower productivity, higher absenteeism, and a greater likelihood of disengaging from work. The effects can extend to personal life, straining relationships and compromising overall well-being.

Workplace burnout can manifest as psychological stress and lead to depression, aggression, and decreased commitment to projects or clients. Clinical research has shown that burnout is linked to an increased risk of physical and mental health problems, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, and depression. In short, the consequences of burnout extend beyond an individual's physical and mental health and impact team dynamics, company culture, and organizational performance.

Several forward-thinking organizations are already taking a holistic approach to mental health, recognizing that a supportive work environment is essential to employee happiness and business success. Several initiatives are gaining ground.

As a starting point, organizations can refer to the National Mental Health Policy 2014 and the Mental Health Act 2017 to formulate and implement mental health policies in their workplace. These policies recommend adopting a more inclusive and non-discriminatory policy towards employees with mental health problems. Establishing a clear mental health policy is a proactive step and much more effective than assuming employee satisfaction and overlooking the need for mental health policies or services.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) provide anonymous and confidential counseling and support services to employees facing personal or work-related challenges. These programs can be instrumental in preventing and managing burnout in the workplace.

However, stigma or fear of judgment may prevent employees from accessing such services. Organizations can demonstrate that seeking help is a sign of strength and self-care, not a weakness. In fact, organizations can even include information about the EAP during the onboarding process, setting the tone from the beginning that the company prioritizes employee well-being.

Implementing mental health programs that include awareness campaigns, workshops and training sessions is another way to prioritize the focus on mental health. These programs aim to destigmatize discussions about mental health, provide resources, and offer coping mechanisms.

In addition to integrating these mental health services, encouraging employees to access these support mechanisms is also an effective approach to ensuring employee well-being. This approach serves as a practical strategy to reduce burnout and stress among employees.

Mental health policy and mental health programs can become ineffective if the workplace culture is unhealthy. An employee's performance and job satisfaction are directly related to the attitude and morale of the people around him. A boss who micromanages, has trust issues, or isn't supportive can demoralize an employee and make them feel like an outsider. Similarly, toxic colleagues can create a negative work culture, making the work experience unpleasant.

Leaders play a crucial role in shaping work culture. Leaders must exemplify the values ​​they promote and demonstrate a commitment to a positive work environment. Leaders can coach other key stakeholders to be approachable, supportive, and actively involved in fostering a positive culture. For example, managers play a crucial role in creating a positive work environment and recognizing signs of burnout in their teams. Therefore, coaching sessions or leadership training programs should focus on developing empathetic and caring managers.

Fostering a positive workplace culture involves recognizing and rewarding achievements, promoting open communication, and creating a sense of community. Organizations increasingly emphasize the importance of collaboration, teamwork, and collective well-being.

Flexible work arrangements, such as remote work options and flexible schedules, can significantly help employees manage their work-life balance and reduce stress. This flexibility contributes to a more accommodating and supportive work culture. As people's attitudes towards employment have changed significantly after the pandemic, several organizations are offering flexible working, allowing employees to take better care of their overall health.

Organizations are reevaluating workload distribution and implementing measures to avoid excessive demands on employees. Workload management includes setting realistic expectations, providing adequate resources, and encouraging breaks.

Managers must be vigilant and recognize when an employee has been consistently working at maximum capacity for too long. It is essential to make work more manageable and attractive. Additionally, encouraging employees to feel comfortable setting boundaries and seeking support is another important measure that can reduce burnout in the workplace.

Being mindful refers to having a deeper sense of self-awareness. It is being aware of what is happening within oneself and around oneself without judging or reacting. This practice can help employees cope with what happens at work, helping them reduce stress, anxiety, and burnout.

The increasing focus on mental health and efforts to address burnout reflect a paradigm shift in how organizations address employee well-being. By prioritizing mental health, organizations not only fulfill their obligation to care for employees but also promote a positive work culture that improves employee engagement and productivity.

As the workforce continues to evolve, including mental health as part of the organizational framework is a strategic approach to building a more inclusive and prosperous organization.

This article is written by Murali Santhanam, CHRO, AscentHR.

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