17 February 2020 | Views
Supportive actions and a change management perspective
Depression has become an endemic problem at the Indian workplace. According to a 2019 study by HR tech startup Hush, one out of every five employees in the corporate sector experiences depression. In addition, almost half of the participants in the study were found to experience some form of workplace depression. Depression has severe negative consequences for the wellbeing and quality of life of an individual. It results in serious losses as employees exhibit low energy, tardiness, absenteeism, social withdrawal, anxiety, mood swings, poor work quality and decreased productivity. According to estimates by the World Health Organization in 2017, depression and anxiety cause a global economic loss of US$ 1 trillion annually. With an increasing number of employees experiencing depression, workplace depression is likely to contribute significantly to this number. These staggering facts are both a cause of concern as well as a wakeup call for immediate corrective and supportive action.
Several factors originating from the workplace can trigger or augment depression. Employees are constantly under stress due to highly competitive and demanding jobs, with high work pressures and sometimes unrealistic timelines. Work demands impact work-life balance negatively with many employees regularly enduring the guilt of not having time for their family. Employees may also be working with unsupportive coworkers and bosses or facing financial instability which further adds to the problem. The result is prolonged feelings of being helpless, trapped, overwhelmed, incompetent and stressed. Employees are scared of opening up about their struggle with depression with their coworkers and bosses as they fear that they may be further isolated, marginalized and systematically moved out of the organization. If not provided support, they can sink further in depression resulting in loss of job or even life. Given the seriousness and pervasiveness of the issue, it is becoming critical for organizations to take action.
What can organizations do to handle depression at work?
Implementing supportive actions is an exercise in change management
Tackling depression in an organization is actually a change management problem and should be handled with a change management mindset. Organizations are not impassive recipients of any action. They have a history, a certain way of working and thinking, and may not always be open to new processes, systems or changes. When it comes to depression, most organizations are psychologically not prepared to handle such a conversation. Thus, for the actions suggested above to make any real impact, a broader systemic change is required in organizations to create the right environment. This implies changes at the individual psychological level, as well as at the interpersonal and cultural levels. Models of change management can be useful guidelines in this respect. Incorporating our suggestions into a model of change management can get more effective outcomes, and can help organizations take more certain and steadier steps towards creating a supportive organization to tackle depression.
Prof. Smita Chaudhry - Associate Professor - Human Resources, FLAME University
Prof. Diganta Chakrabarti - Associate Professor - Human Resource, FLAME University
Dr. Ankita Tandon - Fellow (FPM) from Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode