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Employee Wellbeing in the Times of a Pandemic

When times are tough, as they no doubt have been for most of us since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are naturally attuned to focusing on the health of the business(es) we run - on sales, operations, efficiency, and of course, on the bottom-line. However, how often do we focus on the health of the people that make all of these tick? I mean, really really focus? Not delegate the responsibility to HR, not pay lip service, and not just say, "I am fully cognizant of this, it's just that I haven't had the time because thereare so many [more important] challenges around!"?

Do we really pause long enough to recognise how our employees, staff, and team members are coping with these challenges?

Depression and anxiety, of course, are silent killers. And traditionally, they have been swept under the proverbial carpet. As business leaders and influencers, we need to recognise and truly appreciate the significance of this often ignored subject - if not as responsible members of society, then as the people responsible for the delivery of productivity, efficiency, profitability, and shareholder value.

“I wish I had a big scar so people would understand that something was wrong. No one can see my pain.”

In the UK, the Office of National Statistics Reports that 25% of people in the UK will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year. Around 1 in 5 (21%) adults experienced some form of depression in early 2021 (27 January to 7 March); this is an increase since November 2020 (19%) and more than double that observed before the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (10%).

According to The Lancet, 1 in 7 people in India were estimated to have some form of mental health problem in 2017. The World Health Organization had estimated that by 2020, this number would be up to 1 in 5, or 20% of the population. A 2019 study by a British Charity, Mental Health Research UK, found that 42.5% of employees in India’s corporate sector suffer from depression or some form of anxiety disorder – that is nearly every other employee!

Importantly, these statistics are from before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic which, since sometime in 2020, has introduced further stresses in the form of Covid infections, bereavements, lockdowns, financial pressures, job losses, work-from-home and home-schooling, loneliness and isolation, Zoom fatigue, and an all-pervading sense of uncertainty about the future.

"Sometimes my behaviour confuses people. Even I don't know who I am!"

As it happens, Covid-19 does not understand or differentiate between hierarchies. Problems afflict senior management as much as theydo rank and file. And when that happens, team management takes a serious hit, and so do employee morale and productivity.

Thankfully, things are changing. The internet and social media have made it easier to read up on the issue and to realize that I, as a mental-ailment sufferer, am not alone. That in all likelihood, my oh-so-perfect neighbor is also similarly afflicted, whether they show it or not. That affluent, famous, apparently accomplished people (who should be so happy with their lives, right?!) are also not spared. That there are support systems available, should I need them. And finally, that it is no longer absolutely taboo to accept and share that I have a mental health issue or that I am wracked by anxiety or depression.

Yes, things are changing. But they're not changing fast enough.

As business leaders, as the people who vast numbers of employees and families rely on, and as influencers, we have a bigger role to play than is apparent in common social discourse even today. We need to step up our game and make employee wellbeing an essential part of our job description. We need to encourage and normalize the conversation around mental wellbeing just like it is with physical health. And most importantly, as captains and navigators of our own ships, we need to bring our own individual wellness to the forefront so that we have the ability to lead our crews and passengers most effectively through calm waters and stormy seas alike.

We ignore the subject at our peril.


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