It’s no hidden secret how astronomically mental health is damaging us all with our increasingly bustling lives. No matter which age group you belong to, there’s always something bitter you carry on your shoulders which triggers anxiety, stress, restlessness and depression. We can’t deny being imprisoned to our own self built cages at some point in our lives. A report by World Health Organisation (WHO) states, “One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide”. As shocking as the facts and figures are, unfortunately this does not come off as a surprise to us. Also this report only entertained the number of individuals who came forward to seek professional help. So those of us who keep their emotions to themselves, let them pile up for as long as they could, refuse to call out for help; do not fall in the calculation. It just can’t get any more heartbreaking!
We come across people every day who while sharing their daily life stories admit that they’re depressed in their lives. Whilst some of us try to offer our help in the form of few sweet and caring words, spending time with the sufferer, buying them meals or gifts; others simply discard their call for help. We must acknowledge, depression is a self-created ghost which stays with the affected one for as long as he knocks it down to it’s grave, even after that it haunts for it’s a ghost after all. Being trapped in depression is like being run down by a bulldozer every day, constraining your physical and mental movements as it keeps you pinned under it for the rest of your day. It is this numbness that takes over you making you feel nothing at all, re-living the same day over and over again, re-living the failure of not being able to come out of it over and over again. It’s this detachment you feel between you and the entire world.
In this article, we’ll debate over how an individual with a disturbed mind fails to be his most motivated, efficient and productive version at his workplace; how the corporate sector of Pakistan is predominantly uneducated about their employees’ mental health; how commendable is the initiative of Negative Apparel to facilitate their staff with mental health counseling sessions once a week to help them reach their maximum level of performance.
Mental health plays a key role in bringing out the best possible efforts from an employee. The healthier the mental state of your workforce, the better the growth in your Employee Performance Measure. Our workplace is supposed to be our second safest place on earth after our home where our rights are protected, our voices are heard and the work environment is healthy. But that’s an ideal case and unfortunately, ideal existed only in those physics and chemistry laws back in our college days.
Our society in Pakistan is still not well schooled about the idea of good mental health. We’re still learning how to openly talk about it, how to not associate stigmas of mental illness and discriminating behavior to the one battling with such mental conditions. Workplace is the most crucial place in identifying and providing assistance accordingly on mental health, just on the account of the fact that we spend almost half our day there every five or six days a week. However, employees mostly choose to stay quiet about their unhealthy mental state based on the stigmas attached to it which includes affecting their work relationships, risk of losing job and future job opportunities.
Pakistan's labour force participation rate is recorded to be 53.4 % in December 2019. With more than half of the population participating in the GDP of the country, it only sounds highly unprofessional of us to sleep on extending mental health services to our industrious employees.
Despite our government conducting numerous seminars, holding meetings for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) – which clearly includes in it’s 3rd goal of “Good health and well-being” the significance of good mental health- no solid results are emerging out of it, at least not in the corporate sector. Disappointing, no?
Job stress in an employee is seen by a leader as a two way road. Where on one hand, it is the gradual development of stress, anxiety leading to depression in an employee; on the other hand, it is the explicit cost burden on the company due to productivity losses.
From the employee’s point of view, long working hours, inadequate compensation, disproportional workloads, delayed salaries and wages, verbal abuse by senior managers, bullying by other co-workers and (in many cases) sexual harassment are the most contributing factors to job stress. As a product of it, company suffers further cost loads in the form of less employee retention rates, more sick day leaves (related to mental illness) costs and less employee efficiency. Giving rise to tougher competition, bigger stress and eventually adding up to the unemployment rate.
Thus there are a number of material efforts anticipated from the employers to help maintain a wholesome work environment. First and foremost, they should integrate mental health in employee’s health insurance benefits. A culture of acceptance and fruitful aid should be promoted within the organization to update the old rigid organizational culture. Employers should render details and statistics about the symptoms of common mental health disorders together with constructive coping strategies and especially in-house regular counseling services. The HR department should also play a critical role by ensuring employees understand their job description, are well supervised, are safe from bullying and any kind of harassment and are not exposed to any dangerous working conditions.
Hold up, now I’d like to draw your attention to the brighter side of the picture. Recently in our discussion with our CEO of Negative Apparel, Mr. Wasi Hassan, we couldn’t hold our curiosity about knowing what actually made him think to do the not-so-common practice in our corporate sector, the consistent in-house conduction of counseling sessions for his employees. His reply was wrapped up in utter wit, honesty along with a heavy chunk of vision. “To cash it!” An outburst of laughter is what followed, lifting up the energy of the room. “Honestly, I did it for two reasons. First, it is for the employees. Secondly, we want to cash that. We are three months down in these counseling sessions and the feedback from my staff is brilliant. I’m very satisfied”, he answered and we all could see the vision of an evolving businessman in his eyes. “It is very simple that mental health is directly related to productivity, be it your personal or professional life. There’s always something deep down within us that keeps nagging us from time to time affecting our mood thus holding us back. We’re a growing company so we wanted to access our structure, culture and operations through these sessions. We also aimed at recognizing the shortcomings we’ve at our management level.” It was so refreshing getting to know his unorthodox approach in carrying out his business, meeting common organizational goals hence maximizing his profits.
We also sat with the mental health consultant of Negative Apparel, Mr. Muhammad Ali Ilyas, a clinical psychologist with an MS degree in clinical psychology from NUST. He is an active clinical psychologist who practices in Rawalpindi. He is also a trainer and public speaker. As a researcher he is active in forensic psychology research. His aim is to make mental health care accessible in all settings. His work includes consulting companies on Occupational Health and Safety Policies, sensitivity and communication training. In an attempt to connect with the youth in particular, he started a page on Instagram (@mentalhealthwithali) which promotes mental health awareness, psychological well-being and more. He regularly interacts with the audience to answer their questions and eradicate misconceptions of mental health at large. If you’d like to connect with Mr. Ali you can reach him out through his Instagram. He sees social media as a great tool to help therapists escape the bonsai tree of the clinic and connect with the world to work towards improving mental health.
We bagged this opportunity to pose a few queries to him to get an insight on how does his sessions work to recognize, provide treatment and mitigate the consequences of mental disorders? Why should companies invest in employee mental health support systems? How can his sessions promote a more professional work driven environment? He was generous enough to enlighten us on this subject thoroughly.
Q. Sir, how integral it actually is for managers to have proper understanding of the mental health of their employees?A."All over the world, larger organizations produce Occupational Health and Safety Policies. These policies integrate mental well-being as a part of them but sadly that is primarily missing from the corporate sector in Pakistan. When you have these policies, they directly affect the productivity of your employees. But a lot of people in corporate world think “Oh what do we have to do with the mental health of our employees?” In actuality, they don’t apprehend how “directly” it impacts not only the worker’s performance at work but also their physical health. Sometimes there are employees who are not really absent, of course if you’ve mental health issues you could be absent, but sometimes they’re coming in every day but they’re still not productive and motivated. So to combat that, managers of both upper and lower level should invest their time and efforts understanding the mental health of their workforce."
Q. How can counseling be the ice breaker between the management and sub-ordinates?
A. "It entirely depends on the company’s job description for their psychologist. For example over here I’m also handling conflict mediation, in addition to our one-on-one psychotherapy sessions with each employee. So if there’s a conflict in the office it becomes part of my responsibility to resolve it. Further all issues regarding management are informed to them as well, to build a healthier relation between the management and the workers. But it differs from the nature of the job assigned to a psychologist in a company."
Q. Is it necessary to report the individual situation of employees to the management?
A. "In this company, No. My sessions are completely confidential. But if there’s ever something that should be brought to the knowledge of the management, I’ll disclose it to them without identifying the employee. The only limit of my confidentiality either in or outside the corporate sector is, if I find someone is either harmful to himself or someone else then I will and I have disclosed this information to the concerned parties"
Q. How can we attach physical benefit or evidence as to the advantages of these sessions in order to convince the corporate sector to start investing their money in it?
A. "If you look at researches, there’s a lot of evidence actually on how counseling improved employees’ self-esteem, communicative skills, motivation and job satisfaction. Also through surveys and questionnaires, top level management can collect physical data to corroborate their expenses on said sessions"
Q. What is your treatment methodology for employees?
A. "I go for CBT (Cognitive behavioral therapy) that’s what my training is in. Now how that works is, yes there are a few techniques that I would use at times like I’ll teach them maintaining an automatic thought record, I’ll do little exercises called Socratic questioning, cognitive disputation. These are a handful of techniques I’d go for. But personally I believe, techniques are not as important as what really goes down on the deeper level than this, which is this idea that if there’s a lack of motivation in employee, it is coming from somewhere. In order for me to attack the lack of motivation, if I were to attack it head on, I’m really just attacking the branch of the tree. I want to get to the root of it. To get to it’s root, I need time. Once the client and I have identified the roots, we attempt to change it to the best of our abilities and the problem for instance, lack of motivation goes away on it’s own. I don’t believe in one session being enough to drive motivation as it won’t bring sustainable results."
Q. What if an employee comes forth with complains involving bullying at workplace. What kind of help will you offer him?
A. "It varies from where the conflict is coming from. Whether it is between a high management level personnel and a sub-ordinate or among employees or managers, it becomes a very delicate matter. Usually before the conflict arises, I’d have seen it coming. So during my sessions, I’d reserve a part where I’d ask them if they are aware of anything they might be doing to further instigate conflict. If they agree they’re doing such actions, half of my job is done. If they don’t then I proceed with calling both the parties together in my group therapy sessions to try resolving the matter."
Q. Lastly, on a more financial accounting and reporting edge, do you think if big companies should be made lawfully liable to incorporate furnishing of mental health services clause in the Sustainability Reporting disclosure of their financial statements?
A. "Yes. Without a doubt! Globally a lot of companies offer health insurance including both physical and psychological health but even if they cover mental health insurance along with providing a psychiatrist, it almost never covers psychotherapy. So what I’m working on is, reaching out the insurance companies and telling them to sign up psychotherapists, psychologists and counselors so people who’re already taking their health insurance can get the required help from the psychotherapist. Basically it’s a two-pronged approach, getting to the corporate sector from the inside and through these insurance companies. Once this is done, companies should be held lawfully liable to disclose this information in their statements."
So what’s thought provoking here is that if a relatively new formed company like Negative Apparel can take this unconventional initiative to invest their cash in their employees, allowing them to ripe in a nourishing environment and eventually realizing the inflow of cash from such investment, what is obstructing other companies that are running for over five or six decades to take this action?
"I unquestionably recommend organizations to hold such sessions for their employees."
" I feel clear about what I’m up to and what do I want. I am able to sort out my issues better both personal and professional. We are getting assertive training which helps us in resolving disputes at office and in our private lives. If companies want their employees to have more clarity, assertiveness, motivation, better problem solving skills, they should absolutely provide psychotherapy sessions to them."
"It taught me positivity and self love. A must-have culture in every office!"
"I’m offered practical help with techniques and methods I was unaware of. This is immensely helpful in increasing my work efficiency, motivation, dispute solving skills and realizing my self worth. I highly advocate for counseling sessions in the corporate sector. "
"There’s less blur in my head now. I’d recommend orderly arranged psychotherapy sessions for every employee around the world."