Panel discussions

The Mindful Workplace

Read Time:7 Minute

Understanding Mental Health

Prof Pratima Murthi, Professor & Head, Department of Psychiatry, NIMHANS, Bengaluru:
Unlike physical health problems, mental health issues are subjective and people don’t want to talk about it as they consider it a weakness and also because of the social stigma against mental health issues. People feel that there will be no support even if they disclose their mental health problems. Human mind is like a pressure cooker: Communication with it is the best way to ease that pressure from building up.
Types of problems
Mental health issues can be broadly classified into two categories:
1) Common problems like anxiety and depression.
2) More serious problems like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression and substance abuse.
When should someone seek medical help? If the issues are transient like a bout of panic or a depression from grief, they may disappear when the situation changes. But if they are long lasting—when motor movement disorders or suicidal tendencies crop up—intervention is definitely needed. One has to prevent escalation by reaching out.
Depending on the severity of the symptoms, issues can be resolved by self-help, lifestyle changes, counseling by mental health specialist, medications and psychological interventions like CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). A psychiatrist is a MBBS qualified doctor treating any abnormality of the mind while a psychologist is not a MBBS doctor. They treat milder forms of the disorders.
While optimum stress is good for productivity, monotonous work and high work load can harm mental health. Keeping oneself mentally and physically active, being creative, and having ‘me-time’ to reflect and relax the mind are some of the ways in which we can maintain good mental health.

A mindful workplace is where employees are able to realise their full potential, use their creativity, learn from mistakes and are treated compassionately.

Engendering Behavioural Change in Organisations

Prof Vidyanand Jha, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, IIM Calcutta:
Organisational Behaviour (OB) deals with behaviour of individuals and groups and that of the organisation itself. Is there a relation between work and non-work zones? There are three hypotheses: a) they can be unrelated b) there can be spill-over from one to the other and c) people may try to compensate what they miss out in one zone in the other. For example, when an employee is ill-treated by his boss, he may try to ill-treat his family members.
Repetitive work can lead to stress but if the work is of critical nature, like manning an air traffic control centre, it will give a purpose to the work. There is a story written by BHU Professor Kashinath Singh. In the story, a fifty-year old man, walks every day from his home to office and back. One day, he sees the setting of the sun and he is enamoured by its beauty. Every day, the sun setting takes places as he returns but he saw it only one day. It shows how we miss so many good things in life. It is important to realise who we are and ask if we have done anything useful.
In psychology, we generally look at why people are not happy, why people feel alienated and so on. Martin Seligman, studied people who are happy and he is called the ‘father of positive psychology.’
Does Sabbatical help employees? In the present context, if an employee is asked to go on a sabbatical, he / she may feel that they are not wanted. Rich people can enjoy a break and they can explore.
Job variety makes an employee satisfied. In general, the quality of work life in Indian companies is not very good. In many MNCs, it is better, because western countries have evolved in adopting good work practices and so MNCs are able to pass it on to their Indian arms too.
A mindful workplace is where employees are able to realise their full potential, use their creativity, learn from mistakes and are treated compassionately.

Fitness & Leadership for the Mindful Workplace

Dr Sheela Nambiar, Fitness Consultant, NAFC and President, Indian Society of Lifestyle Medicine (ISLM):
“Physical fitness is important to shield us from Covid-19 and other infectious diseases. Exercise has many positives and has known to improve resilience to stress. While obesity has a deleterious effect on performance, regular exercise improves our mind, positivity and optimism, depression, anxiety, mental clarity and decision making. Social and Emotional intelligence are also very important.”
Does exercising demand so much of our time? “Not at all. Just 30 minutes a day and 150 minutes a week is the minimum requirement for exercising as per WHO,” she clarified.

The six pillars
“Exercise, diet, sleep, stress, relationships and management of substance abuse are the six pillars of lifestyle medicine,” explained Dr Sheela and stressed on the need to address each of the pillars diligently. Dr Krishnamoorthy commented that during his medical college days, one of his Professors used to sum up the causes of gastric troubles as ‘hurry, worry and curry!’ and that echoes the six pillars listed out by Dr Sheela.
Linking physical and mental health
When asked to comment on the links between physical health and mental health, Dr Sheela replied that the psychological benefits of regular exercise far outweigh the physical benefits. According to 90% of the studies, she pointed out that exercise has an anxiolytic and anti-depressant effect. It helps in release of endorphins and increasing the number of connections between the brain cells.
“Also, what people eat has a huge psychological impact. For instance, those who eat fast food and sweets are more likely to get depression,” she said. According to her, doing exercises as a habit, increases self-discipline of individuals and that will reflect in their work too. Playing a team sport inculcates team spirit and the maturity to handle victory and defeat. “It is great to see our weight and waistline coming down with exercise but it is the psychological benefits of it that are far more important,” she emphasized.
The corporate challenge
“Balancing the interests of different stakeholders is the biggest challenge now for the corporate entities in the post-Covid phase, when their performance is under pressure,” said Prof Rishikesha T Krishna, Director, IIM, Bangalore.
“The first temptation is to downsize and cut costs to keep the performance at some reasonable level. It is better to resist the temptation to downsize as people face the challenge of retaining their livelihood. They can resort to creative ways of managing the challenge. They can even reduce the compensation for the high salaried and retain all people,” he advised. The second challenge, he said, lies in managing the work-from-home scenario in a safe way. Good leadership must refrain from exploiting the situation.

Leadership: The Indian style
“What kind of a corporate leader are we looking at today, strategically—a strongman or a different kind of person?” asked Dr Krishnamoorthy. Prof Rishikesha pointed out the transition in today’s leadership style. He said that Satya Nadella’s leadership in Microsoft reflects a soft and humane approach, yet delivering on the results. Even Google and IBM which have leaders of Indian origin, believe in consensus approach and taking people on board for discussions and decisions. He said, “The Indian style of leadership is more participatory and it is not often, top down.”
Is empathy a weakness or strength?
Do effective leaders lack empathy and because of which, they are able to take tough decisions? With more women leaders occupying leadership position, how does the empathy quotient evolve?
Dr Rishikesa opined that more women leaders coming up in organisations does not necessarily mean more empathy in workplace because women who ascend the corporate ladder to top positions think that they too have to be tough like men and suppress their inherent empathy. But the fact is that corporate leaders showing empathy perform well across nations.
He added, “I read a book ‘Mean Men’ written by Mark Lipton. He says that many of the hard-driving leaders are mean and he even uses adjectives like toxic, raging and manipulative to describe such people. There are many such mean leaders today.”
The panel also discussed many other issues such as: How does quality of sleep affect our health? What should work places do to improve our lifestyle? How important is it for leaders to have and follow a personal schedule? Do ethical concerns in workplace trigger mental health issues? And a lot more about work itself.