Job-related stress seems to have become an inescapable part of one’s routine in corporate India today. From anxiety disorders to depression, which, in turn, can lead to an increased risk of suicide, there are several studies that have thrown light on the phenomenon. For instance, EAP (employee assistance programme) provider 1to1Help.net, which provides 24-hour counselling services to over 300 corporate firms in India, recently released a study noting a rise in the number of people exhibiting suicidal behaviour—from 5% in 2013 to 10.53% in 2017. While relationship issues remained the main trigger, 9% of the cases cited work as the cause of stress.

Vulnerable millennials

As Archana Bisht, director at 1to1Help.net, explains, the current work environment is a challenging one. “There is a lot of restructuring, especially in the IT and ITeS industry, compared to five years ago, leading to anxiety around jobs. Plus, businesses are under pressure to cut costs," says Bisht. Terming the millennial workforce as a “vulnerable generation", Bisht says changing familial structures, lack of stable relationships, increased work pressures and social media are some of the factors for the rising stress levels. “Even the pressure of going on a fancy holiday or how one spends the weekend is augmented by peer pressure on social media," she adds.

A 2016 study conducted by EAP provider Chestnut Global Partners India in collaboration with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) India found that the top six professional stressors are disrespect at the workplace, lack of work-life balance, overtime, inability to process constructive feedback from the manager, lack of support from managers and individual opinion not being taken into consideration.

Both Bisht and Meera Raghunandan, a Bengaluru-based corporate counsellor and co-founder of corporate coaching firm Mentoring Matters, point out that millennial mothers returning to the workforce are particularly susceptible to stress as they are plagued by constant guilt and worry. “A lot of young mothers feel overwhelmed by the amount of activities going on in their lives," says Raghunandan. “While corporates are doing a lot to provide support in the form of extended maternity leave, in-house crèche and work-from-home options, women also need to learn to prioritize."

Responding to signals

To help employees cope with stress, several companies have tied up with EAP providers that provide counselling for employees with personal as well as work-related problems that may impact their job performance, health and mental well-being. Chaitanya N. Sreenivas, vice-president and human resources (HR) head, IBM India/South Asia, says: “IBM was one of the first organizations in India to introduce EAP in 2005. We have evolved our offering from an initial focus on stress management and resilience to a broader and integrated approach which also encompasses the psychosocial and emotional well-being of employees." To this end, it introduced the Quick Fit programme five months ago. It is an amalgamation of yoga, diet counselling and physiotherapy covering physical fitness, mindfulness and nutritional advice. Before this, it held a meditation workshop, Heartfulness, to promote the psychosocial health of the employees.

Emotional well-being is at the heart of the training programme for the Mahindra & Mahindra group’s senior leaders at the Mahindra Leadership University in Nashik. Prince Augustin, executive vice-president, group human capital and leadership development, says: “We train people to have ‘reflective conversations’—an initiative where people introspect to have reflective conversations with themselves, their team members, their peers and stakeholders. From our preliminary study, we found that people’s listening skills improved significantly, their ability to create focus, energize teams and be a person of possibilities improved significantly." At IBM too, specific training workshops are conducted for managers and HR partners to identify stress amongst themselves and their team members.

Interestingly, Mahindra & Mahindra had initially introduced an in-house psychologist but the initiative failed to take off as employees felt socially ostracized by their peers if they were seen going to a “shrink". Now, it has introduced mHappy, a service that provides confidential and professional support and counselling to employees through telephonic, online and offline channels.

Combat stress

On the personal front, Raghunandan generally recommends the “four As" technique for millennials to deal with stressful situations: avoid, alter, adapt and accept.

The first step is to avoid or minimize contact with people or situations that trigger stress. For instance, if it’s a topic that generally leads to a confrontation, can you skip it altogether?

Alter involves changing a stressful situation into one that makes you feel better. “For instance, if driving to work is giving you road rage, can you use that time to connect with out-of-town friends and family over a call?," says Raghunandan. Or better still, pool a ride and make new friends.

Adapt is learning the art of compromise and moving ahead. This is particularly useful while dealing with a boss or a peer with whom you have a problematic relationship. “Sit down with the person and have an open conversation. Be open to feedback and share your expectations with them," says Raghunandan. This, she believes, will help you find middle ground.

Acceptance is key when dealing with a situation that cannot be altered. “A lot of people say they have no choice (when dealing with a problematic situation). I don’t agree—we are here because of our choices. There’s always another group or role or company that may suit your abilities better," she adds.

A top-down approach to mental awareness where leaders discuss relevant issues in an open forum is a must, Bisht insists. “There has to be like a #MeToo campaign around mental health so that the stigma around mental health dissipates," she adds.

t IBM’s Chaitanya N. Sreenivas says the company has an evolved stress-management programme. Photo: Jithendra M./Mint
t IBM’s Chaitanya N. Sreenivas says the company has an evolved stress-management programme. Photo: Jithendra M./Mint

8 signs that indicate you are stressed

Lack of focus and increased errors or delays.

Exaggerated emotional reactions and outbursts— either crying or anger.

Irritability and mood swings.

Changes in activity patterns, including appetite/sleep.

Withdrawn or isolated—not engaging with others.

Complaints that work is being sabotaged by team members/manager.

Increased leave-taking.

Alcohol/substance abuse becoming evident. Tell-tale signs include red eyes, lack of focus and decrease in personal grooming /hygiene.

—Archana Bisht, director, 1to1Help.net

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