With employees working from home facing deep anxiety issues in the absence of social contact, many companies have started offering stress reduction workshops and even paying for therapy.
Delhi-based mental health platform MindPeers said more than half its corporate clients have signed up to sponsor therapy for employees. “We were offering video and phone therapy, but due to demand from clients, we have now added chat therapy as well," said founder Kanika Agarwal.
Around 70% of clients suffer from work stress—the additional pressure of working from home while juggling household duties, and feeling overwhelmed by the current situation.
During the first two months of the lockdown, Agarwal said, 11% more corporates signed up for therapy for their staff, and the total number of people requesting counselling or therapy jumped 154%. “One thing we have to promise for corporate clients is anonymity so that employees can seek the service without fear of judgement at work," she said.
Studies have found that easy access to technology and being “always on" while working remotely blurs work and non-work boundaries. A 2017 UN report said 41% of remote workers reported high stress levels, against just 25% of office workers. A more recent, but smaller, online study by a Kochi-based non-profit found that 55% of people working from home during the pandemic worked longer than usual hours, and 59% said the workload was causing stress. A third said they found it hard to ask for a day off.
Leadership coach Shubika Bilkha said organizations need to be honest and upfront with employees about mental health issues and seeking help for them. “There might be counselling channels in the organization, but employees may not want to take it up. The teams will need to be trained and educated to recognize symptoms if they think someone needs help. It’s good to organize webinars and have coaches, especially at a time like this, to address any stress people might be feeling."
Millennials are more prone to anxiety in troubled times, said Prerna Kohli, a Delhi-based clinical psychologist. “Youngsters have so much energy; enforced sheltering at home will obviously hit them harder. They feel their freedom is being taken away. Then, there’s the added stress of not knowing what will happen to their jobs with so much news of unemployment," she added.
Kohli cited the example of a 24-year-old client who had started working three months before the lockdown. When news of job cuts started coming in, she had panic attacks, believing she’d be next. “Some people don’t need extended therapy, just some counselling to get them through," said Kohli. “Managers are well placed to spot this, either as a drop in productivity or lack of focus."
Sometimes, finding a quiet space at home to even speak to the therapist can be a challenge, with the whole family now at home. Mumbai-based clinical psychologist Priyanka Varma recalled a Pune-based client telling her that her family kept trying to eavesdrop on her calls with the therapist. Finally, she started taking the calls in the garden. “Families often do not understand the need for therapy. Some people have to come up excuses like ‘I’m making a presentation, don’t disturb me for an hour’," said Dr Varma.