Poor mental health among employees costs Indian employers around $14 billion per year due to absenteeism, presenteeism, and attrition, according to a survey by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India.

Presenteeism is the phenomenon of attending to work while under mental stress and hence, performing at low productivity.

Around 80% of the Indian workforce has reported mental health issues during the past year, the survey notes, adding that despite these alarming numbers, societal stigma prevents around 39% of the affected respondents from taking steps to manage their symptoms.

The survey finds that 33% of all respondents continued to work, despite poor mental health, while 29% took time off and 20% resigned to better manage their mental health.

Mental health issues have seen a steady rise globally, accentuated further by the onset of Covid-19. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), India accounts for nearly 15% of the global mental health burden.

Deloitte says these costs build up over time and are incurred when poor mental health impacts how individuals deal with day-to-day stressors and are unable to thrive in their work environment.

Around 47% of professionals surveyed consider workplace-related stress as the biggest factor affecting their mental health, followed by financial and Covid-19 challenges.

Stress manifests in multiple ways, affecting both the personal and professional facets of an individual's life; often with associated social and economic costs, the survey says.

"Mental health has been a real issue. The challenges of the past two-plus years have brought conversations about mental health at work to the forefront. This study demonstrates that businesses must prioritise the mental health and well-being of their people," says Punit Renjen, Deloitte Global CEO.

"It is essential that senior leaders play a major role in destigmatising mental health challenges within their organisations. We need to take the necessary steps to create an environment where employees' well-being is prioritised, and they have access to the support they need so that everyone can thrive," Renjen adds.

The survey was conducted between late November 2021 and late April 2022 and is based on the responses from 3,995 employees.

"Mental health-related challenges are not new to the Indian workforce, but these have come to the forefront in light of Covid-19, and a younger workforce that is open to speaking about their individual well-being. Not only is the number of impacted employees large, the degree of the challenge is also high, accentuated by performance-oriented cultures anchored in long and demanding work schedules, economic uncertainty, and peer comparison," says Charu Sehgal, partner and Life Sciences and Health Care leader, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India.

"Employers have traditionally struggled to address this, as most employees feel uncomfortable speaking to their supervisors or talent teams due to the fear of retribution," adds Sehgal.

While most Indian corporates have recognised the importance of employee well-being, the share of mental health measures at the workplace is still limited, with a few sporadic events and the use of third-party employee assistance programmes, Sehgal says, adding that the onus is on India Inc. to act and establish a framework to manage psychological health and well-being in the workplace and create a culture of trust to ensure long-term benefits for employees.

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