Indian businesses have started investing in EAPs: Mahua Bisht, 1to1help

SME Futures dives into a crucial discussion with Mahua Bisht, CEO of 1to1help, about navigating the intricate terrain of workplace stress, and how EAP solutions can help in improving the mental health landscape at the workplace

   
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Did you know that a staggering quarter of all employees, that’s one in every four, feel hesitant to discuss mental health issues like stress, burnout, anxiety, or depression at the workplace? That’s a finding from a recent survey conducted by Great Place to Work. What’s even more alarming is that burnout seems to be a prevalent issue, affecting a whopping 56% of employees.

The landscape of employee well-being is undergoing a profound shift. From being a peripheral concern to now occupying a central place in boardroom discussions, the importance of prioritising mental health is undeniable. However, recent data paints a troubling picture – overall satisfaction has seen a 2-point decline, while experiences of burnout have surged by 3 points.

It’s clear that addressing mental health challenges in the workplace is not just about implementing programs; it’s about fostering a culture of openness, support, and empathy. As organisations navigate this critical juncture, acknowledging and actively addressing the mental health needs of employees must be at the forefront of their strategies.

In a candid exchange with SME Futures, Mahua Bisht, CEO of 1to1help, an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) service provider articulates insights garnered from her experience. She sheds light on the intricate landscape of workplace stress and the pivotal role of EAPs in addressing it. She also delves into the primary triggers of stress, the evolving role of EAPs, and effective strategies for cultivating a supportive work environment.

Meanwhile the EAP market size is growing rapidly, given the extensive need for employee well-being programmes. According to 360marketupdates.com, the global EAP market size was $7054.1 million in 2022. With its growing imperativeness, the market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 5.21% during the forecast period, reaching USD 9568.37 million.

Edited excerpts:

In your opinion, what are the primary triggers of stress among employees in today’s workplace environment?

During the pandemic years (2020 and 2021), we witnessed a surge in counselling sessions, as several individuals were grappling with an unknown reality. Thousands of employees across the country reached out to us for support with anxiety, uncertainty, fear of infection, isolation/lockdown, working from home, caregiver’s burnout, grief, etc. We also saw that several leaders took proactive steps to offer EAP programmes to their employees for additional support. These initiatives have certainly created more awareness and have destigmatised mental health conversations to a large extent.

Fast-forwarding to 2024, while we’ve largely recovered from the direct impact of the pandemic, there continue to be lingering effects on employee well-being. First, returning to work and learning how to navigate hybrid working, which is a new normal for us. Second, our collective ability to recover from stress and bounce back (aka resilience) has eroded to a certain extent due to the pandemic leading to an increase in long-term stress and burnout in employees. Lastly, we continue to face virtual exhaustion, as almost all our interactions are digital.

What are some common signs or symptoms that indicate employees may be experiencing high levels of stress?

Some very common signs of high stress levels in employees include decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, frequent mood swings, irritability, and difficulty concentrating on easy and everyday tasks. Physical symptoms may include fatigue, headaches, insomnia, and digestive issues. Withdrawal from social interactions, decreased engagement in tasks, and a decline in quality of work are notable indicators. Moreover, employees can show changes in eating habits, heightened anxiety, or expressions of feeling overwhelmed.

Recognising these signs allows for timely intervention and support to mitigate stress and promote employee well-being.

Are there any notable trends or patterns observed among employees indicating a rise in stress levels?

Yes, there are some notable trends that can indicate a reduction in employee’s ability to cope with stressors. Our data of last year shows in general:

Overall increase in counselling utilisation – which could indicate higher awareness but also higher stress.

87% of the people who came in for counselling to us for the first time presented with moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression.

There was a 4% increase in self-harm and suicidal risk amongst the cases that we saw compared to the previous year.

There was a significant increase in mental health concerns compared to the previous year.

All of these put together do indicate that even if there have been no new stressors since the pandemic, there’s still an erosion of resilience and employees today may be less able to cope with stress.

Do you feel Indian companies are actively investing in Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to manage stress at work?

Yes, many businesses, big and small, are increasingly investing in Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) to manage stress at work. EAPs offer confidential counselling, mental health resources, and support services to employees facing personal or professional challenges. Recognising the impact of stress on productivity and employee well-being, companies are integrating EAPs into their benefits packages to provide accessible mental health support. Moreover, the shift towards hybrid work has prompted the expansion of virtual EAP offerings, ensuring broader accessibility and flexibility for employees seeking assistance.

EAPs play a crucial role in addressing stress and supporting employees’ mental well-being. In my opinion, there are four ways in which EAPs are beneficial. Firstly, confidential counselling: It allows employees to discuss personal or work-related stressors in a safe and supportive environment.

Secondly, crisis intervention: It offers immediate support and assistance during times of crisis, such as emotional distress or workplace conflicts, helping employees to navigate challenging situations at home or at work effectively.

Thirdly, resources & group Interventions: EAPs ideally should curate tailored group interventions for various cohorts and have evidence-based resources for those individuals who may not need expert help but may need more self-guided resources to improve their wellbeing and life satisfaction.

And fourthly, support for varied issues: It aims to address a wide range of mental health issues, including stress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, grief, and family-related challenges, ensuring comprehensive support for employees’ well-being.

How does stress affect the productivity of employees and the overall culture within the workplace?

Not all stress is bad; there’s eustress, this is stress that can drive you forward towards completion of a project, while distress is stress that you are unable to cope with and that over time can negatively impact you. It’s the second stress that can negatively affect productivity by reducing focus, increasing errors, and hampering decision-making.

Over time this can lead to absenteeism, presenteeism, and burnout, decreasing overall performance. Additionally, it can strain workplace relationships, with low morale, and disengagement. Employees might feel unsupported, leading to decreased cooperation and innovation. Chronic stress erodes trust, communication, and teamwork, ultimately undermining organisational culture. Addressing stress proactively improves productivity, fosters a positive work environment, and enhances employee well-being.

What strategies or initiatives can organisations implement to effectively manage stress in the workplace? Also, how can leaders/managers get involved in the process?

Here are a few things that organisations can do to effectively manage workplace stress:

Promote work-life balance: Encourage flexible schedules and set clear boundaries to prevent burnout.

Provide EAP services: Invest in expert Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that can proactively offer several wellbeing interventions along with confidential and professional counselling.

Open communication: Foster a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable discussing stressors and seeking help.

Reduce/divide workload: Delegate tasks effectively, prioritize projects, and consider workload adjustments to relieve pressure.

Encourage breaks: Promote regular breaks and enable employees to step away from work to recharge.

Lead by example: Managers should support healthy behaviours and promote a culture of work-life balance and self-care.

Additionally, leaders and managers can manage stress among their teams by encouraging open communication, providing resources for stress management, and fostering a supportive work environment. They should encourage work-life balance, offer flexibility, and recognise and address workload issues promptly. Leading by example, practicing empathy, and offering opportunities for professional development and growth can also help relieve stress. By actively engaging with their team members, addressing concerns, and prioritising their well-being, leaders can cultivate a positive work culture where employees feel supported and motivated for any challenges.

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