I’m 27 years old, I’ve been working in this company for the past 2.5 years. Mostly, things are great. I spent most of my adult life trying to get into this company and now I spend most of my time working in the office. But the thing is, lately, I haven’t been okay.
I won’t say my life is bad, I’ve been very fortunate. I have a decent family, I have a small group of friends, some colleagues from work to have a drink or few with after office. I’m also doing the work I wanted to but I still don’t feel okay. Every now and then, I get this splash of negativity and I just feel like I’m wasting time, not doing enough, not getting anywhere, slightly annoyed because most people around me seem to be doing better and a lot suffocated because something feels missing.
So on the weekends I usually do not get up from my bed, order in, ignore all phone calls, barely manage to speak with family. I just have no energy, no motivation. I really couldn’t care less. All I want to do is sleep. Sometimes I start crying, sometimes I would get super irritated and angry. There’s usually no good reason, and I always think these might just be mood swings.
So I do what most of us do to get by and ignore these feelings, I scroll through my social media pages. But last weekend, during once such scrolling I came across this news that burnout is officially considered to be a syndrome by the World Health Organisation. And there went out my plan of ignoring how I feel. So I decided to indulge. They said burnout is an “occupational phenomenon” resulting from chronic workplace stress including feelings like exhaustion, negative feelings about work, reduced productivity. While reading on this, I thought this explains somewhat about how I’m feeling but is not the whole picture so I dug in deeper. And I came across some alarming statistics.
So last year, a study conducted by Assocham said that 42.5 percent of employees in the Indian private sector have generalised anxiety disorder or depression. Then there is something called the ‘India Employee Survey’ done by HR startup, Hush which showed that as many as 22% respondents complained of low productivity owing to overwork and stress, and more than half of the respondents said they suffered from depression. Then there was this Times Jobs Survey on 3,000 employees working in the financial sector and startups that showed that the three fold increase recorded in mental health consultations were constituted of people working in these sectors with complaints of sleep problems, headaches, chronic pain, fatigue that they have been experiencing from at least the past five years. And for a minute there, I did not feel alone. In fact, I was surprised to see these numbers. Maybe now I could talk about this with my colleagues, or my mentor and maybe get some help. So I called up this friend of mine, to tell him of my plan and see what he thinks. And I’m glad I did because he told me he had been feeling similarly for the past few months and he tried having a similar conversation with his mentor and the only reply he got was “Hmm, let me see what I can do.” And it has been 3 months since that conversation and my friend still awaits his response.
After hearing his experience, I spoke with two more of my friends who are in a job and their own experiences as well as the stories they had heard from their colleagues; these were so similar that I was shocked. All they were asking for was to be able to have a space to get a consult regarding how they are feeling and what can be done about it only so that they could work better. But to speak out about these things meant you were going to be looked at differently, to be labelled ‘weak’, ‘ill-suited’ for work pressure, ‘mentally compromised’ to continue in the same position and the list of reasons goes on. And honestly, I’d rather live like this than risk losing my job. I mean I am fine, I'm sure other people have it worse.
But I decided to at least reach out to these friends and their colleagues about the information I had discovered so I opened up a new tab and sought for some explanations behind all of us feeling this way. Why are our workplaces making us depressed? And many explanations popped out but the one that struck most true for me was this theory called Job-demand-Control- Support Model. What this theory said was that as a worker, if I had minimal control over decisions one takes in day to day work and this can be a project I’ve been assigned, or a part of a task I’m supposed to deliver or even just the freedom to make a decision on how I could structure it, or the time by which I was comfortable delivering it; considerably reduced my autonomy and ownership in that time, of that project. This reduced sense of owning what I was doing or what I could do with that project took away my connection with the work I did, leaving me feeling unfulfilled.
Now the interesting part is, if you had a say in how you would organise all the work expected of you, if maybe you had some autonomy to suggest changes in case you see anything that can be done better, if you could take some calls regarding the work assigned to you; chances are your mental health improves drastically. In fact, this model proposes that jobs where demands are high (increased workload/time pressure) combined with low control (minimal decision-making) creates a ‘high-strain’ situation leading to greatest risk for illness and well-being.
In a Gallup Report of 2017, there is a section on India and its workforce which starts with the statement “dismal engagement levels among Indian workers hurt productivity, which the country desperately needs to improve”. The report further said that only 13% of us feel “engaged” in their jobs. This meant that only 13% of us in the workforce were enthusiastic and motivated to contribute to our workplace in a positive manner. The report ended with a warning that Indian workplaces do not have even a moment to lose because 87% of our workforce has no motivation to even work. The report said that engagement begins with empowering employees so they are valuably contributing to the company. And for all the well-meaning skeptics out there, I also checked out the other side of the story. I looked into designations at the top of the hierarchy, bosses at the workplace. And according to popular notion, they must be stressed out of their minds, leading entire companies and I expected to find the same but guess what I found, studies that showed that workers higher up the workplace ladder were a lot less likely to become depressed or develop severe emotional distress than not only the people working at the bottom of the ladder but also the ones working at the same pay grade as theirs, with the same status. The only difference? The degree of control they had over their work.
There’s more, another model showed that in cases where the employee feels that the effort put in by them outweighs the reward, an inequality gets created. This sense of inequality can make one feel not valued, not cared for, almost like a machine. What companies essentially tell their employees by such behaviour is, we really don’t care what you think, whether you have any fresh ideas to improve growth or not; as long as our quarter targets are met. And that to me, seems like a real cause for depressive feelings.
But you know what, we’ll all probably be okay eventually. At least we will get to keep our jobs right? (Read: Maybe we could look around, take notice of those struggling just like us and together take a step towards our mental health).