The Health In HR

The Health In HR

The COVID-19 pandemic led us to realise that productivity is a function of health. As the lockdown progressed, the realisation went to the next level where issues of mental health became equally important as physical health.


I asked around 100 people, “What was the most important thing needed during the lockdown?” The answers included things like home delivery, mobile, internet, computer, dishwasher, microwave, floor cleaning robot etc. Interestingly, people conveniently forgot electricity, without which all the mentioned things do not work. We forget the things which are available all the time. People did not even talk about water or air.


Health enjoys the same status in the corporate world. The Corporate world focuses on productivity and considers the health of people as a given. And, the COVID-19 pandemic led us to realise that productivity is a function of health. As the lockdown progressed, the realisation went to the next level where issues of mental health became equally important as physical health.


Industry View of Health


In the past few years, there has been a lot of noise around health, and it appears as though corporations do not even bother about it. And they really do not! But that is not because they are insensitive. It is because they have solved the problem of health in a systematic manner a long time ago. Just like electricity, Health has been taken for granted.


After Independence, India’s prime focus was on developing the industrial sector. This development went through its cycle of ups and downs. Working standards were established and the health infrastructure was put in place. Mental health was given equal or more prominence in deciding these standards. If you review the standards on hours of working, weekly offs, breaks, social security (Provident Fund), and Employee State Insurance, you will realise that they were not for physical health alone.


Mental health was well thought through and embedded in the standards. On average, if there were 10 sick leaves for physical health, then there were 20+ privilege leaves for a vacation to take care of mental health.


People were encouraged to take at least one week out of the city on a vacation with the family and this was incentivised by giving tax exemption on Leave Travel Allowance. The focus was on the overall health of an individual.


What changed?


During the 1990s, there was a strong emergence of the service sector driven by the IT Industry. The IT Industry came with better working conditions, employee-friendly policies, and provisions of working from home. That changed the image of the service sector. The perception made the sector eligible for certain exceptions. The service sector expanded and currently contributes for more than half of the GDP. Interestingly, work hours of the service sector are 150 percent more than that of the manufacturing sector.


Long working hours started impacting the mental health of the employees and began to show in the form of lifestyle diseases like diabetes and heart disease. A sharp rise in insurance budgets alerted employers to take necessary steps to control it. Hence, health has again become an agenda for Human Resources. And the realisation has crept that physical health is also a manifestation of mental health.


The Health Business in HR


The health business in HR starts with a pre-employment medical examination. Other popular health programmes include medical support for self and family during employment, periodic medical examination, and health related programmes. The key reasons for doing it are: -


 1. Sustaining productivity levels


2. Optimising Insurance costs


3. Building client confidence


4. Ensuring that the person is capable of doing the job (People handling electrical equipment must be able to differentiate colours, people supposed to work at heights must not have vertigo, people supposed to work in the field should not have restriction on travel)


5. Identifying vitals and health issues for emergencies


There are two specific aspects of health - Physical Health and Mental Health.


♦ Physical Health: The visual and objective part of health. This includes whether the basic functions of the body are working fine. It is relatively easy to monitor.


♦ Mental Health: The World Health Organisation defines mental health as a state of wellbeing in which an individual realises his own abilities, can cope up with normal stress, can work productively and contributes to the community.


Problems with mental health


Mental health has a few basic problems because of them, it often gets ignored.


1. Characterisation: Imagine a mental health patient. The first image that flashes is of someone getting electric shocks. This characterisation has been done by the movies. Hence, being a mental patient is not considered good.


2. Identifying with the problem: We solve a problem when we see a problem. If someone is sad, we do not see it as a problem worth solving. It is normal to be sad. It is normal to fight on the road. It is normal to skip lunch and smoke an extra cigarette. It is normal to feel fatigued and it is normal to gasp after climbing two floors.


3. Spending on Self Health: In India, even when people have headache or stomach problems, people avoid visiting a doctor. People do not see value in going to doctors for small problems. Mental health problems are not even viewed as problems, so realistically, there is no chance of taking them to a doctor.



What are mental health issues?


You do not have to visit a mental hospital to observe mental health issues. Anxiety, Depression, overreacting, eating disorder, superiority complex, chain smoking, addiction are some of the facets of mental health issues. As per the WHO, these issues affect 264 million people globally and cause a loss of 1 trillion dollars in the economy every year.


Mental Health Action Plan


Mental Health action plans must have an agenda to fix mental health issues and prevent mental health issues from arising.


1. Fixing mental health issues: If people only talk about their feelings, take breaks, eat, drink, breathe, exercise and laugh, most of these issues can be easily fixed. Organisations can provide platforms for people to express their feelings, institutionalise programmes that can help people to take care of the basics of their life, making people aware about the mental health issues and provide proper coaching to deal with them. A simple example is the quit smoking programme, which not only offers a better life to people, but also enhances productivity as people take fewer unwanted breaks.


2. Preventing mental health issues: Think, why do mental health issues occur in the first place? The root cause is often a negative work environment which is caused by harassment or bullying. Many times, the reason behind bullying is either that the person is not capable of doing the job or the tasks are not clear, owing to a lack of communication.


Hence, proper job design, hiring right, inducting well, ensuring clear communication, and harassment-free work environments can set it right. You can positively reinforce it by introducing rewards and recognition programmes, career planning and flexible hours.


Evidently, the big issue of health just needs good HR practices.



Harjeet is an International speaker, poet, inventor, influencer, HR Leader and author of the bestselling book "Nothing About Business". An alumnus of IIT Roorkee and INSEAD, he is currently working as Vice President HR at Reliance Jio. Harjeet has been a LinkedIn Power Profile, TEDx Speaker, Guest Faculty at IIM Ahmedabad, FWA Board member, Co-Chair of Nasscom Diversity Committee and member of the CII HR IR committee.


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