FF Life: Mental wellbeing at work

Strategies and practices to enhance productivity and happiness at the workplace

Founding Fuel

We created Thinking Room, a metaphoric virtual and mental space for deeper conversations, a space to gather wisdom from each other. These conversations are learning sessions designed for small groups of leaders, where insights emerge from building on each other’s experiences and ideas.   

There are two ways you can access this discussion: 1. Watch the complete video below (recommended). 2. Read highlights from the discussion before you choose to watch the full discussion.  

A lot of us—as leaders, employees, organisations—have begun to see and understand the gravity of mental health.

This intensely conversational session builds upon Aparna Piramal Raje’s work on mental wellbeing at the workplace—her recent book that describes her own journey with bipolar disorder (read an extract), and her conversations with many stakeholders (read her context setting essay). 

The session was led by her and Kaushik Gopal, a business psychologist who has worked as an executive coach and a consultant in leadership.

The special guests and the Founding Fuel team then went into breakout sessions to share insights and thread out new meaning from each other.

The special guests included Deepa Soman, Managing Director of Lumiere Business Solutions; Mandar Apte, Executive Director at Cities4Peace; Debashis Bhattacharya, Director, Global Safety Assurance at Reckitt; Nidhi Dhanju, CHRO at Praj Industries; Raja Narayanaswami, a former naval commander who successfully transitioned to leadership roles in the corporate world; and Biju Dominic, chief evangelist, Fractal Analytics and chairman, Final Mile Consulting.

The breakout sessions were facilitated by Kavi Arasu, who provides thought leadership to Founding Fuel's learning business.

7 takeaways from the discussion

1. The workplace has a unique place for mental health. It can be a stressor, but also be therapeutic

“When I could actually show up at work and be unwell, it was a game changer. When I could share my  experiences with my colleagues, it gave me licence to be more open.… Work is central to the [WHO’s] definition of mental wellbeing” - Aparna 

2. We need to talk to people. We need to hear people

[In the pandemic, employees at a certain organisation were dealing with a sense of loss] “We created spaces we hoped were safe, where people could talk about their experiences. The initial feedback was that they felt it was very valuable for them to just be able to express themselves… there’s a need to create those conditions—is it the individual who takes responsibility? Is it the organisation that takes responsibility? How do we as a collective think about this?” - Kaushik 

3. I am happier in a space that is healthier and happier

“All of us can emerge resilient and strong. Strong in our relationships, in our parenting—strong and enabling parenting, inclusive elder care, and having elements like patience, resilience, kindness, compassion, empathy and listening, without compromising excellence at work” - Deepa 

4. People don’t disconnect from work that easily

“You are spending 9-10 hours at work. People don’t disconnect that easily. Work and life is integrated.” - Nidhi 

“Being always on, you couldn’t do more damage to yourself. My white colleagues finish work and they are off! They have a lot of their own interests. And this affects your work. You should have interests outside work.” - Debashis

“How do you give feedback to a person who is a toxic boss but is delivering great results?” - Charles Assisi 

“Organisations miss the real issue. There is tokenism but no systematic approach to this.” - Kaushik 

5. With great talent comes great insecurity 

“There’s a tendency to view mental health as a binary, with the employee as the victim and the organisation as the perpetrator. Therefore any solution looks to remove these stressors. But we hire all these alphas, they like the idea of competing. So, a large part of the winding-up is self-inflicted. None of these solutions addresses that.” - Raja 

“A person is promoted for their skills. They are not actually aware of the people around him. A senior person is not responsible for doing the work; he is responsible for the people who do the work. That is where the conflict starts.” - Debashis  

“From the business point of view, the idea is to get the work done, that’s why people come and work together. When there’s a problem to be solved, we brainstorm etc, but never think of the person who will do the work. We need to empower people to manage themselves, manage their own emotions and stress.” - Mandar

6. We are all on a spectrum

“When Aparna is speaking about bi-polar that is an individual mental wellness issue. When Nidhi talks about a toxic culture, that’s an organisational issue. Are we mixing the two?” - Biju 

“We are all on a spectrum. Depending on what’s going on in our life, we may need support… What we are looking for is emotional wellbeing at work, wherever you are on that spectrum. You can have an organisation which could deal with something as disruptive as bipolar, or you could have an organisation that inflicts stress.” - Aparna     

7. Psychological safety and the joy of work

“Teach people how to provide psychological safety. Even if I make a mistake, I will learn something from it and not be penalised.” - Debashis 

“We should go back to the way work began—it was about the tribe coming together [for food] and was an enjoyable thing.” - Biju 

“There’s a machine view of the world. We’ve reduced work to an assembly line; we want to do more and more—this whole growth mindset is all pervasive. We need to shift to things that are more creative and meaningful.” - Indrajit Gupta

“When you say psychological safety, treating people like people—all of that flows from trust.” - Sveta Basraon

“Very little time is spent on building self-awareness in relation to work.” - Kaushik 

“If you take care of somebody in the short run when they require it, in the long run they will stick around and deliver. That’s how you get productivity…. The heart of the problem is that we have an organisation operating in this VUCA world. At the same time we don't want to pass on that [stress] to an employee. How do we respond to that and how do we work? Can that be done in an environment that combines performance with empathy?” - Aparna    

Was this article useful? Sign up for our daily newsletter below


Login to comment

About the author

Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

Also by me

You might also like