What are the things that concern our employees today? What seem to be the most common causes for their psychological and emotional disturbances? Many of us who are conditioned to thinking about our employees within organisational boundaries are likely to say that it could be their pay, their most recent performance review, their careers or their managers. Many of us are just not oriented to think of our employees as individuals within a social setting.
In reality, when compared with workplace factors, socio-cultural factors have a far deeper impact on the psychological and emotional state of employees and therefore their behaviours.
History tells us that for most nations, economic progress has always brought with it several irreversible socio-cultural shifts. These socio-cultural shifts when not managed well places a huge psychological and emotional burden on everyone in the society including our employees. My research about the helping needs of employees also confirms that 80% of the problems that employees face are what we might call personal problems. In the present Indian context, these personal problems are to a large extent triggered by socio-cultural shifts which have their origin in our economic progress. In my view there are five problems or societal concerns arising out of rapid socio-cultural shifts in the last decade that all of us must be concerned about.
1. Making relationships work
One of the most important sources of stress and transient disturbance among young employees in metropolitan India seems to be around making their relationships work. High disposable income, freedom and privacy given the need and opportunity to migrate and live and work in a different city and lack of norms to live life given the conflicts between local and global cultural identities, has had a huge impact on how young employees view their relationships. While getting into relationships seems easy, making it work through investment of time and mutual adjustment seems hard in a rapidly emerging individualistic society. As a result, the trauma of getting into relationships, breaking up relationships and reinvesting in them before and after marriage are causing enormous trauma among a reasonable percentage of youth at the workplace. Given the nature of the issue, family support is often not available or of little help. While we may traditionally term this as personal, its impact on employee engagement and productivity is not difficult to image.
2. The guilt of being a young working mother
Even as organisations are hiring women employees in very large numbers and are doing their best to provide flexibility and support systems, it gets very hard when women start a family. The guilt associated with pursuing one’s career and not paying enough attention to the child is carried almost entirely by women and not men and its psychological implications are enormous. While one part of them wants to continue to and progress in their career the other part constantly reminds them about the price they are paying in terms of caring for their child and being there when needed. While some are able to take hard decisions, many attempt to find that elusive “balance” and suffer in the bargain.
3. Maintaining health and wellbeing
It is common knowledge that today’s threat to health and wellbeing is not as much from infectious diseases as it is from lifestyle illnesses. We see increasing incidence of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, heart diseases and cancer among employees in their 30s and 40s in India. While many employees see opportunities to grow and prosper, their psychological preparedness to cope with what it takes to seize those opportunities seems grossly inadequate as evidenced by the distressing rise of these lifestyle diseases among young Indians. The implications of this are enormous for individuals and their organisations. While progressive organisations have programs in place to promote health and wellbeing and make this an organisational priority, such progressive organisations are few in number.
4. Parenting amidst affluence
For many generations of Indian kids, the burning desire to do well in life or just survive and build one’s life was enough of a source of motivation to take responsibility and get one’s act together. For many parents of today, their challenge is to bring up kids in an environment of affluence and abundance. Affluence combined with what many call today’s vacillation between over parenting and freedom has ended up making the parent – child relationship quite fragile. Many parents confess that it is very hard for them to carry on a real conversation with their children beyond five minutes, leave alone develop the ability to establish boundaries, influence them and their decisions. Parents who are unable to develop the skills of parenting in a globally connected environment are struggling and that number is growing by the day.
5. Caring for aging parents with individualistic orientations
With increasing life expectancy, executives across generations have the understandable responsibility of taking care of their parents. However their challenge is complicated by the fact that they are now dealing with parents who are themselves wired differently. Aged parents of today want their space, time for their leisure activities and the freedom to maintain their daily routines. At the same time, they would like to have access to their children’s care, love and attention, when they need it. This makes the challenge of caring for parents rather complicated for many of today’s employees.
These five societal concerns (and I am sure there are a few more you will be able to spot) have a huge impact on every employee’s emotional and psychological state. Unless employees are able to develop the life skills to handle these challenges and also get access to the right sources of help to develop the internal capacity to handle these challenges, they are likely to become far less effective than they potentially can be.
Given this reality, only a helping oriented organisation will be in a position to even empathize with these needs and concerns and explore ways in which it can help its employees help themselves.