The National Institute of Personnel Management (NIPM), Karnataka Chapter, took the initiative 19 summers ago to bring all the persons working in or associated with human resources to come together on one day in a year for meeting, exchanging notes and generally chilling out.The day chosen was the eve of the Republic day. As the D day is permanantly declared/fixed all concerned can pencil in the event (January 25th) in their calendar in advance. On this day, apart from members of NIPM, the members of various HR professional bodies in Bangalore, be it National HRD network (NHRD), Indian society for training and development (ISTD) or the Karnataka association of professional social workers (KAPSW) meet under the same roof.
After the initial couple of years, it was felt that to make the event even more rewarding, it should commence with a talk by eminent speakers for about 45 minutes on a predetermined theme followed by discussions. The informal interaction/ fellowship and dinner would happen subsequently. I remember how much I enjoyed such an evening years ago when the subject discussed was " Humour in HR". We had three distinguished speakers for the evening, one each represnting the public sector, private sector and the Government department. Interesting, the speaker who had the audience in splits,laughing their hearts out was a DIG of Police (Retd) who shared many anecdotes from his long and interesting career.
The theme identified for discussion on 25th January 2018 was very important and topical, namely " Work place wellness". Today, more than at any other time in the history of mankind, employees are grappling with problems of work place tension and work life balance. The distinguished speakers for the evening, Dr B.M. Gangadhar, Director Nimhans, Bangalore and Dr Naveen Vishvesvariah, Founder Yogakshema, Bangalore gave interesting insights on the subject.
Dr Naveen in his talk opined that the awareness about the concept "Wellness at the work place" was still very poor. A survey in this connection was taken a decade back and no effort has been made since then to increase the awareness levels.He said that there are four important factors that influence and impact wellness. These are stress, pain, lifestyle and nutrition. In order to maintain wellness levels, all the four need to be addressed.
Our ancestors had an easier task of achieving work life balance. Not only did they have less work pressure, they had good support systems in the form of joint family system etc. to restore the balance.Today, in view of western influence in our day to day life, the left brain output (Doing) is highlighted and rewarded at work rather than the right brain (Being). It is only by exercising the right brain that we can restore the much needed balance. In India, traditionally, even while focusing on work,we celebrated many festivals that provided ample opportunities to exercise the right brain.
Yoga has a lot to offer for combating stress levels at work. Dr Naveen however pointed out that yoga does not merely refer to the physical postures or asanas as many have come to associate the term with.It has more to do with slowing down the mind. He said that stress is directly connected to speed. The spill over effect of speed beyond the threshold level, results in stress and disease. It is this lowered threshold level that elicits responses such as "You were not so irritable earlier. These days even small things irritate you." from your colleagues and family.
Pain comes from spasm which in turn is the result of sustained contraction of muscles of one place in the body. If you do not take remedial steps by stretching, it leads to pain. The antidote to spasm is stretching.Therefore, in an office environment, one needs to take a thirty second break after every twenty minutes to take care of the eye and practise stretching of the body after ninety minutes of sitting in one place. Dr Naveen rounded off his talk with the following tips:-
1) The body needs leisure. Therefore structure your leisure time with clarity on what you would be doing to relax (rest/hobbies/ sports). He emphasised that whiling away your time mindlessly is not leisure!
2) Have a fixed routine for activities: Exercising, eating, drinking tea, sleeping. At night try to eat before 8 PM and sleep before 11PM.
3) Avoid substance abuse such as tobacco, drugs or alchohol.
4) Be selfish about what you eat- eat healthy.
As the speakers of the evening were from contrasting disciplines, one from the background of yoga and the other from mental health and nuero sciences, I expected that when Dr Gangadhar, Director Nimhans stands up to share his thoughts, the style and focus would be different. One tends to associate psychiatry and mental health with drugs related treatment. However, interestingly Dr Gangadhar started his speech with a Sanskrit quotation "Amantram aksharam nasthi" His intent was to draw attention to the fact that it is the happiness of workmen at the work place, both in mind and spirit that is the key to "Work place wellness". Therefore a lot depends on how you treat an employee at the work place.
Coming back to the Sanskrit sloka, it says that "There is no letter in the alphabet that is never used in any verse. No herb exists that is not part of some medicine. Similarly there is no human being who is completely useless. It is for the manager to use the skills of each person appropriately". Dr Gangadhar stated that even today the word "mental" has a stigma attached to it and it needs to be removed.
Just as in the case of physical illness, people should be able to freely share their psychological concerns at the work place. The mere acknowledment or recognition of a psychological issue of an employee by the boss, would go a long way in enabling him/her to speak about it comfortably. In this regard, supervisors and managers should be trained to acquire the skill of listening comfortably without being embarrassed or judgemental.
The only problem is that a supervisor while playing this role of being detached (without adequate training) may end up being distant from the employee. Therefore, progressive companies have started appointing professionaly trained counsellors to meet the increasing demands of the work place. Others would do well to follow their example. Dr Gangadhar concluded his talk by pointing out that some work places have two and half times more mental health issues that others. Hence it is important to address this challenge by focusing more on the preventive steps such as ensuring that employees are always treated well so that they are pleasant and happy at work.
As we moved to the informal part of the evening program viz fellowship and dinner, we had the satisfaction of having listened to the various dimensions of a very important subject that needs to be given a lot more attention by organizations since "work place wellness" is increasingly coming under threat with each passing day....