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Making Mental Health a Business Priority

Gajen Kandiah Gajen Kandiah
President, Hitachi Digital and Executive Chairman, Hitachi Digital Services

June 20, 2022

Given the complex challenges facing the business world – from an ongoing pandemic, supply chain constraints, and a war in Ukraine, to the Great Resignation, inflation (the highest in 42 years) and the fear of an impending recession – organizations are understandably hyper-focused on business health. However, without the right balance of focus on people, executing against the business health is simply not possible

The work-from-home (WFH) movement that sprang from COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem. Although it eliminated long commutes and offered employees more time with family, for many, the lines between work and home began to blur, creating a sense of overwork and burnout. In addition, serious issues of professional isolation and loneliness began creeping into the workforce, impacting mental health and personal and professional relationships.

There is no time to waste. It is critical that organizations begin to immediately address the health of the workforce, from a holistic, mind, body and spirit perspective and build and cultivate empathetic, diverse and inclusive environments.

Importance of Culture and Holistic Employee Health and Wellness

In the wake of the pandemic, employees have taken the time to rethink what is important, what matters and what they need to thrive versus merely survive.

Simultaneously, organizations must demonstrate a commitment to employees, a culture of understanding, and the holistic wellbeing of the employee. When driven by IQ, EQ and DQ (the Decency Quotient), leaders can create the kinds of positive experiences that employees need to be productive and happy and excited about their work and contributions.

A Whole New World

As I wrote recently, this is a new world where employees are looking for more from their work experience. Even as early as 2020, near the beginning of the pandemic, Gallup found that most workers under the age of 40 were “not engaged” at work and “about two-thirds were not thriving.” Fast forward two years and employees are even less connected. Many are looking for a new opportunity, a fresh start.

So, how does an organization respond? Where do they begin to make mental health prioritization a muscle memory?

A Starting Point

More important than where to start is when to start and that answer is now.

Leaders must lean in and engage to understand where its organization is and what its employees need. As can often be the case, we likely won’t have all the answers. The important thing is to engage, ask questions, and listen. As my father always said, “We have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. There is a reason for this.” I use this as a guidepost, believing that we must listen and observe at least two times more than we speak.

From there, there are many avenues that can be taken – from creating employee resource groups, establishing and promoting new health and wellness benefit programs and initiatives, and emphasizing professional and career development to creating a culture and work behaviors that allow flexibility for breaks and protect off hours and vacations.  

At Hitachi Vantara, I’m particularly proud of our mental health “First Aiders,” a grassroots response to a mental health support gap identified by a group of employees. The result has been monthly Big Mental Health Get Togethers with several hundred employees in attendance to discuss challenges and support ideas.

We may not have all the answers, but make no mistake, we need to make these types of supportive programs and processes more permanent fixtures within our organizations.

The health and wellness of our people is just as important as our business health. Employee mental health should be prioritized not only because it impacts business productivity, but also because it is the right thing to do for your people.

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Gajen Kandiah

Gajen Kandiah

Gajen leads orchestration of digital and domain expertise of group companies, including Hitachi Digital Services, GlobalLogic and Hitachi Vantara, where he was CEO. Prior to that, he spent 15 years driving growth at Cognizant, most recently as President, Digital Business.