AUGUST 4, 2002
 Cover Story
 Personal Finance
 Case Game
 Back of the Book

Nasscom Does Some Brain Racking
Slowdown or not, NASSCOM is still eyeing Indian software revenues of $77 billion by 2008. Just what will make it happen? To get a strategy together, it got some top minds to meet in Hyderabad at the India it and ITEs Strategy Summit 2002. A report on what came of it.

Q&A With Ashraf Dimitri
The CEO of Oasis Technology, a key provider of e-payments software, tries to win over converts to a new system.

More Net Specials
Business Today,  July 21, 2002
Everyone Says I'm Fine
Nobody wants their 'marbles checked'. But psychiatrists have a bigger role in corporate performance than you'd think. If only we start fighting yesteryear's taboos.

Tarun was a star performer. These days, however, he was an angry performer. Snapping at colleagues, losing his cool. When he turned in a self-assessment that was strangely self-critical, that too on trivial points, the company suggested a session with a counselor. And it was here that Dr Achal Bhagat, organisational analyst and psychiatrist, diagnosed Tarun's inability to handle stress-which was making him mad at himself. Having tackled his problem, Tarun now heads the company.

That's not an isolated case. Neither are cases of depression and paranoia, anymore, in Corporate India. What's rare is the recognition that such problems require professional help-and this calls for lifting the giant shroud of secrecy that keeps it all covered up, as if there's something deep , dark and shameful about it.

It's estimated that 80 per cent of the people in Indian metros are working folk, and over half the problems they go to physicians for are in some way linked to stress. Meanwhile, modern times are getting tough, traditional safety valves are losing their efficacy, and executives in their 30s have started dying of heart attacks. If there's shame, it's in the machismo of pretending that everyone's fine, that 'having one's head examined' is a step towards the loony bin, and that help is for sissies.

In the observation of Ali Abbas, Country Manager (HR), AT&T, people remain reluctant to go beyond the support system of family and friends, who may not be qualified to deal with the problem. Yet, such issues remain taboo in the corporate culture of many Indian firms. "This is most unfortunate," says Dr Sanjay Chugh, senior consultant psychiatrist. "They don't even understand stress or what it is doing to the organisation," he laments.

Common Ailments

Treated with medication. There are two groups of anti-depressants-SSRI and TCA. Examples include Sertraline and Fluoxetine. Psychotherapy, in particular CBT (cognitive behavior therapy), is also useful.

Alcohol dependence
Treated with psychotherapy and supportive medical management to control withdrawal symptoms and ensure the person stays off alcohol.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
Treated with medication. SSRIs such as Paroxetine and Fluvoxamine are specifically for this. Psychotherapy, especially behavioral therapy, can help too.

For some, handling these things is what the hr department is paid for. So why hire anybody else? True, this department needs to be intimately involved, but the best hr managers also realise that there is a need sometimes for specialised doctors (to correct chemical imbalances in the brain)-or external psychotherapists (who operate through talk-sessions rather than Rx prescriptions) to whom executives can open up without the fear of becoming the subject of coffee-time gossip.

According to Bhagat, most executives are desperate to talk. Their only concern is confidentiality- that is assured, since psychiatrists are aware that they're paid to help people, not to be agents of corporations. Mature companies agree wholeheartedly. "They provide a breath of fresh air," says P. Dwarakanath, Director (HR), GlaxoSmithKline. "People may turn to water the minute they step into a boardroom," adds Jayantika D. Burman, Director (HR), Agilent Technologies, "They will feel far more comfortable talking to an outsider."

Professionals are also able to offer the ''reassurance of numbers''. As Bhagat says, only 2-5 per cent of people need medicine (such as the anti-depressant Prozac). Some four-fifths suffer from 'life problems' such as demoralisation, and a fifth (mainly managers) suffer from acute pessimism about the future.

Happens all the time, and it can be resolved. In fact, for most open-minded companies, psychiatrists have become just another part of the regular resource base they draw on to enhance productivity. As 'normal' as that. Some common task areas: behavioral analysis, executive development and self-esteem enhancement.

Perhaps the most routine now is the application of pre-recruitment psychometric tests. "Everyone has a high IQ these days," says Dwarakanath, "so we also need to look at their EQ (emotional quotient), and judge how well they fit into our organisation's culture." According to Ronesh Puri, Managing Director, Executive Access, a head-hunting firm, the tests are in use because they've been found to work. Bhagat cites the example of a CEO candidate he found too pre-assuming and short-fused in his personal life. The man was recruited anyway but failed at the job. It's a matter of 'fit'-fair and square.

Then, there's leadership coaching. "Leaders are now looking for insights into their working style," says Kaushik Gopal, psychiatrist, "they want to see the kind of impact they are having."

Managers might see this as an encroachment on their own area of expertise, but if, say, the CEO is turning slowly paranoid and transmitting these vibes to subordinates, it's perhaps best if a psychiatrist steps in to short-circuit the 'negative feedback loop' before it results in a corporate psychosis.

Therapists are also found to be of help during periods of turbulence, say, following a merger. "When people are faced with tough decisions, such as during the change period last year, a lot of companies bring in professionals for counseling," says Madhavi Misra, Senior Consultant, Hewitt Associates. "This helps minimise the negative impact on employees." Mergers require a consensus on common values, and this can be a rough experience if the two cultures are sharply divergent and egos are bloated. Shifting from seniority to performance-based pay, for example, can cause severe trauma to the grey-haired, and they could need psychotherapy to appreciate the new system.

While psychiatrists are busy providing all manner of services, the biggest growth area, spanning industries and hierarchy levels, remains bad old stress. It shows up in strange ways, and is sometimes devilishly difficult to identify, but must never be taken lightly. Stress management workshops, meditation techniques and yoga sessions are commonplace these days. Still, as Robert Danbeck, Country Manager (HR), IBM, puts it, "Professional help is recommended if needed."

Often, it's the spouse who first identifies a problem-and hr departments that maintain spouse-sensitivity systems tend to do a better job of spotting trouble.

Even so, a vast majority continue to treat all this with dismissive disdain. Psychiatrists, being doctors, are shy in admitting that they have done a poor job of 'market expansion'. But that is exactly what they must do, for their own and India Inc's sake. The best way to begin is to break the barriers. "People are afraid of being medicated," says Gopal, "of being looked at weirdly." It's time to fight the fear. And lift the shroud. You could help-by talking about it.