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,"
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.
Treated with psychotherapy and supportive medical management
to control withdrawal symptoms and ensure the person stays
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.