A survey-based story backed with responses from 200 respondents facing mental health related issues in their jobs.
Ahana Sen, a 29-year-old architect, was excited for her first job after graduating with flying colours. However, things went downhill soon enough at the design firm she joined, when she realised it was common for the top boss to verbally abuse the employees.
But things went a little too far when verbal abuses spilt over to include family, sexuality, and more. “We’d approach him, only after gauging how his mood was. No senior took the accountability for their work, in fear of getting thrashed by him,” she said.
The anxiety made her wake up in the middle of the night to check for mistakes. Her confidence was at an all-time low, making her think she was not ‘good enough for anything’ that eventually led her to not willing to work in an office at all.
Ahana wasn’t alone. Job-related stress affects millions in the country regularly.
To understand the extent and impact of jobs on mental health, OnlyMyHealth conducted a survey which saw participation from around 200 people, across the country. We received insights from people of diverse backgrounds, professions, age groups, and genders.
Understanding Our Respondents
As a part of our 'Mental Health Matters' series, we dive deep into the findings of this survey which vividly illustrate the escalating stress levels caused at workplaces.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), unfavourable working conditions, including discrimination and inequality, excessive workloads, and job insecurity can jeopardise the mental health of employees.
According to OnlyMyHealth’s findings, 78.7% of the respondents to our survey are working full-time and are subjected to various kinds of pressures daily. The survey made a startling revelation: 81.4% experienced job-related stress.
Employment type of our respondents
Current Employment Status
How many respondents have faced burnout due to their careers
Impact of career on mental health
Bad Bosses Can Cause Nightmares
The feeling of being overwhelmed is a common thread among respondents. Out of 200 respondents, 33% experienced it daily, while 25.5% felt it on a weekly basis. Most of the respondents were overwhelmed due to toxic work culture, undue recognition, no work life balance, and poor management.
How Often Respondents Felt Overwhelmed
As explained on WebMD, symptoms of feeling overwhelmed may include confusion, forgetfulness, racing thoughts, low energy levels, headaches, sleep problems, and more. In most cases, experiencing these symptoms together might lead to depression and severely impact your body functions.
“My manager had this habit of insulting employees in front of everyone, and saying rude and unprofessional things,” said Tanisha Gupta, a PR professional.
She went on to highlight a harrowing experience from her previous company. “They fired me because I took 13 days off when my grandfather died. When I took two more days of sick leave afterwards, they refused to believe me despite a doctor’s prescription,” she said.
Toxic workplaces have a spillover effect on employees’ lives, affecting much more than just their work hours.
“I started waking up in the middle of the night and replaying conversations with my boss in my head,” said Aishwarya Vishwanathan, a 29-year-old PR professional. “It eventually led to sleep deprivation and irritability.”
I started waking up in the middle of the night and replaying conversations with my boss in my head Aishwarya Vishwanathan, a 29-year-old PR professional.
The far-reaching effects of the tonality of superiors at workplaces is not age-restricted or experience-dependent.
An ex-Naval officer and now employed with a Telecom company, Lt Cdr (Retd) Ashish K Singh recalled a recent incident, when his HoD called for an after-hours meeting, despite there being nothing very urgent. When Singh suggested postponing the meeting, the HoD reacted angrily, even suggesting that he find another job. Singh said, “I had to seek medical help as that conversation hampered my health, thinking how could someone behave like the way he did being an officer from the forces himself, but such is life.”
Toxic Workplaces & Economic Vulnerabilities Push People to the Edge
While bad bosses do contribute to making a workplace toxic, several other factors like office politics, conspiring co-workers, and unrealistic expectations also play a major part.
"I realised how bad the work culture was when I started noticing favouritism from seniors. Buttering, on the other hand, was common too,” said Garima Bajaj Saxena, a Finance and Accounts Manager.
According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a toxic work environment refers to the relationship between workers and the workplace. It impacts a person's sense of security and has a negative impact on their well-being.
Office politics often is the prime source of negativity in workplaces.
“In my previous organisation, office politics was one of the main causes of work-related stress,” said Riya Pandey, a content producer. “Even if you deliver good work there’s no guarantee you will get appreciation.”
She added, “The office gossip just gets on my nerves and there’s so much negativity around. If you are not part of a certain group, you will not be treated well.”
The office gossip just gets on my nerves and there’s so much negativity around. If you are not part of a certain group, you will not be treated well. Riya Pandey, Content Producer
The situation often worsens for women. A high school teacher who is in her late 30s, said, “Sexist remarks, character assassination, and slandering are so naturalised now-a-days that people do not even realise that such actions might leave a drastic impact on the victims.”
When job losses and delays in salaries creep in, employees are often pushed to the brink.
A respondent (25) who chose not to reveal his name, was working as a fundraising officer with a leading NGO, when bad news came knocking unexpectedly. “I was asked to leave my job without any prior notice,” he said. “I am the only breadwinner in my family. I was in a new city and had trouble finding a new job immediately. It had such a horrible impact on me, that my sleep cycle was messed up for a long time.”
Dr Sarathi Goud
“The escalation of job-related stress is a complex issue with various contributing factors,” he explained. “In today's fast-paced work environments, characterised by relentless deadlines and heightened expectations, employees often find themselves under constant pressure. The advent of remote work has further blurred the lines between professional and personal life, making it challenging to maintain a healthy work-life balance.”
The Vicious Cycle: Switching to Find Satisfaction?
We tried to explore how satisfied people are with their present jobs and how often they switch companies to escape worse ones.
Nikhil Singh, who wanted to keep his profession under wraps, in the initial phases of his career changed three jobs within a year. He said, “This happened mostly because either the workplace was toxic or the city where I had to live wasn't to my liking.”
He added, “The CEO of the company where I started my first job was so toxic that I contemplated killing myself.”
Often people shift companies while searching for better roles or compensation.
Kaustubh Bagalkote, a journalist, revealed that he thinks about changing his career on a regular basis. He said, “Working in the media industry means the stress level is always high, responsibilities are too much, people expect you to work 24/7, and the compensation in exchange is very low, with no appreciation.”
It often becomes a cyclic pattern, where people leave a job due to stress, and find a new one, only to find new stressors.
The Multi-Pronged Reach of Burnout
A majority of respondents highlighted that their jobs started overpowering their personal life and health.
“I have missed many marriages, functions, family outings, dinners, and trips due to my job,” said Ankit Bisht, a journalist. “Getting offs on Sundays and national holidays are next to luxury for us.”
Missing social commitments repeatedly creates a sense of resentment among employees. For some, the burnout was a result of factors beyond the workplace.
German psychologist Herbert Freudenberger was the first to come up with the term ‘burnout’ in his 1974 book ‘Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement’. Simply put, burnout is a reaction to chronic stress at the workplace. It is characterised by a lack of motivation, exhaustion, and often, disillusionment with work. Although primarily triggered by work-related stress, your overall lifestyle as well as personality traits, such as if you’re a perfectionist or a pessimist, can add to it.
“On a regular basis, I spend at least 14 hours on work, including travel. Sometimes, it extends to 18 hours. There have been weeks when I've only slept for four and a half hours,” said Kaustubh Bagalkote, working in the media.
“I don't have any time off. I work on weekends, and there's no time for meals. This is significantly affecting my mental health. It feels like I'm the only one who cares about the job in my team, so all the workload falls on me. I've noticed myself working very hard while others in my team are just scrolling on Instagram.”
“Economic uncertainties, coupled with job insecurity, add another layer of stress. Employees constantly worry about the stability of their positions and financial security, which can lead to heightened anxiety. Within workplaces, inadequate support systems, heavy workloads, and interpersonal conflicts are common stressors. When employees lack the necessary resources or face excessive demands, their stress levels soar. Also, workplace cultures that do not prioritise mental health support, contribute to this growing problem.”
Absence of Mental Health Leaves at Work
Even in 2021, when mental health was widely advocated, former World no 1 Tennis player, Naomi Osaka faced a backlash when she refused to do press conferences and withdrew from the French Open owing to her mental health issues.
Mental Health Leaves
Respondents who have taken leaves to take care of their mental health
The survey findings depict that 43.5% have taken a leave due to mental health concerns.
Gurpreet Singh, who used to work in a US-based MNC in Gurugram, said, “I had taken a good long break to refresh my mind. There was no point in going to the office daily when I was mentally exhausted. It just made me more irritated, and annoyed and led to other physical health conditions.
However, for some, there’s no option of taking leave.
Muskan Khatri, who works in a business startup said, “I get mentally exhausted and still don’t have the privilege to take leaves. This is because we don’t have enough leave balance. So the choice is up to us whether to take leave for physical health conditions or mental exhaustion. Even if I share this with my friends or colleagues, they end up saying that this is part of every work culture.”
“Cultivate self-awareness to navigate the complexities of full-time work while preserving mental health, and recognise that seeking assistance is a sign of strength, not weakness.”
The Stigma in Seeking Help
Seeking Professional Help
Respondents who’ve sought professional help to tackle mental health issue
Even after the rise in mental health issues and the need to address them, only a few seek help. 80.5% of respondents never sought any professional help for their increased job-related stress/burnout.
Jasleen Singh, a 30-year-old HR professional, working with a telecom company had the worst time because of her job during the COVID outbreak. She said, “I worked extra hours every day and completed all deliverables on time. I lost some very important people during COVID, including my pet. When asked for some time to grieve over my pet’s death, my boss chose to make fun of my situation.”
She eventually opted for professional help to cope with the situation. She said, “It was difficult to open up to a therapist about all this, but it was an enriching experience. I was told several times by my family that this phase shall pass and why is there a need to go to a ‘pagalo ka doctor’ for this. But, I am glad I took help in this case.”
While some end up taking a break, going for vacations, journaling or meditating, others go down the path of alcohol, cigarettes and drugs to cope with the stress.
Sagar Shere, Deputy Manager, Content, who is in his early 30s, said, “When you are surrounded by negativity you end up taking help from negative things like alcohol.”
“Despite the importance of mental health, many hesitate to seek help due to lingering stigma, cultural influences, self-stigma, professional concerns, and an awareness gap.”
Ms Sumalatha Vasudeva
We asked our expert why people resort to substance abuse for relief rather than self-care. explains that individuals resort to smoking and alcohol for a range of reasons, including social pressures, seeking pleasure, and finding stress relief. She advocated, “Some view smoking as a way to assert their independence, while many believe these substances can temporarily alleviate symptoms of PTSD and everyday stress. People often experiment with them for various reasons and unintentionally fall into dependency cycles. Also, starting smoking during adolescence can lead to deep addiction in adulthood, making quitting challenging without proper support and resources.”
Social Media: Stress Buster Or Stress Inducer?
Social media is a complex territory, affecting everyone differently. Among our respondents, 23% found it to be positively impactful, while 32.5% found it to be negatively impacting their mental health. Some said that it hijacks their thought process and creates an insecure environment. Others loved how it helped them connect with people and motivate them to do better.
Social Media & Mental Well-being
How respondents are affected by social media
“I have a problem with the new-age social media and the trends. The way things are portrayed is dangerous,” said Varun Verma, a UPSC aspirant. “Things are shown to be too gloomy or too hateful, which is not the case in real life.”
Others highlighted how pictures of vacations, happy relationships, and thriving careers created a never-ending ladder of what one should achieve or a lifestyle one should aspire to have.
A respondent (29) who chose to stay anonymous said, “Social media sets unrealistic standards of beauty, life, and success. Hence, impacts a normal person's mental health negatively.”
Dr Ravindra Agarwal
“Millions of people use social media every day, which has transformed from a platform for communication to a way to connect with friends and family. People, organisations, and companies can monitor your social media activity globally. However, focusing on seeking likes and followers can waste productive time and lower self-esteem.”
A Guide To Managing Work Stress
The above were the harsh realities of job-induced stress. The worst bit is that the stress doesn’t go away on its own. To keep up with mental health at work, we spoke to Dr Sarathi Goud, who listed measures to reduce job-related stress.
- Foster self-development and avoid falling into the trap of self-doubt or self-worth issues.
- Set realistic goals by breaking tasks into manageable steps and achieving them gradually.
- Prioritise adding self-care to your routine. Make time for activities you enjoy.
- Exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy diet. A properly nourished body is more resilient when faced with stress.
- Effective time management is key. Organise your workload and delegate tasks whenever possible.
- Seek social support by connecting with friends, and family. Sharing your feelings can provide valuable perspectives and emotional relief.
- See challenges as opportunities for growth. Embrace continuous learning and the acquisition of new skills.