A major role for managers would be to identify employees with performance deficits and then to find out the causes behind them. The causes could range from inadequate technical training (which covers a wide range of abilities required), medical health issues, social and family dysfunctions or then mental health issues. Once the earlier mentioned factors are ruled out, we should suspect mental- health issues which also includes cognitive-behavioural concerns. They should then be sent for finer psychological evaluation to the human resource department or better still to a professional psychologist. The word ‘Psychological’ may evoke an unnecessary knee-jerk negative reaction from the employee so the terminology may be changed to cognitive-behavioural functioning. Cognitive-behavioural functions include factors such as intelligence, memory, language (reception and expression), executive functions and attention.
Let’s take attention as an example. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders affect adults as well contrary to the popular opinion that ADHD is only detected in children. In fact in many childhood cases of ADHD continues into adulthood as well and typically shows up in the form of performance deficits. Such adults may find it difficult to focus on a topic for too long, may get distracted easily from the topic under discussion, may be poor in listening skills etc. The work loss costs from attention deficit disorders and hyperactivity is also substantial says a study by Birnbaum and his associates in 2005. Another study confirms that one fifth of the population with ADHD has associated symptoms of learning disorders.
Behavioural science applications have a lot of significance at the workplace as all types of people are involved in the organisation. It’s time the Indian industry woke up to this aspect of the utility of the behavioural sciences in practice on the mental health front. It may not be enough to just talk about human resource training and development of the workforce by holding regular sessions. As an HR practitioner for two decades, I realise that development of social and other life skills although important, is just not enough to cover the entire range of human behaviour and its’ deficits. We often hear complaints from managers that some people stubbornly do not improve at all in spite of repeated exposures to training. This indicates that there are other unknown / undiagnosed areas that are still not acknowledged and pulled out of the closet into the limelight. We are trying to do just that.
The American continent is way ahead of us is this aspect and many industries very scrupulously sponsor regular surveys and research studies on the issue of mental health of workers. I cannot bemoan enough the stigma of the word ‘mental health’ in our country and ironically contrary to popular opinion we need it the most. With mass poverty and economic deprivation we should expect a variety of cognitive behavioural deficits in the workforce in terms of not only cultural deprivation but dietary malnutrition.
For the privileged few who are educated and trained in the best of colleges and universities there could be more awareness of their strengths and weakness as they go through the terrific grind of superior quality training and many aspects may have been taken care of by the right kind of placement (according to the candidates ability) or by plugging the deficits through evaluation and remedial inputs. Such a category has the best of everything in life but that still does not mean that they are immune to mental health issues.
The main concern is vast millions of the lower middle and middle-middle segment of India’s workforce that lies under false estimations of them-selves as they begin to acquire graduation degrees and post graduation degrees from half baked colleges mushrooming in the country. They may have a variety of deficits mainly due to inadequate technical training and partly due to cognitive-behavioural deficits leading to lowered down executive functions. This is going to lead to performance deficits of various kinds. Besides all this, we also have to tackle the wrong attitudes among such graduates that they have a degree in their pockets and that’s enough to fetch them good jobs. Of course it is not enough indeed.
Published in The Hitavada – Future Work Behaviour for 1st February 2011.