Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Workplace masked depression

This is not about disgruntlement. The write up below is a reflection of the hard realities facing business organizations in India, and there is a special focus on the issues currently gripping Pharma companies. It is a straight and plain talk below.

Do not brood over past mistakes and failures as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret and depression. Do not repeat them in the future.

- Swami Sivananda

Hidden or Masked Depression - a reality in Indian society

The new illness wave in Indian society so far underplayed and not conspicuous is depression – hence, this can be rightly called as Hidden or Masked Depression (just as we have hidden or masked anemia).

Depression is defined as an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts, that affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be wished away. People with a depressive disease cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people with depression.

Some commonplace signs and symptoms of depression include: loss of interest in self and the environment, persistent sadness, overpowering feelings of guilt, hopelessness, and worthlessness, difficulty in thinking, concentration and memory recall, loss of energy – persistent fatigue, sleep disturbances including oversleep, overeating or under-eating, irritability, thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts, and vague physical complaints like digestive complaints, headache and bodyaches.

Reasons for workplace depression include:

a) Inappropriate use of reward and coercive power by bosses
b) stress – feeling of inability to cope with a situation being experienced by individuals; lack of recognition of stress in workplaces and absence of communication channels and systems to reduce toxic stress levels in companies further strengthen stress
c) inappropriate financial rewards (basically it refers to low pay & facilities, and high work and top stress levels)
d) spill over of domestic tensions resulting in synergistic work plus domestic stress
e) non-caring environment and absence of an environment that taps an individual’s potential (self-actualization) (remember Google officially allows employees to invest 20% of their official time for their favorite and personal projects)
f) loss of self-esteem (a work environment that does not strengthen self-esteem)
g) over emphasis on use of authority and coercive power to manipulate and control in the work environment; rather than use of reward power, positive strokes, positive reinforcements, and expertise power.

Depression among Pharma field personnel

Pharma sales and marketing field is a high stress and negative stroke environment. All along their professional life, Pharma field personnel receive more brickbats than bouquets. Negative strokes are encountered from the stockists, chemists, doctors, general society, and even bosses. So all in all, Pharma field personnel develop a typical hypocritical (and cynical) attitude towards their profession and company. As such, the non availability of ‘respectable and paying jobs’ (ie. up to mid 90s) ensured a steady supply of quality people to this profession – today, with an up turn in the economy and growth of BPO-IT-ITES-Medical transcription sector, better availability of educational institutions, globalization, new business opportunities, and migration of skilled people, there is a paucity of quality people entering the Pharma field and particularly, Pharma marketing and sales profession. If Pharma companies refuse to take cognizance of these facts, companies will continue to face the problems of lack of good field personnel and high employee turnover (this high turnover is not just due to change of companies, but also migration of employees to other professions like BPO, ITES, insurance and other fields) for a long time to come. In a way, it is ‘depressing’ to note that toxic stress, negative stroke environment, and depression are more prevalent in the Pharma field while in fact, it has to be a model work environment to other non-Pharma organizations.

We ought to observe that new economy companies have highly advanced HR practices, an open, communicative, and business-like professional atmosphere. New economy pay packets, perks, HR processes, and facilities are a sea change compared to regular Indian Pharma companies. This has a high impact and Indian Pharma is losing a steady stream of potential employees and regular employees to these new economy companies.

Today, there is not much of unionism; it is ‘jettisonism’ (people jettisoning companies and even the profession) in the Pharma field. However, the current union trends are towards becoming more strident about norms of joint field working, meeting timings, and no. of hours put in field work.

A culture that encourages, trains, strengthens and rewards talent, and focuses on problem-solving, as opposed to a culture of mediocrity and mutual back – scratch, is what will help Pharma marketing and sales.

Depression and self-esteem

Self-love or self-esteem is an important bulwark against depression. However, with negative strokes at every corner of the Pharma profession, it is little wonder that masked depression (that is unacknowledged but manifests in various signs and symptoms and as self destructive habits – like alcohol consumption and smoking) is definitely prevalent in our Pharma field.

The writing is on the wall

It is well known that there are very few senior MRs or managerial field personnel who will allow their children to follow their footsteps into Pharma sales and marketing or the Pharma field itself. This truism reflects the reality of our Pharma field.

Depression 2.0: grass is not greener on the other side

The economic boom in India has given birth to a new type of depression 2.0. Please click here to know more. So depression 2.0 reflects the challenges in new economy companies too. However, it would be interesting to survey and find out if the workplace stress levels there, are anywhere comparable to Pharma work (field, office, and factory) environments.

The vacuum will be filled

Whatever the issues that crop up and challenge organizations, businesses will continue to be dedicated towards strengthening topline and bottomline. In this endeavor, companies will focus on various avenues and options to strengthen the topline and bottomline. In this regard, to bolster marketing and communication activity, it is inevitable that companies will lay more emphasis on outsourcing of business activities, courier marketing, internet marketing and communication, group meetings of customers (like doctors’ meets), and MRs of Pharma companies will particularly end up focusing on co-ordination and building up of clinical experiences with products and brands.

People are the real assets

People assets are vital. Unless the Pharma sector takes up proactive and positive steps to attract and retain quality people, the flight of intellectual capital to other industries and sectors will continue…Pharma India will be the loser.

This write up is by Sunil S Chiplunkar I thank you for reading this blogpost. Please do read all other blogposts, by clicking on older posts when appropriate.

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