Navigating through adolescence and forming my own career path, I wore my parents’ sense of altruism as a badge of honor. I realized that I stood on the foundation of their sacrifice. So, I did what many immigrant children do—excelled and entered the workforce where skills would be monetarily rewarded. I integrated within the corporate narrative and did everything in my power to maintain this social status. I ignored overt racial microaggressions from colleagues and enabled superiors to exploit my strong work ethic. I never once challenged the workplace hierarchy because those leaders were to be revered, and I had to do everything in my power to earn their trust. I refused to acknowledge the deterioration of my morals, values, and mental health—all unknowingly allowing the erasure of my identity.
The formative years of my life were spent in my aunt’s basement apartment, with my two immigrant parents, older brother, and countless cousins all living under one roof. Our house was filled with constant laughs, loud conversing amongst the adults, and the aroma of delicious home cooked meals. It portrayed a community desperately trying to hold onto their culture and traditions in a foreign land that was not immediately accepting of foreigners. However, the fear of rejection did not stop my family or the countless families to immigrate from India in the early 1980’s. We all had one mission at hand: assimilate and prosper.
As part of that mission, my parents instilled a very hard work ethic in my brother and I, ensuring we never took financial freedom and a surplus of opportunities for granted. This was proven daily when I saw them tirelessly come home from one full-time job, and go to their next. Both my parents ignored racial slurs, remained calm when their religion was under attack and did not correct authoritative figures on mistakes as a sign of respect. The decision to be passive was intentional and calculated. Any minor error or lapse of judgment could destroy their livelihood and future they had imagined as immigrant parents. Failure was not on the horizon.
The Indian Community Is In Agony Right Now
Indians worldwide are painfully watching their motherland become nothing short of a war zone, with corpses multiplying by the minute due to the surge of Covid-19 infections. Yet, our community continues to suppress their emotions and mourn in silence, all while meeting deadlines and project milestones. There is an undeniable refusal to challenge hierarchy at the workplace and ask for additional support that is compelling Indians to ignore their mental health, even in dire situations such as this.
Mental health across Indians has never received adequate attention or permission for that matter. The current crisis has only exacerbated the innate stigma among Indians, and the wider Indian community worldwide. The avoidance of any mental health challenge reverts back to our culture, our identities, and how it intersects with the sacrifices made by previous generations. We intentionally disregard our pain, ingrained to remain silent, and continue with relentless efforts to preserve our social status at the workplace.
The issue at hand is more than the overarching cultural stigma on mental health. It exposes the complacency that workplaces have boldly embraced as the status quo—blatantly ignoring our mental health as long as we remain high performers. After all, our community is delivering exceptional quality of work, regardless if we bear witness to unsettling cremations outside of our windows, or helplessly FaceTime with dying relatives from a distance.
Indian Employees Need Support From Their Organizations. Here Is How To Take Action.
India is quickly becoming the leading IT outsourcing country in the world. Nearly 80% of firms across the US, UK, and Europe have offshore activities in India —which only increases the moral responsibility of employers to their Indian employees’ mental health. A duty of care not only applies to your local teams in India, but also applies to your teams in other parts of the world. Indians outside of India are struggling to cope with the trauma unraveling in their native country and may experience survivor’s guilt as the distribution of vaccinations sheds light for normality.
Acknowledging this crisis in the workplace is an imperative and critical first step. If it remains neglected, it will only create an environment of heightened apprehension. However, steer clear from general proclamations of support within your company newsletter. Instead, senior executives should look to model workplace flexibility and advocate for the mental health of all Indian employees alike. Here is how:
For leaders – Follow examples led by NatWest’s CEO, Alison Rose, who has extended delivery deadlines for non-critical projects to ease workload across 13,000 employees in India. Barclays CEO, Jes Staley, has made a similar commitment by shifting responsibility back to the UK, to relieve pressure for employees who may have contracted Covid or have care-giving responsibilities. Global advisory firms such as EY are offering Covid-related leave, which also can be used to take care of sick family members.
For managers – Ensure the message from senior leadership is cascading down and remain vigilant with offering workload flexibility. Create a safe space for your employees to speak about the current climate. Directly asking your team what they require can also prove to be incredibly impactful. Emphasize that seeking support will not affect their overall performance or future at the company.
For colleagues – Be human. Your Indian colleagues deserve compassion at this moment. Understand your role and advocate for their mental health if possible. We are not experts, however, checking in on them or sharing workplace mental health resources can also help them cope.
To my community – As the next few weeks and months unfold, our emotional bandwidth will be tested. It may seem we are in an endless cycle of despair, however now is the time to use our voices and finally advocate for ourselves. We desperately deserve it.