Mental health issues in information technology industry : Industrial Psychiatry Journal

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Mental health issues in information technology industry

Prakash, Jyoti; Chaudhury, Suprakash1,; Ali, Tahoora1

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Industrial Psychiatry Journal 32(1):p 1-3, Jan–Jun 2023. | DOI: 10.4103/ipj.ipj_46_23
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The Indian Information Technology (IT) industry has been influential in highlighting the presence of India in the contemporary picture of the global economy. The rate of expansion and growth of the IT industry in India has been remarkable, especially because it picked up at the crossover of the two millennia. The easy availability of skilled labour in India, the nominal salaries they work with, and the fluency in English language were the main reasons behind the scintillating growth rates of the IT industry. Aided with the liberalized policies set forth in the 1990s, the industry rapidly propelled India to acquire the tag of an emerging global power in the early 2000s and became a role model for other Indian industries to simulate its growth and success. In the 1990s, the United States went under an economic recession and hence began their reliance on India to gain cost-advantage. India had already gained repute for its technological readiness and was confident to sufficiently cater to the needs of the west.[1] Ever since, the service exports of the IT industry have had no looking back, with the export reaching 178 billion dollars in the year 2021-2022, as per the report of National Association of Software and Service Companies. The exponential upsurge of the Indian IT industry led to the emergence of the ‘techie’, a colloquial term which began to be used widely for those who were employed in the IT industry and were providing high quality of services at low prices. The average Indian ‘techie’ had three important and distinguishing features. First: mobility, which requires the work-staff to be able to flit effortlessly between onsite and offsite work. This is often called ‘virtual migration’, where workers can lend productivity to offshore organizations as well, through online connectivity. Second: flexibility, so that they are comfortable enough to fit into the ever-emerging roles in this industry. And third: individualization, such that every employee acquires their own set of unique characteristics as a result of high rates of attrition in the industry accompanied with the trend to move to different jobs for higher remunerations and for acquiring new skill sets.[2]

It is now clear that the average Indian IT professional is not only overworked and underpaid but is also under constant worry to remain fit enough for the industry by being on a perennial pursuit of newer and better openings. The numerous deadlines and global nature of their work often require them to work around-the-clock, compromising basic needs of their lives. To top this competitive environment, is the barrage of information they continuously need to stay updated with, by virtue of the ever-evolving and innovative nature of the IT industry. Skilful communication and effective public relationships also fall well within the purview of their job prerequisites. Undoubtedly, the pressure built as a result of these parameters is enough to precipitate stress and various other psychiatric morbidities.[3] As per National Association of Software and Service Companies, the Indian IT industry is one of the largest globally. India had 51 lakh individuals directly employed in the IT sector for the financial year 2021-2022. The sheer numbers involved in running this mammoth industry require more insightful study of the psychiatric health and wellbeing of these employees.[3] The Indian IT professionals have yet another hurdle to overcome on a daily basis: that of cultural contrasts. The Indian traditions are based on joint family structures which are interdependent on each other for cohesive functioning, which proves to be an asset in terms of child-rearing and providing care for mentally and physically unwell family members. This sacrosanct practice took a setback as a result of the IT-induced westernization of Indian cultures and traditions. More and more individuals had to move to urban cities, where most IT industries are clustered, leaving behind their roots and values for the sake of a much-coveted livelihood. The high association of mental illnesses with urban living, and in particular, solitude, is already too well established and needs no introduction. Studies have established that the percentage of IT professionals who subjectively report feeling stressed as a result of their work is as high as 80% and more than 71% of these stressed individuals were symptomatic for psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, psychosomatic illnesses, insomnia, and sexual dysfunctions.[4] Also prevalent among these individuals is dependence on substances such as alcohol and nicotine, mostly as a mechanism to counter the workplace stress and frustration. Contributing to the stress as a result of the workload is the stress arising due to the uncertain nature of the jobs of these professionals. Any untowardly shift in economy results in layoffs, for which employees are under a relentless “performance pressure”, so as to prove their mettle and worth, which lands them in a vicious cycle of increasing efforts and stagnant or decreasing remunerations.[5]

High levels of stress, in combination with the sedentary lifestyle arising as a result of the rigorous work schedules of the IT professional, give way to a plethora of physical illnesses as well, with stress donning multiple roles of being the precipitating, perpetuating, or aggravating factor for these illnesses. These individuals commonly fall prey to illnesses such as peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular deficits, chronic headaches, chronic fatigue, obstructive sleep apnoea, obesity and other metabolic disorders, dermatological conditions such as lichen planus, urticaria, pruritus, asthma, and endocrine disorders as well. While the direct pathophysiological mechanism for these conditions is yet unexplained, the implications of a dysregulated neuroendocrine system as a result of poor lifestyle habits are clear.[5] A study of 1,000 Indian IT and Business Process Outsourcing employees found musculoskeletal symptoms in 56%; depression, anxiety, and insomnia in 54%; obesity in 40%; dyslipidemia in 36%; newly diagnosed hypertension in 22%; and diabetes in 10%.The Holmes and Rahe stress score was higher in employees who developed diabetes, hypertension, and depression.[6] The myriad adverse consequences of stress on the mental and physical health of an individual set apart, stress has also been found to have an inverse relation with job satisfaction. Poor job satisfaction is known to cause burnout and precipitates reduced efficacy and productivity at the workplace. This can further accentuate a decreased self-esteem, absenteeism from work, and with the performance at work; the overall quality of life of the employee also takes a downturn. The natural human instinct is to tend toward the path of least resistance, so these individuals naturally show poor commitment to their organization and further contribute to the high attrition rates which plague this industry.[7]

In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck globally, India was one of the most affected countries. Technology played an immensely crucial role in keeping daily and routine activities adrift, despite all the challenges imposed by the impetuous virus and the stringent measures employed to curb its rapid spread. On one hand, the employees were putting forth magnanimous efforts to ensure smooth running of the organizations even during the challenging times of the pandemic; on the other hand, they were themselves grappling with the hit that the economy took in that period. With the unprecedented economic downturn brought about by COVID-19, the companies were left to reel and recover entirely on their own accords and it was these employees who truly bore the brunt of the damage. Heightened stress as a result of increased workplace demand was further compounded by fears of losing jobs and wage reductions. Although already familiar with “work-from-home”, the inflexibility of this practice during the pandemic did not do much good to these employees, as the boundaries between personal and professional lives got blurred and the segregation of work-stress from domestic responsibilities became an overwhelming task.[8] The peak of the pandemic reported a drastic decline in hiring in the IT industry, while also witnessing a dramatic digital spike. The latter was deceitful in encouraging companies to hire over and above their demands, in an effort to also compensate for the decreased hiring in the time of the pandemic. However, the fall of the public equity markers in the early part of 2022, triggered by global socio-political events, cautioned governments across the world to deploy antirecession measures. The western world was quick to announce a slew of layoffs in the IT industry and the numbers are only escalating, not even sparing the otherwise invincible tech giants. While the practice of laying off employees during an economic crisis is a common practice in the industrialized nations, it is unusual for it to seep into the Indian industry due to its agility and quick adaptability. However, defying previous norms, the last quarter of 2022 was laden with unexpected lay-offs of thousands of “techies” as a “precautionary measure” against the impending recession; and the first few months of the year 2023 are duplicating the trend. Not only that, the hiring rates have significantly reduced and some of the biggest companies have snipped their salaries to nearly half the earlier amounts.[9,10]

Considering the large numbers of Indians involved in the IT industry who are going to inevitably suffer as a result of the recent adversities, it goes without saying that a mental health epidemic may well be on its way. Unfavourable work conditions and abominably long work hours, in the backdrop of a tangible fear of unemployment and impoverishment, is a recipe for disastrous mental health outcomes. These “techies” who have endured silently many a catastrophe are in an urgent need for intervention in aspects of stability. Government bodies must take note of their distress and work in coalition with the companies to take active steps to ensure a safe workspace, humane work hours, and above all, an assured mode of sustenance.


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