When we talk about the ‘Future of Work’, we hardly account for mental health and mental wellbeing. Accoding to the World Economic Forum, the early years of the 21st century witnessed a worldwide epidemic of poor mental health and related illnesses. The pressure of ‘keeping up’ has resulted in a variety of anxiety disorders and around 62 percent of those suffering from anxiety are female.

There is apprehension that technology is likely to take over human relationships. I spoke to Anna Chandy, a counsellor and chairperson of The Live Love Laugh Foundation. Anna is also the author of Battles in the Mind, a book about the future of work and mental well-being.  Anna weighs in on several aspects of the human mind, perception, acceptance and satisfaction in the interview. Edited excerpts:

How would you define Future of Work?

For me, the first phase that comes to my mind is – ‘the future of work is already moving towards being fluid from being static’. Let me elaborate. If you look at our generation or the one before ours, you chose a profession or a career between 18-22 based on whatever you were studying and your work continued within the same choice. That was being static.

Being fluid means it is now being directed by your passion, not just monetary survival. The future of work will also be much more exponential in terms of choices. You are going to make choices on areas that have opened up and the canvas is no longer restricted.

The future of work also means a shutdown of work that is very routine. Work that has a routine and a pattern will be taken over by technology. In the future of work, anything that does not account for the aspect of human contact and relationship can be taken over by AI and technology. I see the whole movement going in that direction.

How do you think automation is likely to affect the human brain?

I see a positive and a negative with the way automation is impacting the human brain.

In certain fields and areas, we have much more information and awareness. In my own field some aspects like advocacy and publicity can be automated. That is a positive. The downside is somewhere human contact and human relationship is being overlooked. I am not sure we can sustain ourselves if we don’t have human contact and human relationships. Essentially, human beings, as part of the animal kingdom, cannot go long periods without human contact. There is such an important aspect of empathy that will be lost.

And of course that will impact our mental health. If I am only going to engage with technology, as relational animals, how will humans have emotional needs met? That will only increase mental illnesses. For example, look at India and the West. In India, people with a mental disorder, still live with their family, because we don’t have institutions or the wherewithal to enrol them in homes, like the West does. But, did you know, they have found that patients who live with family, actually recover and cope better than those who are institutionalised. That is because you need that interaction and human engagement. Of course, I am not refuting the use of technology, but we need to use technology in areas that do not need human relationships. I think this is a serious concern. Anxiety disorders will only increase with people being behind screens or the use of technology. Technology is going to screen so much, which the human mind due to empathy, concern or care would have recognised in the early stages.

If I go into an office that is all tech, who is going to ask me if I am ok? It is a simple need or care and concern and that could be taken away from us. Are we then going to live in a robotic world? Will that be good for us?

We hear of computational technology aping the human brain. What happens to humans then?

I think what computation will be unable to figure are the nuances. It is what we call the nonverbals. 97 percent of our interaction is nonverbals. Is technology going to be so stylised and take in the nuances?

In a scenario of deep technology adoption, how do we identify people who have mental illnesses?

You know a few years ago, there was a suicide in a B-school. A suicide is obviously alarming, but what was more alarming was that this student was not seen for 2-3 days and no one really noticed. They only found the body because of the smell. Normally, in a school or college environment, don’t we notice the students around us in our class? If we have lost that aspect of noticing/ enquiring if somebody is not around for 3-4 days (that too in a hostel environment), to me that is alarming. If we lose the importance of concerned enquiry of another human, who is known to us, then in a sense who are we as human beings?

Are work and sense of purpose connected?

Meaning for life comes from an enquiry and exploration of a deep sense of who you are and what life means to you. Those answers will not come in from money, technology or a fast paced life. Those answers are likely to come in from our relationships and how we engage with another human or even nature or our various sensory experiences. Those give us a better understanding of the meaning of life than just the physical or material aspects many chase. For example in my profession, as a counsellor, I have never had a day I have said, I do not want to do this. Simply because, what has given me a purpose is I engage with people from different walks of life and different backgrounds and yet what is the common thread is the human aspect and that bind has become a force behind what makes it work.

How can workplaces remove the stigma associated with mental health?

Here you can use technology creatively and uniquely for education and awareness and sensitisation. Technology can be used for education at workplaces and early schooling. Technology can actually share moral science kind of stories to make mental health a more widely spoken about subject.

What would your three point agenda be to create awareness and collaboration around mental health – at home and work?

The first point is to account for the fact that physical and mental wellbeing cannot be separated. You have to look at a person as a whole – every person has a physical and mental aspect.

The second step is to know (when you accept the first), is that when someone has an ailment, you accept it. Whether physical or mental. You would care for anyone who has any illness.

The third is not to trivialise and ridicule mental disorders and mental illnesses. This can be a serious issue for those who are suffering.  The kind of terms we use for people who are suffering or while referring to mental illness itself, should be accorded the necessary importance /gravity, and not be used very lightly.

Your comments on using technology for education.

See, when there is an excessive usage of the iPad, for example, and you are keying in words, you lose a certain connect that is triggered in the brain when you use a paper and pen for the same task. I think we need to be aware that we need physical activities, of course, for physical wellbeing itself, but also for the release of the right kind of hormones that are required for the brain. You have to have free play, which encourages creativity. You cannot have pre-scheduled play.

What happens to mental wellbeing in a fast paced world, where most people will have to work very hard to retain their jobs?

Mental well-being, if not focused upon, will be overlooked in spite of it being essential for survival. In conclusion, whatever the future of work is, I would like to see a human quotient. The future of work is not in technology, the future of work is in human relationships.


Published Date: Mar 27, 2019 04:03 PM | Updated Date: Mar 27, 2019 07:03 PM IST

Tags : #future of work

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