While working at Google USA, I had subscribed to a secret anonymous email list– a support group for employees mental health. The support ecosystem was warming. Emails with “I’m on SSRIs”, or “My wife has depression”, were common; often flooded with responses of friendly advice and empathy.

Corporates in America make an effort to support mental health issues – free subscription to headspace, free on campus yoga classes, 10 free sessions with counsellors – an honest approach to help employees with mental health issues, to get to peak productivity. “Take a mental-health-day off” is a new encouragement from well meaning corporates.

But is it really cutting it?

I, like many other Indian Immigrants to the US, were faced with a different paradigm of issues – something that a $10 subsidy to Headspace couldn’t fix – it would have been like cutting a tree with a screwdriver.

Many immigrants would never take that mental day off and here’s why:

The Need to Be Good Always

Being in the good books of a manager is vital for many immigrants – one wrong move and boom, you’re off the promotion rails or in worst cases, booted from the building. Many immigrants stay tied to their work, accepting all forms of work-life non-balance, in fear of being fired.

Save Those Vacations!

We all saved our holidays. All of us immigrants. This was the only way to justify a long annual visit to our home country. What this meant was – when we have a bad day, we have to drag ourselves to the office. For others, it’s “Rain or sun, we go to the office”. For immigrants it’s, “Abusive boss or bad day, we go to office”. If you have a chronic mental health issue, you can’t simply get up and go home to family – Family isn’t just a flight away. Family is a year away, or $3000 away, or 3 weeks of accumulated vacations away.

What can Corporate America do to help more? Here is how:

1. Better Vacation Policies.

“Europe produces the best artists, poets and painters because Europe encourages people taking time off!”, joked a friend of mine, though I felt she spoke a crude truth. Google Europe, gives 30 days vacation a year, while I, In America, started with 15 days a year —same company, different policies. There isn’t much an immigrant can do in 15 days – by the time you reach home, it’s time to fly back. A more generous vacation policy in America, will help immigrants take the time they need for their mental health, family emergencies, or just a much needed real vacation, which isn’t their annual home trip.

2. WFC – Work From Country

I personally know many Immigrants who negotiated an extended vacation by working from their home town – A fellow Immigrant friend of mine, healing from a break-up, worked from her Kerala village to be close to her parents. A US based employee I know, took up a 6 month temporary position in Bangalore to “Meditate and explore the real yoga of India”. A client of mine took up a job that allowed him 2 months in the India office, to put to rest his anxiety about meeting a woman for marriage, These are first hand accounts – you can guess how many people would LOVE to try the WFC option. I understand It’s complex for any company – tax issues, hiring manager comfort, time zone adjustments – but this is the real perk immigrants need for long term mental health.

3. Bring Back The Sabbatical

Around 2009, Google sunset its sabbatical option, which allowed employees to take a 3–5 month break. Reason? Most employees returned from sabbaticals only to resign.

But there is so much need for this.

Of the many Immigrants I have counselled on their confusion to move to India permanently, more than 80% of them merely need a big long break, from the daily grind of a vacation-less life. To genuinely recover mental health, corporates need to allow immigrants 3 months of a real break – so that they can travel, meditate, spend time with family or just sit with a book. Indian immigrants can’t do this on an H1B visa. The green card is a ticket to their mental health freedom – and so they do a prisoners count on their office walls – four vertical lines and the fifth to cross it out, for an indefinite wait for this freedom. A sabbatical can help retain these employees.

4. Educate Managers about the Consequences of Firing an Immigrant

The scary consequences of firing an immigrant isn’t visible to many managers or HR personnel in American companies. To lay it out flat – an immigrant without a job, is like a fish out of water – they have 60 days to search, find, negotiate, close, file the visa transfers, and start a new job. In other words – not enough time, and enough reasons to panic.

The mere fear of getting fired, affects the mental health of immigrants. What corporations can do is educate their HR and managers – helping them think of different options to let go of a low performing employee – like an honest conversation or a PIP (performance improvement plan) which is a much softer way of letting someone go.

Corporates need to consider new policies and discussions for the mental health of immigrants. CEOs and founders of so many top companies are immigrants – there is so much for a company to gain from immigrants.

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Hi, I’m Nupur and I work with Immigrants/Non-Resident Indian’s to help them make decisions on where to live. Check me out at www.nupurdave.in or on Linkedin