Stress management in Indian Army

Dr. Sakshi Sharma
Stress may occur in many forms such as psychological, emotional, physical, social, occupational or job-related. Occupational stress is a condition arising from job-related factors or combination of factors obstructing the worker and impinging on his or her physical and psychological health; and simultaneously leading to various organisational consequences such as sickness-related absence, high employee turnover, high stress-related health care costs, loss of productivity, etc. Therefore, stressful situations in the workplace create occupational stress which leads to negative and harmful effects on both employers and employees, which is exactly the situation in the army these days as occupational stress is propelling its soldiers toward deadly steps and simultaneously tarnishing the image of the Indian army.
The suicidal figures of the previous years reveal alarming stress among the Indian soldiers forcing them to take such deadly decisions. As per the suicidal figures reported for the previous year (approximately 65 as reported by Daily Excelsior dated Feb 28, 2014), a slight relief was expected by the Indian army but the most recent episodes of fratricidal killing on Feb 27, 2014 where an army soldier indiscriminately killed five of his colleagues; and the case of a JCO committing suicide on Feb 28, 2014 convey that the problem is still severe and needs to be handled appropriately and urgently.
It was in this context that a recent empirical study entitled “Management of Occupational Stress among Army Personnel” was conducted on 415 soldiers including JCOs, NCOs, Naiks and sepoys of the Northern Command of the Indian army deployed in the state of Jammu & Kashmir with an objective to explore the occupational stressors and its consequences among army soldiers. The sample consisted of two army units each from the three major arms of the Indian Army, i.e., Combat arms (Infantry and Armoured), Combat-support arms (Engineering and Artillery) and Services (Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and Army Service Corps). It is probably the first empirical study based on active-duty soldiers of the Indian army apart from those available to the defence institutions.
The study identified ‘lack of control at work’ as the strongest stressor, followed by ‘role conflict’, ‘inadequate awareness about profession’, ‘workload and job pressure’, ‘indifferent organisational attitude’, ‘unsupportive colleagues’, ‘inadequate training’, ‘role ambiguity’ and ‘ineffective leadership style’. Also, ‘lack of operational freedom’ and ‘workload’ contributed the most towards occupational stress; ‘combat stressors’ were the strongest army-specific stressor influencing army occupational stress; and home stress generated average/normal influence on occupational stress. Further, occupational stress was found to have a significant positive relationship with the mental ill-health, job burnout and cognitive intentions among the soldiers. Furthermore, the organisational coping strategies presently adopted by the army had significant but very weak contribution in reducing occupational stress among the Indian soldiers.
Keeping in view the results of the study along with the fact that India has not indulged in any war activity for more than one decade (although accomplished a lot of counter-insurgency operations) and a range of suicidal attempts in the peace and field areas, the study indicate that the chronic occupational stressors faced by the Indian soldiers due to routine military work environment are beyond their control and have a significant negative impact on the mental health of the army personnel. The study also framed certain recommendations to manage stress in the army in order to enhance the welfare of the soldiers in particular and the country in general. The recommendations are discussed hereafter.
The news of clashes between the officers and jawans and dismissal of jawans due to these clashes is not new to the Indian army or public. Leaders with poor management and interpersonal skills lead to work stress and lower perceptions/ratings about the supervisors and commanders among the soldiers. Also, the young generation (generation Y) is more straightforward, independent, and resent being controlled, pressurised or bullied which adds to their strained relationships. Since, soldiers’ perceptions regarding supportive behaviour of their officers and non-commissioned officers moderate the relationship between interpersonal conflict in the unit and their commitment level towards the armed profession, the officers (leaders) in the army should be trained to acquire skills to build harmonious superior-subordinate relationships; good communication skill to pull the unit members together to accomplish objectives; instil confidence among soldiers that their problems would be solved and would not have any adverse consequence on them; and create a supportive atmosphere while working and encouraging an output-oriented behaviour. Further, since army is considered as a 24-hours job and soldiers have to work for long/continuous working hours including night shifts which often results in lack of adequate rest and sleep deprivation, the immediate seniors/officers should fix working hours of their juniors keeping in view their rest breaks so that their psychological and physical health does not suffer.
Furthermore, the interaction with the jawans during the survey for the study reflected that harassment by the seniors was a prime source of stress for almost all the soldiers. More specifically, soldiers’ major cause of concern was that the tasks performed by them (especially in peace areas) are either low status tasks, i.e., below the dignity of a soldier or the personal work of their seniors. This generated stress among them because they can not refuse the orders and instructions of their seniors and if they don’t abide to those instructions, they are harassed by their seniors. Commanding Officers should identify such situations in their units and try to eliminate or reduce these controllable stressors.
Further, some flexibility should be provided in the strict communication channel being followed by soldiers, so as to facilitate the reduction of gap between officers and soldiers. Furthermore, a specific code of ethics should be framed relating to the dignity issues of all ranks, where soldiers are empowered to complain about their senior’s misbehaviour and any complaint of deterrence to the code should be subjected to fine and punishments. This implication needs to be sincerely implemented to eradicate bullying and harassment in the army. In addition, a strict rule should be followed in the Indian army to restrict the activities such as being appointed as helper to the officer, assigning personal work of seniors, sweeping, toilet cleaning, etc. Any deviation in this rule should be subjected to strict punishment.
Additionally, soldiers face isolation and emotional disturbance due to family separation and operational deployments and do not get time to discuss their problems with their peers in order to timely cope up with military/personal problems which leads to suicidal and fratricidal killings. Therefore, army should provide training to all jawans, irrespective of their ranks to identify psychological illness factors, like behavioural changes, poor work performance, changes in dietary patterns, substance abuse, social isolation, etc. Soldiers should be persuaded not only to recognize stress factors among themselves, but their fellow soldiers too. A combined attempt of all the soldiers in this regard would build an environment of trust and support in the army and dissuade turning of small problems into big crises.
In the present scenario of stress-related deaths, efforts should be made on part of the Indian army to build resilient armed force. Resilient people understand and manage the negative situations effectively and deal with them with a positive and realistic attitude by focussing more on their strengths rather than their weaknesses .To facilitate this, Sahaja Yoga meditation should be made a routine mental exercise in every army unit to be practiced twice a day for 10-15 minutes before physical exercises. Sahaja Yoga meditation is the most beneficial stress coping strategy for the soldiers since it helps in purifying the subtle system by cleansing energy centres, thereby gradually removing the blockages of these centres and putting a stoppage on further decline of physical, mental and emotional well-being. During the survey, this technique was practiced by many soldiers, which substantially affected their psychological state, especially gaining a relaxing state through meditation. Since, suicides and fratricides are a consequence of imbalanced and depressive mind, a regular mental exercise like Sahaja Yoga meditation would help in restoring the positivity in the minds of the soldiers, especially when the situations are out of their control.
To conclude, the exposure of soldiers to military stressors or demands creates a damaging effect on soldiers’ physical and mental health, motivation, job satisfaction and performance levels. Moreover, stress deteriorates the mental alertness and performance level of the soldiers on duty which can lead to devastating effects on the soldiers’ life as well as the security of the country. Conversely, high levels of organisational and superior supports can result in improved health and life satisfaction among the soldiers. Thus, keeping in view the verity that only a healthy armed force can increase and maintain the capacity of the army to guard the nation’s interest, the prime focus of the government as well as the defence authorities should be on improving the organisational culture within the army aiming at harmonious officer-jawan relationship by refining leadership behaviour in the army and simultaneously increasing their sensitivity toward the needs of the soldiers.
(The author is PhD Scholar Department of Commerce University of Jammu)

Table: Suicidal statistics of Indian Army from 2006-12
Year            Suicides
2006           120
2007           118
2008          124
2009          89
2010         115
2011        102
2012        93
Source: Indian Military News


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