Health of Officers and Stress Management is an Organisational Responsibility

"The most common cause of stress these days is dealing with self-centered and/or corrupt seniors who misuse their command for personal gains."

Health of Officers and Stress Management is an Organisational Responsibility

The Definition of a Good and Successful Officer

“There are two types of officers in the Armed forces; a good officer and a successful officer. A good officer is competent, steady, loves his men, merges his identity with the unit and is a source of strength to his subordinates, colleagues and superiors. On the other end of the scale is a successful officer. He is keen, intelligent, industrious, ambitious, competent but self-centered and a self-promotee. To him, his men and unit are tools for his professional progress. If in the bargain his men and unit benefit, it is incidental.” - Lt Gen Sardesh Pandey -

Most common cause of stress these days is dealing with self-centered and/or corrupt seniors who misuse their command for personal gains. Professional superiors with high ethical and moral values can be hard task masters who do not cause unreasonable stress and keep their command contented, healthy and happy. Stress is one of the top causes of heart attacks and working with difficult or unreasonable people is one of the deadliest forms of stress. This research finding is very much relevant to the disciplined military environment particularly when your immediate superior officers or seniors in the chain of command fall in the above category or description.

Military officers are used to unquestioningly obeying orders and instructions from their superiors. Hence, very few have the moral courage to oppose or challenge wrong, illegal or stupid orders. This invariably leads to frustration or disgruntlement causing severe stress to the concerned officers who prefer to remain silent and cope with their adverse/stressful situation due to their own career interest and survival in the organization.


The recent spate of deaths and serious medical ailments in officers is not only shocking but alarming. Each such unfortunate incident has been most disturbing and demoralizing for not only the serving fraternity, but the Veterans too. Whenever such unfortunate deaths have taken place, other than paying rich tribute to the departed soul and offering moral support to the bereaved family nothing serious seems to have been done to analyze the actual/true causes for these unfortunate deaths with a holistic approach to all intricate issues related to officers’ health, diet, routine, lifestyle, fitness regime including physical and recreational training activities.

Health of officers and stress management are command and organizational responsibilities that cannot be wished away or palmed off to individual officers by commanders at all levels. There is now an imperative need to get to the root causes of the malady that have plagued the system. The tendency of some senior officers in the establishment to blame the entire officer community by calling them ‘unfit’ and thereby passing the buck on to the officers themselves is not at all a mature and pragmatic approach.

Commanders at all level cannot absolve themselves of their primary responsibility towards all officers under their command by merely issuing/circulating advisory letters related to ‘stress management’, ‘fitness’, ‘health’ and ‘welfare’ and obtaining their signatures. There is a need to identify and resolve the issues/impediments confronting the officers that prevent them from leading a healthy, happy and stress-free life.

There is a need to realize the harm being caused by unnecessary/unproductive late hours in office which prevent him from taking timely meals, rest and participation in regular physical, recreational and social activities. The physical fitness tests for officers in the form of BPET and PPT schedule is laid down keeping in mind the age profile of the officers. Before conducting these tests, the concerned officers must be given adequate time, opportunity and facilities to prepare.

Great care must be taken particularly for the endurance runs of 5km and 2.4 km tests, more so for higher age group officers when they have been leading sedentary lifestyles due to nature of job /appointment. Every individual case must be considered/weighed differently, and medical advice followed religiously where required. Unnecessary pride and ego of the officer or his superior   must not become a cause for anybody to lose his life. Three great principles of PT must always be remembered – 1. Harmonius Development 2. Systematic Progression & 3. Continuity.

Most deaths are taking place due to overlooking or ignoring the third great principle of ‘Continuity’ or due to negligence or overlooking medical ailment or illness due to need/pressure of being medically fit for the next promotion. There is a serious lack of awareness and knowledge of the principles of physical training/education and sports medicine and sports sciences and faulty physical training methodology imparted to the officers in military academies.

The recent joint decision of the United Commanders Conference (UCC) to “…incorporate sports medicine in physical training methodology of cadets, recruits and combatants” will surely make our PT methodology more scientific and ensure better health and fitness of all ranks, provided it is taken seriously and followed in letter and spirit. Hence, the senior military officer hierarchy/cadre must accord top priority for implementation of this recent UCC joint decision.


Lt Gen Harbhajan Singh (Retd); 1st Course JSW/NDA, ex SOC-in-C

Stress is for those who do not know their job and profession, are lazy, reactive, lack self-confidence and courage of conviction, whose priorities are topsy turvy and may be doing wrong things. A real professional will not be under undue stress.

Air Cmde Suryakant Bal (Retd), ex Flg Instr AFTT, NDA, CDM

Stress is here to stay. Stress does not kill – the individual’s dysfunctional response does. Sometimes a mild degree of stress can actually act like a catalyst. It is foolish to transfer the responsibility entirely to the organization. That is an act of cowardice and easy escape from responsibility – howsoever ‘intellectual’ it may appear in the populist media to people who do not wish to think – or are actually incapable of thinking. The individual alone is ultimately responsible.

Of course, the organization can play a positive supporting role by creating an environment of equity and justice, effective policies and procedures, thereby removing stressors that it can, but the individual is ultimately responsible. To allege that the organization does nothing at all, is not a statement of reality but simply a populist slogan. If the organization is to do all, it would reduce the individual to the status of a puppet. Of course, much more can be done. We all did that during service. This is my conviction based on own experience and that of others.

A Serving Officer (Infantry, Commando & OPTC Qualified)

Very true Sir! It is the organization’s responsibility. Measures have to be taken to cut down unnecessary work drastically. Senior commanders have to realize that filling the calendar with events one after another, just for their entertainment is only making life hectic for people under them. This tendency has to stop!

A Serving Officer (Medical Officer & Sports Medicine Qualified)

This is true! There is no letter or guidelines on ‘how to reduce stress’. Physical exercises/games are the only option available to officers for reducing stress. Morning time/periods should/must be religiously utilized for collective physical activity, either with troops or partner for exercises. PT must be made an enjoyable training activity and not viewed as a burden.

Being ‘fit’ in Annual Medical Examination (AME) or Promotion Medical Examination (PME) doesn’t not mean you are fit. Even in AME or PME, one should have sports/fitness medicine evaluation for an officer to know his actual physical fitness. Only medical fitness does not guarantee a healthy life. Physical fitness (related to the nature of your job/trade) must also complement it.

Col CM Chavan (Retd), ex-Air Defence Artillery

As a hypothesis; if an individual is NOT put under any stress and kept under ideal condition and exercise regimen, what would be his life span? No one can answer for sure. Hence body is composed of complex organs which can function differently in different bodies and genetics probably play an important function. A good officer and a successful officer act as per their own conscious and are fully aware of what they are doing; when they stretch their limits hence no one should be blamed for it.

Self-centered or corrupt senior officers who misuse their position, are the very officers who have been selected by a system and nurtured by the organization. Most of the senior officers, aim for perfection in all the activities, endured day in and day out which co-relates to something called as 'zero error syndrome'. It is this very trend which needs to be kept under check. Senior officers should get used to results which are near about perfection which do not spell doom always. This definitely will not apply to operational requirement where; the need will be that of precision and perfection.

An officer therefore should keep himself fit by participating in the daily activities with the men and play regular games and should sleep well. One should avoid smoking and should not drink heavily and not indulge in over eating. He should heed to the body signals and take proper medical treatment as and when required and should not avoid the same, because of promotional prospective. The commanders at all levels should ensure the same by keeping the routine under control and check.

Cdr Mukund Yeolekar (Retd), ex-Principal, Naval College of Engineering

Physical and mental fitness of every individual contribute directly to the overall organization’s efficiency as well as the career progress of the individual. The organization’s priority and goals will always take precedence over the individual. The organization being made up of several individuals has to harness the synergy of all members for improved performance. It is a matter of pride and the duty of every individual to keep him/herself in fit condition in order to perform to the very best of capabilities and achieve the goals and objectives of the organisation.

The organisation is responsible to create/provide an environment such as sports/gym facilities, balanced time schedule, social harmony and developing an ethos for maintaining high physical and mental fitness. Scientific methodology has to be adopted to train every individual so that benefits of latest developments are accrued. The organisation has to ensure a high morale, team spirit and professional competence among its members so that it is able to accomplish its goals. This is also achieved by exemplary leadership.

Considering unforeseen circumstances, limited resources and certain inevitable situations, the organisation is bound to stretch the physical and mental limits of its cadres so as to achieve the set targets – come what may. Therefore, ‘burning the midnight oil’ sometimes cannot be avoided. Battles have been won by transcending limits of human endurance. This can be achieved not only by a strong body but also on the body being complemented by a stronger mind. In sum, the individual and the organisation have to complement each other in keeping with physical and mental fitness.

The Last Word...

The unfortunate loss of our officers is one of the symptoms of a bigger and deeper malady that has engulfed the entire system. The ‘Victory India Campaign’ books, which aim to improve the quality of our military leadership at all levels have done complete research on all possible aspects, issues and subjects of selection, training and grooming of officers with a holistic approach.

A lot of focus has been on physical and recreational training, sports and games and health and fitness of military officers. Sports and fitness medicine has also been elaborately covered. All the causes for ‘what ails our system’ have been identified and solutions presented and well-documented on a platter. One needs to only peruse, comprehend and follow it in ‘letter and spirit’.

The Air Force and Navy have already acknowledged and endorsed the books. It is the Army that is taking time. The earlier these subjects are taken seriously, the better it will be for the military officer cadre and the Armed Forces. The UCC joint decision to incorporate sports medicine in the PT methodology of cadets, recruits and combatants is a positive development which must be transformed positively on ground at all levels with a vision and an action plan.

(Views expressed are the respondents own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India)

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