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Kirsty Hulston, Regional Director at Hays Singapore

The last two years have been a continuous test of resilience for both employers and employees in Singapore. Not only did we have to adapt our lifestyles to various pandemic-related anxieties, we’ve also had to deal with the uncertainties of repetitive lockdowns and make the most of working from home while avoiding the inevitable bleeding of work and home life.
In fact, 13 per cent of 1000 participants reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic, an increase over pre-pandemic numbers, found a recent study by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH). What’s more, of the top three sources of stress identified by participants, two of them were workplace related – financial loss due to lost work opportunities, and unemployment.
Considering that the average working professional spends nearly a third of their lives at work, it’s natural that the workplace and its challenges become major stressors for people. Despite this, employees have reflected a mismatch between the level of support they need and what is offered by their employers. In a study by NTUC Learning Hub, 54 per cent of employees in Singapore surveyed reported dissatisfaction with their company’s mental wellness initiatives, while 58 per cent said that mental wellness was not discussed regularly at work.

The importance of mental wellness in the workplace

Employers have an important role to play in maintaining a healthy and safe workplace, both physically and mentally, for their employees. Legal and ethical obligations aside, creating an environment that supports the mental wellbeing of employees should be critical for any organisation given the significant impact this has on workplace culture and performance.
Some benefits for the business include:

1. Improved engagement and productivity

Research has shown that the more people feel their company and its leaders care about them, the more engaged, enthusiastic, and invested in their work they become. This directly impacts the bottom line, as Aon’s 2021 Global Wellbeing Survey found, as companies in the study saw a one per cent profit increase for every four per cent improvement in employee wellbeing. Engaged employees mean more productive employees who produce better quality work, leading to greater success for the organisation.

2. Less absenteeism and job abandonment

Burn out is a huge focus these days, and experts (our CEO included), have been warning of an unprecedented ‘Great Resignation’ that is predicted to happen as more people pull the trigger on leaving their jobs. The reason? Stress, depression, and anxiety exacerbated by the pandemic, plus a lack of support for people who are suffering from these issues. On the flip side, companies that have freely available support resources for mental wellness and which encourage open discussion on mental health issues will see less time lost from work and decreased absenteeism. 

3. Enhanced talent attraction and retention

Mental health should be a top priority for your talent management strategies, if it isn’t already. Many people are now reassessing what’s truly important to them, and with more people believing that employers have a responsibility to support their mental health at work, demonstrating a commitment to policies that support mental wellbeing will be crucial to attracting candidates and keeping your existing employees.

How can businesses effectively support workplace mental wellness?

With productivity (and revenue) loss, absenteeism, and high turnover being directly linked to poor mental health, companies stand to gain so much more by prioritising mental wellness and making it part of the employee experience.
Here are four tips to put this into action:

1. Promote a healthy work-life balance

Do you work to live or live to work? Not everyone would welcome work eating into evenings and weekends, the same way how a strictly 9 to 5 schedule isn’t conducive to productivity for every single person. Given this, employers should try as much as possible to provide employees freedom to balance their own work-life needs, by offering flexible or remote working options, increasing support for parents, or just giving employees paid time off for activities like volunteering.

2. Openly support employees by discussing & caring about their mental health

For far too long, mental health has been a topic that was not openly discussed for fear of the stigma attached to it. To foster a more inclusive & authentic workplace, employers need to show vocal support for employees taking care of their mental health. Some ways to do this include normalising taking mental health days the same way sick leave is used for physical illnesses, and implementing policies designed to create a safe environment for open discussions about mental health issues.

3. Invest in training for leadership

As mental health struggles become more pervasive, it would be prudent for employers to invest in workplace mental health training, especially for leaders and managers, so they build the required skills to look out for warning signs, hold productive conversations on mental health, and take action if necessary. At the same time, encourage those in leadership positions to lead by example and model for direct reports what a mindful, healthy approach to work looks like.

4. Make wellness a top priority

Even before the pandemic, businesses were beginning to recognise that employee wellness policies are not just a nice-to-have perk but an urgent business priority. More importantly, companies need to walk the talk. Hays, for example, recently shifted our benefits and wellbeing structure from a one-size-fits-all approach to one that now offers more choice and flexibility to suit the individual lifestyles of our employees.
Acknowledging the impact of extended WFH periods recently, our Singapore office organised a month of activities in October to promote mental health awareness among our employees. Designed to maximise connectivity and encourage an open dialogue about mental wellness, activities have ranged from fun light-hearted games, to having a virtual meal with an unfamiliar colleague, physical fitness, Employee Assistance Program webinars and additional leave to spend with family. Simply having a conversation with your employees and acknowledging that ‘It’s OK, not to be OK’, helps people feel seen especially when this message is coming from senior management.
The pandemic has been an extremely challenging period for everyone, for various reasons. The silver lining is that it’s accelerated our transition to the next era of work. To ensure your business thrives in this transitory period, it is critical to be mindful of and make mental health and wellbeing of your people a priority.

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Kirsty is the Regional Director of Hays Singapore. The business operates across 13 sectors specialising in both permanent & flexible staffing solutions. As the Country Manager, Kirsty is responsible for the strategic direction of the region focusing on delivering an excellent service to our customers and the development of our people. We are in an exciting new phase of growth and actively expanding our footprint across both the SME & MNC markets.

Connect with Kirsty today on LinkedIn



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