Stories of Good

Creating a Healthy Workplace: Promoting Employee Mental Health in Singapore

Mental health has taken a hit for many in Singapore, especially during the pandemic—and the workplace has a key role to play in this collective state. We are reported to be the second most overworked city in the world, a metropolis known for its academic and economic competitiveness. The numbers are telling: 92% of employed residents in Singapore are stressed, a notch above the global average of 84%.

girl looking out window
Mental health issues have been on the rise in Singapore. Photo: Anthony Tran on Unsplash

What is Mental Health? (And Why Should We Care?)

Perhaps it’s the sheer amount of time we spend at work, but a toxic work environment can be incredibly corrosive to our mental health, impacting our ability to cope with life stress and contribute productively to our communities.

The triggers are numerous: from the type of work we do and our overall workload, to the contextual factors like institutional systems and culture, any combination of these stressors can send our minds on a downward spiral. And it’s not like Covid-19 has helped either; the pandemic has only brought about more uncertainty and drastic changes to one’s work-life balance.

As an employer, this spells bad news for your business. An unhappy employee is not only less able to prevent their personal problems from affecting their work ability, but studies have also shown that poor mental health can hinder our work engagement, reducing effective communication with coworkers and diminishing productivity.

What this translates to is a less pleasant and productive company for all involved. We can look to the statistics for evidence again: 31% of US employers cited workforce mental health as having a crippling financial impact on the company, up from just 20% in March 2020 before Covid-19.

On the flip side, research has proven that firms that prioritise the mental health of their employees stand to profit. People want to work for a company that cares about their wellbeing, and you’ll be able to draw significant talent to your firm.

These employees work with the knowledge that they’ll be well taken care of, leading to enhanced job satisfaction and morale. This motivation in turn gives rise to higher productivity and therefore revenue generation. Employees are less likely to experience conflict or leave the job, further reducing recruitment costs to your business. In other words, everyone benefits, and focusing on mental health is simply the savvy business thing to do.

How Can Employers Create a Healthy Workplace?

Thankfully, creating a mentally-healthy workplace is more straightforward than we think. In recent years, with the increased attention devoted to mental wellness in Singaporean society, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has pushed out a Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-Being at Workplaces, offering a systematic guide to prioritising mental wellness at individual, department and organisational levels.

We’ve also put together a list of suggestions to help your business promote mental well-being in the workplace. You’ll be able to approach shifting your company’s policies in a step-by-step manner, aiding your transition towards a healthier workplace!

1. Open up about mental health issues.

Acknowledging and affirming the prevalence of mental health issues is crucial if we want to dissolve the stigma surrounding mental illness, especially in the workplace. By opening the conversation around mental health, we create a safe, trusting work environment where employees aren’t afraid to communicate about the challenges they face in their work and personal life.

Still, opening up isn’t easy, and your company can take tangible steps to make it a little easier. Supervisors can schedule regular check-ins with employees to assess mental states and help employees optimise their workload. Beyond that, team sharing on personal experiences about mental well-being or overcoming personal struggles can inspire and help to eradicate stigmas.

We can also implement policies to strengthen the workplace social support system. Let’s go back to basics with the formation of “buddy systems”, where team members look out for each other as the first level of support.

These informal support networks can help employees feel less alone, with peers to journey with them through less-than-ideal work situations. Your business can intentionally set aside times and resources for these relationships to develop through bonding activities as well.

All these serve to create an environment where it’s completely okay to talk about our emotional and mental health—only with this level of comfort and openness can we begin to tackle more systemic issues and make a healthy workplace a reality.

In fact, we’re already halfway there: the workplace is an optimal setting to create a culture of mental wellness. Communication structures are already in place, and employers can offer incentives to reinforce and encourage healthy behaviours. With a little extra effort, it’ll be a smooth path ahead to a happier workplace!

colleagues in discussion at the workplace
We want to create a collaborative, open environment in the workplace. Photo: Leon on Unsplash

2. Equip employees with the tools to keep themselves and others mentally healthy.

Your employees are the foundation of your company, and it’s crucial that they can actively engage with their mental health. You can raise awareness on mental well-being and mental health conditions through talks and workshops. For example, a talk on stress management can teach employees to be more in tune with their stress levels, and help them find useful methods of coping if work begins to take a toll.

The onus isn’t just on employees to reflect on themselves. Companies can also train managers to spot signs of mental distress, so as to better support those directly under them. These managers can also review confidentially with employees to see how work can be specifically tailored to each individual’s mental health needs. Employees can be given opportunities to make decisions about job stressors that directly affect their mental well-being.

What else? According to a McKinsey report, 91% of employees believe that employers should care about their emotional health, with 85% saying that behavioural health benefits were important when evaluating a new job. Companies need to signal to their employees that they want to support them in overcoming mental health challenges.

This can be done by providing access to counselling services, either directly or through including it under the medical benefits for employees. These mental health assessment channels give employees the means to better understand and process their emotions, while such services afford privacy that may encourage employees to open up.

Finally, you can set aside a dedicated, quiet space in the office for relaxation activities. Taking breaks while working is important, and now employees can have a place to temporarily step away from work and reduce stress. With these evidenced-based measures in place, they can self-regulate their thoughts and emotions, a step closer to being more in tune with their mental health.

two people having a conversation over a video call
Confidential counselling services are a great way to ensure that employees have an outlet to vent to. Photo: Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

3. Commit to workplace mental health on a systemic level.

To truly create a workplace where mental health is emphasised, your company must value mental well-being as a core asset of your organisation. What this means is reviewing the way you do business, to ensure that the everyday working culture is as mentally healthy as possible.

And if you want to make real change in your business, there is no better way to gather feedback than to hear it from your employees themselves. Regular staff surveys can build data about staff mental health, informing changes to workplace policies in alignment to employees’ interests. For example, employers can establish a confidential internal channel to report feedback regarding practices that erode mental well-being.

These policy changes can cover a broad scope as well. Some may have the objective of ensuring that hiring practices, workplace practices and performance management systems are non-discriminatory against those with mental health issues, while others can help to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

You can implement flexible work arrangements to help employees meet both work and personal demands, or establish return-to-work policies to support employees who are recovering from mental health conditions. This last point is especially crucial; 7 in 10 persons with mental health conditions agree that negative attitudes of co-workers are major barriers to employment.

Statistic on employment of persons with mental health conditions: 7 in 10 persons with mental health conditions agree that the negative attitudes of co-workers are major barriers to employment.
Photo: NVPC

Essentially, the key to building a healthy workplace lies in creating programmes and policies that prioritise people over productivity. With a flourishing workplace culture that values mental wellness, the returns to your business will be numerous. Mental health programmes offer tangible benefits to your organisation by benefiting each employee, who in turn will work to make your business thrive.


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