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Employers increase focus on well-being in workplaces, amid rising mental health challenges: Experts

SINGAPORE: Whether it is out of genuine concern or simply with a corporate bottom line in mind, employers are increasingly mindful of the mental health of their staff nowadays, said one expert.

This shift comes amid a surge in mental health challenges in the region, Mr Alistair Carmichael, Expert Associate Partner of the People and Organizational Performance Practice at consultancy McKinsey & Company, told CNA’s Asia Now on Tuesday (Oct 10).

World Mental Health Day falls on Oct 10 annually, to raise awareness for mental health issues and mobilise efforts in support of mental health.

“What we see in the research that we’ve done this year in 2023 across 32 countries, is that we are continuing to see some big challenges in our region,” he said.

He said that, for instance, 29 per cent of employees in Singapore report signs and symptoms of burnout, a figure which is above the global average. In Indonesia, the figure is lower at 19 per cent, but “it’s still one in five people”, noted Mr Carmichael.

“What it tells us is that for every workplace, for every one of our leaders, there is a challenge that we still need to meet,” he said.

Mr Carmichael added that a country’s culture, history as well as expectations and attitudes towards mental health can have an impact too, and that no country is free from such challenges.

CORPORATE WILL AND CULTURE

“The conversation is different today than it was five years ago, and COVID accelerated that. It normalised a lot of the conversation,” said Mr Carmichael, who has been in the sector for about nine years.

Dr Low Kiang Wei, medical director of consulting and medical services at International SOS, said more companies, especially the larger ones, are prioritising the mental health of employees.

This can be seen in the increased efforts to improve access to mental health services, along with things like peer support programmes and mental health crisis simulations, he told CNA’s Singapore Tonight on Tuesday.

“If you look at the industry itself (and) the number of new companies servicing this sector, you can see … that there are tremendous resources being put in this area by the corporates, by the government and the supporting agencies as well,” he said.

Mr Carmichael noted that there is “still a long way to go” and each employer’s motivation to tackle the issue could be different. “For some it is genuine care and for some it is the bottom line,” he said.

BUSINESS COSTS

“At the heart of it, it is actually good business to get this right. The potential return for any employer in doing this is double digit in terms of productivity benefits,” said Mr Carmichael.

Dr Low said more companies are viewing investment in mental health and resilience, as an investment in business performance too, in terms of productivity and staff turnover.

Data has shown that the productivity of an individual with poor mental health, such as depression, generally declines by 30 to 40 per cent, he said.

“What I think that we can all do, and I think this starts with leaders, is to look for how we can boost our resilience in the face of change. And that is about building our capability (and) our capacity, and making sure that we’re looking after ourselves and we’re giving our employees the chance to have the space to do it, so they can live a more balanced life,” said Mr Carmichael.

He also highlighted the potential of tech and virtual solutions in helping to address the problem.

WHAT LEADERS CAN DO

Leaders should invest in their own education about mental health, said Mr Carmichael, adding that it is something he emphasises to CEOs and senior leaders of companies all the time.

“There’s lots of information out there to make sure that they build their understanding,” he said.

They can also boost their teams’ capabilities in spotting the signs when someone is facing mental health challenges, and to initiate a conversation, he added.

“That’s not making every employee a counsellor or a therapist, not at all,” noted Mr Carmichael.

Dr Low said employees should be taught to recognise the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are common psychological issues faced.

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