Amex HR head: Managing mental health in cross-cultural teams

Things can get tricky in highly diverse regions like Asia

Amex HR head: Managing mental health in cross-cultural teams

Almost two in five employees (37%) in Singapore have experienced burnout amidst the pandemic. What’s worse, the city-state boasted the highest rate of burnout cases across the Asia Pacific region.

On average, the region had 29% of frontline and remote workers citing increased feelings of burnout over the last six months, according to Microsoft’s new study.

Microsoft’s research also showed how professionals in the region have been experiencing burnout differently.

However, four reasons were often globally cited as the top mental health triggers this year:

  • Fear of contracting COVID-19
  • A lack of separation between work and personal life
  • Feeling disconnected from co-workers
  • Unmanageable workload or work hours

Read more: Burnout: Employees say HR ‘not doing enough’ to help

No more boundaries
Remote workers cited the lack of boundaries and increasing disconnect as their top stressors.

A deep dive into the different factors exacerbating work stress showed that most workers in Australia and Singapore blamed it on the lack of separation between work and life. An increased sense of isolation was the second most cited stressor.

In India and Japan, on the other hand, workers were most triggered by the inability to socially distance. They were also worried about contracting COVID-19 while on the job.

The lack of boundaries continues to negatively impact well-being till today. The study found that six months after the first work-from-home order, professionals are:

  • Having ‘significantly more’ meetings
  • Taking more ad-hoc calls
  • Managing more incoming messages

Chats after-hours, or chats between 5pm and midnight have also increased as professionals adjusted to remote work.

Read more: Mental health: How to lead by example

How can you help?
With remote work becoming a norm, what can you do to help staff manage their stress?

Suki Tiwana, head of colleague & labour relations, Asia Pacific at American Express said that it’s crucial to normalise conversations around mental health.

She shared that her team managed to pilot a Mental Health First Aid training programme in Australia.

“We got all of our leaders on a voluntary basis to do a mental wellness kind of triage,” Tiwana said. “I think they were really well received.

“A lot of it was around giving people the confidence just to start the conversation, but also giving them the permission to not just solve it, but to get the right support.”

However, she acknowledged that it can get tricky when you’re dealing with teams spread across locations and cultures, as people approach mental wellness differently across the region.

For instance, in the Philippines, her team realised that it’s a culture where social support networks are “really strong” and important.

“Because of that, people don’t feel as comfortable talking to the ‘normal resources’,” she said, referring to the individual’s social support network.

“They don’t want to create more anxiety amongst family or friends. So, I think things like the query assistance programme [will be helpful].”

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