Is HR taking mental health 'seriously' in Singapore?

Everyone claims to be talking about it at work, yet staff remain unsupported

Is HR taking mental health 'seriously' in Singapore?

A mental health crisis is upon us, yet staff claim that HR has been failing to tackle the issue. A new study in Singapore found that more than half (54%) of employees were not really satisfied or not satisfied at all with their company’s current mental wellness initiatives.

Employees revealed that issues related to mental wellness were not discussed regularly at work (58%). Additionally, they feel like mental health issues were not well understood by HR or managers (46%), or outright neglected as they’re not taken seriously at all (44%).

The findings were alarming as NTUC LearningHub (NTUC LHUB) found that more than three in five employees (64%) have been experiencing ‘fair’, ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ mental wellness at work for the last 12 months. What’s more, over four in five employees claimed that their mental well-being has either remained consistent or worsened since the start of COVID-19.

Nearly half reported feeling constantly stressed due to poor work-life balance (52%) or feeling undervalued (51%). When asked further, they listed the following as top reasons for the dwindling health:

  • A heavier workload (64%)
  • Decreased job security (54%)
  • Lack of separation between work and personal life (52%)

Employees shared that their poor health has gravely affected their performance at work. Over the past year, they’ve noticed a lack of motivation to do tasks well (69%), decreased productivity (68%) and poor decision-making abilities (60%).

Read more: There's a mental health pandemic coming – here's how to prepare

Persistent stigma inhibiting mental health discussions

Despite employees’ growing understanding and awareness about their mental well-being over the past two years, one thing seems to have remained the same in Singaporean workplaces. Majority of employees (79%) still feel the heavy burden of mental health stigma at work. Hence, despite their struggles, three in five employees remained uncomfortable discussing their issues, with another 60% fearing that they’ll be judged or ‘perceived differently’ if they spoke up.

How they’ve coped through the crisis is by throwing themselves into work whether they’re on or off the clock. Presenteeism has become a crutch for some, with about two in five (40%) saying they’ve come into work despite feeling unwell to manage their overflowing workload and deadlines. A more worrying trend is employees neglecting rest time and taking leave days to catch up on work (58%).

Read more: Can HR policies end mental health bias at work?

Mental health support: Whose responsibility is it?

To overturn the unhealthy culture, employees believe leaders should invest in building trust and open communication (60%) throughout the organisation. While mental well-being isn’t HR’s sole responsibility, some HR leaders understand how a failure in offering the right support or initiatives may unfairly fall on their shoulders. What HR leaders can do is to rally the team and work on enabling the company’s managers and top rank to be better advocates. “HR leaders are also people and we have the same challenges [as employees], so firstly we have to really make sure we overcome our own challenges,” said Pi Ken Wong, chief HR and communications officer at Allianz Asia Pacific.

Wong added that leaders should also remember to take care of their team members in times of crisis. Only then can the team stay aligned and motivated to trudge on. “People look up to HR and they see HR as the ones who are ‘supposed to know it’ – as though we don’t have emotions,” Wong said. “I think as HR leaders, we need to make sure our own HR team is treated a little bit separately and make sure they are okay as well.”

Read more: Are employee assistance programs really effective?

Train managers to handle mental well-being

Following that, another HR head believes that HR should train company leaders on how to communicate better. “Where HR has to tweak [strategies] is figure out how to create the team environment [remotely]? How do you create the same level of engagement? How do you check in?” said Tamara Hassan, HR director for Asia at Mars.

The company launched a campaign to tackle those questions and simultaneously train managers to be more effective at engaging their teams remotely. “It’s a small campaign where we give tips to line managers to check in with associates remotely and make sure that they’re doing okay,” Hassan said. “We know all the statistics show a spike in mental health challenges, so what we’re doing is not changing our processes per se, but we are just providing line managers the tools to equip them better and know how to have conversations around well-being around mental health.”

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