The topic of mental health in Singapore came into the spotlight during the pandemic when many workers reported burnout. But as the country returns to normalcy, with many people returning to the office, Singaporean workers still feel burnt out.
According to Mercer’s 2022 Global Talent Trends Study, one in five Singaporean feels de-energised at work. That is twice as high as the Asia average and six per cent higher than the global average. In addition, 85 per cent of Singapore-based employees admitted that they feel at risk of burnout this year.
According to consumer research firm Milieu Insight and mental health care company Intellect, Singapore’s workforce also has the poorest mental health in Southeast Asia.
Only 57 per cent of employees in Singapore rated their mental health to be ‘good’ or better, which is lower than Indonesia’s 68 per cent and the Philippines’ 78 per cent.
Although mental conditions primarily affect people individually, they also affect employers and businesses.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 12 billion working days are lost annually due to depression and anxiety. It also costs the global economy an estimated US$1 trillion yearly in lost productivity.
The Right to Disconnect
Labour MP Melvin Yong in 2020 mooted in Parliament a “right to disconnect” law to help employees have protected time to rest. He cited France for having successfully implemented such legislation.
After all, Singapore is the most overworked country in the Asia Pacific region, according to a study by workspace innovation company The Instant Group. The study found that Singapore has the longest working hours per week at 45, followed by China at 42.
Mr Yong also cited a 2014 study by Stanford University in the United States. The study found that working beyond 55 hours a week caused a sharp decline in productivity per hour and led to more workplace accidents and injuries.
In response, Senior Minister of State (MOS) for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said that such laws might not be feasible because many workers in Singapore work for multinational companies. However, he added that some people also like managing their own schedules flexibly.
Mr Zaqy said that the Government would observe how the “right to disconnect” laws are working out in the countries that have implemented them.
Four-Day Work Week
The leading man for all things Workplace Safety and Health (WSH), Mr Melvin Yong, was at it again recently.
He asked the Manpower Ministry in Parliament whether third parties have conducted studies to examine the feasibility of a four-day work week in Singapore.
The four-day work week has also gained traction as several countries, including Ireland, Japan, and Spain, have piloted the scheme. For example, in Belgium, employees have the right to request a four-day work week, albeit with extended daily work hours, so that the total weekly number of hours worked remains the same.
Mr Yong also said that a four-day work week could facilitate training and upskilling and improve employees’ work-life balance.
In response, MOS for Manpower Gan Siow Huang said that reports of four-day work week pilots implemented in other countries appeared mixed. She added: “Some key concerns stakeholders have include the impact on productivity, business costs, and employee well-being.”
But she said employers and workers should adopt a “flexible mindset” on a four-day work week.
She said: “A four-day work week is one of many types of flexible work arrangements, and the ministry, together with our tripartite partners, strongly encourages employers and employees to be open to flexible work arrangements in all their various forms to identify and adopt those that best suit their unique business needs and their workers’ needs.”
On the Right Track
There have been various calls and suggestions on how to address the mental health issues Singaporean workers are facing.
At the same time, the tripartite partners are also working to improve the situation. They issued the Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-being at Workplaces in 2020, providing guidance and resources on mental wellness for Singapore’s workforce.
Last year, the WSH Council expanded the Code of Practice on WSH Risk Management to cover mental well-being.
The expansion included examples of how employers can identify, evaluate and manage risks related to mental health at the workplace.
Employers are also beginning to recognise the importance of mental well-being at work.
A recent local study by computer technology corporation Oracle showed that 77 per cent of respondents felt that their companies were more concerned about their mental well-being than before the pandemic.
According to a whitepaper by Cigna, Mercer and WorkWell Leaders Workgroup, eight in 10 businesses are willing to invest more in mental health coverage through co-funding schemes.
But the same study also noted that “mental health benefits continue to be the exception rather than the norm.” Only about 47 per cent of Singapore employers provide mental health benefits, compared to over 80 per cent in the US.
Yishun Health is an example of how companies can do their part to improve their employees’ mental wellness.
The company has implemented mental wellness support and other initiatives to boost overall well-being, such as regular town halls, wellness passes to give staff time off to recharge, and activities such as mindfulness workshops and exercise classes.
Another company is synthetic rubber producer ARLANXEO.
The company has various measures to support its employees, such as training mental wellness champions to support colleagues in distress and paying for mental well-being counselling as part of their benefits package.
Dr Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of WHO, said in 1954: “Without mental health, there can be no true physical health.”
It has taken us half a century and a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic to get here. Still, we are on the right track to giving more awareness to mental well-being. But awareness is not good enough if action is not taken.
Singapore’s only resource is its people. If they are not productive, Singapore will lose its competitive edge.
While workers can do their part to stay healthy and remain productive, employers can also do their part to care for their employees’ well-being – both mental and physical.