Creating a safe working environment for employees struggling with mental health issues

Singapore has seen a concerning rise in the prevalence of mental health issues, exacerbated by the stresses and uncertainties of COVID-19. In a survey conducted by TODAY Online, 7 in 10 persons in Singapore found 2021 to be the most stressful year work-wise. A total of 58 per cent are struggling with maintaining their mental health in the workplace, more so than they did in 2020.

With many Singapore employees already experiencing mental health issues prior to the pandemic, this underlines the need to address the stigma in the workplace against those who suffer from it, and to introduce mindful practices that help to protect employees that struggle with their mental health amidst worrying times. 

Barriers to Working with a Mental Health Condition

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression and anxiety (the two most common mental health issues) have a significant impact on the global economy – they are projected to amass an estimated cost of US$16 trillion by 2030. This, along with the lack of awareness and comprehension of mental health in itself, perpetuates stigma and social bias against individuals with mental health disorders. This then generates a structural bias in employment, where individuals do not have access to the same job opportunities as their counterparts. It also leads to added stress, which will only worsen should the individual face harassment in the workplace. 

To ensure that persons with mental health also have a fair chance at work, the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices was established to prevent any form of discriminatory practices within the workplace in Singapore. Employers are called to implement fair and progressive employment practices, where individuals are hired and rewarded based on their merit alone. It is important for employers to recognise that those who suffer from mental health conditions are just as capable as others, and should not be faulted for their disorders.

Businesses actually benefit from supporting individuals with mental health issues. By offering them an environment that promotes compassion and empathy, alongside providing them with much-needed support and resources, companies can benefit from increased staff morale. Employees who feel seen and heard will naturally value-add to the company by way of productivity, differing viewpoints, and more. In fact, for every US$1 put into scaled-up treatment for common mental disorders, businesses can enjoy a return of US$4 in improved overall health and productivity. As such, it is within a company’s best interest to invest in a safe working environment that promotes corporate mental health and wellness.

3 Ways Businesses Can Offer Support 

If you are looking to make an impact in your workplace, here are some ways you can offer your support to your employees struggling with mental health: 

1. Model Healthy Behaviour

No doubt, promoting a safe environment that encourages open communication and education on mental wellbeing is an excellent start, but consider taking it a step further. You can openly practise mental health care by providing mental health and stress management education and programmes that meet your employees’ needs and interests. Aside from adopting behaviours that promote mental wellness, employees may want to consider championing and participating in training on topics including financial planning and ways to manage unacceptable behaviours and attitudes in the workplace.

Backing your promise of building a safe working environment with tangible actions will assure your employees that you will be committed to helping them perform and excel in the workplace. 

2. Offer Flexibility 

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health wellness. What may work for one person may not work for another. As such, businesses can introduce flexible work policies to give your employees the chance to recalibrate and better take care of themselves. This may come in the form of flexible work arrangements, relaxing absence rules and limits for those with disability-related sickness absences, agreement to give employees short notice absences for appointments related to their mental health. Employers can also look into a flexible work structure that embraces redeployment, reallocation or redesigning one’s job responsibilities to better suit their employees’ needs.

3. Have Regular Check-Ins

For many dealing with mental health issues, talking about it openly with their superiors and peers is challenging. It is thus important for employers to build a working environment that promotes a safe space where employees can participate in an open discussion about their mental health. Not only will this help them better cope with their disorders, but it also helps to build and strengthen rapport among employees. Consider taking the first step and sharing your personal experiences, and your employers will naturally follow suit. Be sure to supplement this with regular check-ins to know how your team is doing.

By implementing approaches, you will be able to better support your employees and effectively increase your staff morale as they now know that they can trust the people around them with their struggles. By giving them respect, along with the assistance that they require, you are on your way to building an uplifting and sustainable work environment.

Take Action Today 

Mental health wellness in corporate settings has slowly become a de-stigmatised topic over the years, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Be part of a community that is working to create a change today!

The SBF Sustainable Employment (SE) initiative calls on the Singapore business community to take purposeful action to improve their SE practices in anticipation of emergent trends and future developments. The initiative was launched with a report that highlights key recommendations and potential opportunities for businesses to take on, in order to achieve long term business success and foster a vibrant economy and inclusive society.

Make the pledge to join others in this journey.