Dear SG Employers, Please Do More for Mental Health

Image credit: iStockphoto/Doucefleur

One significant trend emerging out of the pandemic is mental health. With employees isolated, unsure, and struggling to cope with an uncertain marketplace, mental health takes a hit.

It is not just about mental grit. I have personally seen mentally-strong people break down as their family members succumb to the ravages of COVID-19 or get stressed in lockdown mode.

Clearly, mental health is no longer a nice-to-have benefit; it’s crucial for employee well-being, on par with physical health. And many employers now have clear evidence that proper mental health support can motivate employees to perform.

The situation in Singapore is far worse. A recent Mercer Marsh Benefits' Health on Demand Survey noted that 55% of Singapore employees face everyday stress, higher than the global average (50%) and Asian average (51%).

The social stigma of seeking therapy is also getting in the way. Only 10% of Singapore employees said they were comfortable discussing mental health challenges with family, friends, and healthcare professionals. This is lower than the Asian average of 19%, where social stigma continues to be a major roadblock for those seeking mental health help.

“Having gone through such a disruptive year, it is clear that employees in Singapore are now looking for more from their employers,” says Krystal Tang, Mercer’s wellness leader for Singapore.

Inappropriate help

The problem is that those brave enough to seek mental help are finding it difficult to get support from their Singapore employers.

Less than half (44%) had access to mental health counseling services, compared to 52% globally and 54% in Asia. A similar number of respondents (42%) feel that quality mental healthcare, including counseling, therapy, or medication, was difficult to find and access.

It shows that Singapore employers are not doing enough despite figures showing that proper support is directly linked with employee loyalty. More than half (51%) of employees who had good support felt that their employers cared for their health and well-being and were less likely to leave their job. 

“Employees have had to deal with the impact of the pandemic on top of many other responsibilities, including caregiving. Unsurprisingly, this has taken a toll on their mental health. Our survey shows that by being able to provide mental health benefits to our employees, at least a third of them are less likely to leave the company. Employers need to start thinking differently and understand the urgency of providing mental health benefits and resources to improve the collective well-being and loyalty of their workforce,” said Tang.

In Singapore, the problem with mental health is that many employers were never really focused on it — at least not before the pandemic. And mental health is only one area of the many areas where Singapore employers are faltering.  

The Survey noted that most employees continue to have access to the usual benefits such as medical coverage and dental care, but 67% do not have access to lifestyle modification support, such as for pregnant mothers or those battling chronic health issues, the highest in Asia. More than half also lack access to mental health counseling services (56%) and vision care benefits (57%).

“Oftentimes, we say that less is more, but the opposite holds true when it comes to our workforce,” said Neil Narale, Mercer Marsh benefits leader in Singapore. “The greater the choices and variety in the benefits employers provide, the more we can provide for the needs of every individual in the organization.” 

Missed opportunities

One way Singapore employers can ramp up support is to take advantage of medical and healthcare services moving online.

Employees actually favor such services. Compared to last year’s survey,  more employees now see digital health innovations as valuable to them and their families. Nine in 10 employees want to use apps and devices to take more personal control of their health. Similarly, 93% of workers value apps that alert them when they’ve been exposed to COVID-19.

“Employees are counting on their employers to take care of their well-being. Based on our survey, nearly half of employees (48%) are looking to their employers to deliver personal, quality, and accessible health solutions,” said Narale.  

Unfortunately, many employers are not taking advantage of these trends. Only one in 10 said their employer provided them with virtual healthcare benefits during the pandemic. Close to half (43%) of Singapore employees reported that they have never used telemedicine or other digital health solutions, even during the pandemic. This was 21% higher than Asia and 16% higher than the global average. 

The gap in offering the right mix of solutions also shows that current benefits programs are not correctly aligned with employee needs or may be outdated.

“Our study has also clearly highlighted that through the realignment of benefits programs, we are able to provide the necessary support to the workforce and fill in the gaps to deliver results. This has been an incredibly challenging year. Now more than ever, being able to support our employees through these crucial moments will significantly boost employee morale, resilience, and confidence in the long run,” Narale added.

Winston Thomas is the editor-in-chief of CDOTrends, DigitalWorkforceTrends and DataOpsTrends. He chronicles the trends that are reshaping work and the digital workforce. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/Doucefleur