SINGAPORE — A 2022 study found Singapore to be the most overworked country in the Asia Pacific region, with the average worker working a 45-hour week, the Singapore Business Review reported in June last year.
The same study also found that this culture of overwork has left 73 percent of Singaporean employees unhappy and 62 percent feeling burned out.
A separate study jointly published in September by Aon and the health technology services company found that more than half (52 percent) of surveyed workers in Singapore felt more sensitive to stress in 2022 compared to 2021.
The survey also found that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents were concerned that their careers would be affected if their bosses found out about their mental health problems.
These findings point to a growing work-related mental health crisis plaguing the workforce, and yet stigma continues to cloud honest conversations about it.
To combat this, it’s increasingly important to encourage and promote open conversations about mental health in the workplace, experts say.
“One can take care of physical health problems like diabetes or cholesterol by seeing a specialist, explaining their symptoms and changing their lifestyle,” says Ms. Sapna Mathews, Senior Counselor, Eagles Mediation and Counseling Centre.
“We need to do the same for our mental health by having open conversations to help us on our mental health journey.”
She noted that employees are sometimes hesitant to talk openly about their mental health for fear of being discriminated against, missing out on promotion opportunities or being stigmatized by their colleagues.
To that end, such candid conversations can thus help create a safe environment for employees while breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health, said Mr. Sam Roberts, founder and director of Olive Branch Psychology and Counseling Services.
“When employees feel their mental health is valued and supported, they are more likely to be engaged and committed to their work, which in turn can contribute to higher levels of employee retention,” she said.
HOW TO START CONVERSATIONS ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE
While experts generally believe there is no right or wrong time for such discussions, they agree that it will be easier to broach the subject once a level of mutual trust or rapport has been built.
Beyond this, the extent of a person’s disclosure should also be guided by the culture of the company and the team, as well as the level at which the person feels comfortable sharing.
“Nurture relationships to get to know your partners better… and think about whether and how they can support you,” said Dr Cecilia Chu, clinical psychologist and consultant at Raffles Counseling Centre.
This can include better understanding colleagues’ work styles and attitudes, their philosophies on life, their level of emotional harmony and their ability to keep information confidential, he added.
Mrs. Sapna said: “Before spontaneous conversations about mental health can happen in the workplace, it’s also important to create a work culture that is accepting and aware.”
She added that companies might consider holding a mental health day or inviting a speaker to share about burnout and other topics related to stress and mental health.
In addition, leaders can help foster a psychologically safe team culture where “struggles and setbacks are shared and where what is shared among the team remains private,” said Dr. Chu.
Once this is established, some ways to initiate conversations may include asking to discuss something personal in a private space away from the normal work space.
Individuals should also think about the ways in which they would like to help so they can clearly communicate their requests for the support they need, experts say.
As a general rule of healthy communication, one can remember the “TAP approach. right time, right approach and right place,” Mr Roberts said.
In order to have an uninterrupted conversation, you need to find a suitable time and a quiet and private space, he added.
Other practical tips that may be helpful in establishing the ‘right approach’ include:
- Don’t reveal more than what you feel comfortable sharing
- Start by sharing small, general thoughts or experiences before diving into more personal details
- Avoid using “you” statements and instead reframe the conversation using “I” statements. This can help express one’s feelings and experiences without sounding accusatory. For example, you can say, “I’ve been stressed lately and wanted to talk about it,” instead of saying, “You make me feel stressed.”
- Instead of focusing exclusively on the challenges faced, also think of the conversation “in a positive light, with a desire to improve and a commitment to work together.”
- Invite the listener to share their thoughts or concerns. This can create a dialogue rather than a one-way conversation that will help build shared understanding and empathy.
In general, one should make sure that conversations are “constructive and helpful for all involved” and avoid turning such exchanges into a “download session,” which may be more appropriate in the context of conversations with personal friends or a therapist, Dr. Chu said. .
A “download session” can resemble sharing a level of personal detail that can compromise one’s privacy, unregulated expression of emotions, and raising issues, while expecting colleagues to help solve a problem without specifying how they can help. has added.
WHAT IF MENTAL HEALTH STRESSORS ARE SEPARATE TO WORK?
Talking about mental health issues is even more important when the stressors are work-related, experts say, and addressing them will be important to a person’s well-being and job satisfaction.
“Peers can be helpful in terms of sharing your workload (and reciprocity will also be appreciated by them), and managers may be able to adjust your workload or help resolve rough spots between team members,” said Dr. Chu.
Mrs. Sapna added. “A good employer will want to know how they can adjust your work structure to better support you, so be prepared with this information (about how you want to be supported) when you want to talk.”
On tips for discussing work-related mental health stresses, Mr Roberts said:
- Identify specific work-related stressors and clarify how they affect a person’s mental health
- Share specific examples of situations or aspects of the job that contribute to stress to bring clarity to the listener.
- Communicate your boundaries and limitations if she consistently works long hours or deals with excessive demands and expresses a need for a healthier work-life balance.
- Reassure managers and colleagues of their commitment to maintaining a high level of performance and express a desire to find joint solutions
- Be open to suggestions and discuss possible accommodations that can alleviate stress without compromising the quality of work. This may include adjustments to deadlines and workloads, or delegation of tasks
Regardless, experts advised that it’s still important to keep boundaries in mind when sharing such personal information in the workplace.
This is in contrast to sharing information with a mental health professional who is trained to assist in the healing process while keeping the information private and confidential.
It’s also important not to burden others with information that might be too personal or that might make them uncomfortable and therefore affect co-workers or even team dynamics, Mr. Roberts said.
Finally, working according to suitable rules in the workplace will help maintain professionalism among colleagues, which is important because interpersonal relationships are important to work, said Dr. Chu.
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