SINGAPORE – A study conducted in 2022 found that Singapore was the most overworked country in the Asia-Pacific region, with the average worker’s working week of 45 hours, the Singapore Business Review reported in June l last year
The same study also found that this overwhelming work culture left 73 percent of Singaporean employees unhappy, and 62 percent felt burned out.
In September, a separate study published jointly by global professional services firm Aon and health technology services provider Telus Health found that more than half (52 percent) of workers surveyed in Singapore felt more sensitive to the stress in 2022 compared to 2021.
The survey also found that about two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents were worried that their careers would be affected if their employers knew about their mental health problems.
These findings point to a growing work-induced mental health crisis plaguing the workforce—and yet a stigma continues to cloud honest conversations about it.
To combat this, it is increasingly crucial to encourage and foster open conversations about mental health in the workplace, experts say.
“One has to take care of physical health problems like diabetes or cholesterol by seeing a professional, explaining one’s symptoms, and making lifestyle changes,” said Ms. Sapna Mathews, senior advisor at Eagles Mediation. and Counseling Center.
“We need to do the same for our mental health, with 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 opportunities for advancement, or being stigmatized by their coworkers.
To that end, having such honest conversations could help create a safe environment for employees, while also removing the stigma surrounding mental health, said Mr. Sam Roberts, the founder and director of Olive Branch Psychology and Counseling. Services.
“When employees feel that their mental health is valued and supported, they are more likely to be engaged and engaged in their work, which in turn can contribute to higher levels of employee retention,” he said.
HOW TO START CONVERSATIONS ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH WORK
While experts generally believe that there is no right or wrong time for such discussions, they agree that it would be easier to approach the topic after a level of mutual trust or relationship has been created.
Beyond that, the extent of disclosure should also be driven by company and team culture, as well as the level at which you feel comfortable sharing.
“Course relationships to get to know your colleagues better … and consider whether they are in a position to support you, and how,” said Dr. Cecilia Chu, clinical psychology specialist and consultant at Raffles Counseling Center.
This could include a better understanding of colleagues’ work styles and attitudes, their philosophy toward life, their levels of emotional attunement, and their ability to keep shared information private, he added.
Ms. Sapna said, “Before spontaneous conversations about mental health can happen in the workplace, it is also important to establish a workplace culture that is accepting and aware.”
Companies can consider implementing a mental wellness day, or invite a speaker to share about burnout and other topics related to stress and mental health, he added.
Additionally, leaders can help cultivate a psychologically safe team culture, where “struggles and failures are taken in stride, and where what is shared among the team remains private,” said Dr. Chu.
Once this has been established, some ways to start conversations might include asking to discuss something personal, in a private space away from the usual work space.
Individuals should also consider ways in which they would like to be helped, so they can clearly communicate their requests for the support they need, experts said.
As a general rule for sound communication, one could keep in mind the “TAP approach: right time, right approach and right place,” said Mr. Roberts.
One must find a suitable time – and a quiet and private space – to have an uninterrupted conversation, he added.
Other practical tips that may be useful to consider in determining the “right approach” include:
- Do not disclose more than one is comfortable with sharing
- Start by sharing small general thoughts or experiences before delving into more personal details
- Avoid using “you” statements and instead reframe the conversation using “I” statements. This could help them express their feelings and experiences without sounding accusatory. For example, one could say “I’ve been feeling stressed lately and wanted to talk,” instead of saying “You’re stressing me out.”
- Instead of focusing only on the challenges faced, also consider breaking the conversation into “a positive light, with a desire to improve and a commitment to work together.”
- Invite the listener to share their thoughts or concerns. This could create a dialogue, rather than a one-sided conversation, that would help build overall understanding and empathy
In general, one should ensure that the conversations are “constructive and useful for all involved”, and avoid turning such sharing into a “download session” – which might be more appropriate in the context of conversations with personal friends or a therapist, said Dr. Chu. .
A “download session” could be like sharing at a level of personal detail that would compromise one’s privacy, an unregulated display of emotions, and raise problems while expecting one’s colleagues to help solve problems without have clarity on how they can help, she added.
WHAT IF MENTAL HEALTH STRESSORS ARE WORK RELATED?
Conversations about mental health struggles are even more important when stressors are work-related, experts said, and addressing these would be critical to their well-being and job satisfaction.
“Peers may be helpful in terms of sharing your workload (and reciprocity would be appreciated by them as well), and employers may be in a position to adjust your workload or help resolve difficult points between team members,” said Dr. Chu.
Ms. Sapna added: “A good employer would want to know how they can accommodate your work structure to better support you, so come prepared with this information (about how you want to be helped) when you want to talk.”
On advice to address the issue of mental health stressors at work, Mr Roberts said:
- Identify specific work-related stressors and gain clarity on how they impact mental health
- Share specific examples of situations or aspects of the job that contribute to stress, thus bringing clarity to the listener.
- Communicate your boundaries and limitations if you consistently work long hours or deal with excessive demands, and express the need for a healthier work-life balance.
- Reassure bosses and colleagues about their commitment to maintaining a high standard of work, and express the desire to find solutions in collaboration
- Be open to suggestions and discuss potential accommodations that could alleviate stress without compromising the quality of the work. This could include adjustments to deadlines and workload, or delegation of tasks
Regardless, experts advise that it’s important to always be mindful of boundaries when sharing such personal information in a workplace.
This is different from sharing information with a mental health professional, who is trained to help with the therapeutic process, while also keeping the information private and confidential.
It is also important not to burden others with information that may be too personal or that may make them uncomfortable and therefore impact their colleagues or even the dynamics of the team, said Roberts.
Ultimately, working within the rules of what is appropriate in the workplace would help maintain professionalism among colleagues, which is crucial since interpersonal relationships are important to work, said Dr. Chu.
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