How can we get more employees to speak up about mental health here in Asia?

Fatigue, apathy about work, headaches. These are all common signs of burnout and they affect a shocking number of workers today. 

McKinsey found that a quarter of employees worldwide are experiencing burnout, and in Asia, that figure climbs to one in three. 

According to the 2022 Wellness Report, 58% of Malaysian workers are feeling burnt out from work. 

To prevent employee disengagement, absenteeism, and attrition, employers must proactively address these challenges. The impetus is on employers to create a safe space and encourage staff to share their mental health struggles and provide support to help them overcome these challenges. 

Here’s how they can do so. 

First, let’s change the way we talk about mental health and burnout. 

We need to change how we view and talk about mental health. Let’s stop putting mental health on the backburner, or something we think about only after we’ve hit our breaking point. 

Do not be afraid to invest in longer, more intensive programs towards creating a mentally-well workplace. For example, our company has dedicated a month towards mental health awareness, where we host and share a series of content and events for our employees to attend throughout the month. Additionally, our employee-led Mental Health Advocacy Group which serves all individuals and allies navigating mental health issues provide additional resources all year long.

Spotlighting sessions on mental health during health and wellness programs help normalize the topic. It encourages employees to view mental health as another part of one’s holistic health and well-being, and something we need to take care of. 

Balance is key. Having adequate rest and down time is important for employees to remain productive and happy. Let’s be compassionate and understanding to ourselves and others. Encourage employees to prioritize healthy habits and hobbies. Allow them the flexibility and autonomy to take short work breaks or arrange work schedules that best fit their needs, and encourage them to seek professional help, if needed. 

At 3M, we’ve seen how ‘Work Your Way’, a trust-based approach that lets employees create a schedule that helps them work when and where they can most effectively, transform the way employees work fostering an agile, inclusive and collaborative culture.

Second, let’s create a safe environment to talk about mental health

To create a safe and effective environment to speak up and seek help on mental health, it is important to invest in programs that go beyond education. Companies can do this through tapping on quality providers to implement a mental health-focused Employee Assistance Program (EAP). 

For example, our EAP provides a tele-counselling hotline so employees can seek confidential consultations when needed. Employees are also not limited to seeking help for problems at the workplace. We understand that it’s difficult for work and life to be treated in silos. Thus, employees can also seek these services for problems they are facing in their personal lives too. 

The EAP professionals help employees assess these concerns and develop a response plan. They will provide information, problem solving, guidance, coaching, advice, and ongoing support, as needed. They will also suggest resources inside and outside of 3M. 

It does not have to stop at the employee level. We could extend these programs for families and work groups too. For example, retired employees or dependents of our employees can also tap on our EAP program if they are facing challenges. 

Of course, these consultations should be strictly confidential, and these should be communicated to employees so they need not worry about seeking help. 

No one should struggle with mental health alone. We are responsible for ensuring that our employees feel safe at work and are comfortable to be themselves. These initiatives will go a long way in supporting employees’ wellness and help manage everyday needs. 

Third, let’s lead by example

Leaders set the tone and example for employees to follow. If leaders are open to sharing their struggles and advice, this will be greatly encouraging for staff. They will understand that they will not be penalized. 

From a team level, organize mental health training sessions for leaders and managers, and encourage managers to set aside time to check-in with employees individually. 

That said, conversations around mental health are not easy to navigate. Here’s what I’ve learnt when talking about such topics.

First, keep an open mind and avoid remarks that may be misconstrued as judgement or downplaying of one’s experience. Second, practice active listening. Third, ask what you can do and follow through. For example, you can help team members manage their workloads and working hours. 

However, always encourage those affected to seek professional help as we are not experts. Trust is a two-way exchange – it helps if leaders who have experienced mental health challenges themselves also open up about them with their teams.

It takes a village 

Mental health is a complex issue. But businesses have a great role to play. By prioritizing our people, we can safeguard the happiness, health, and mental well-being of our employees and build a better future of work that is more productive, engaging, and sustainable.

By Jim Falteisek, Senior Vice President, 3M Asia Corporate Affairs and Managing Director of 3M Korea.

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