Building workplace resilience by embracing employee wellbeing

Speaking with HRM Asia, TTSH’s Lek Jie Ying highlights how the hospital is helping employees overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic.
By: | February 16, 2023

In this exclusive interview, we spoke with Lek Jie Ying, Manager, HR Wellbeing, Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), who shared how the hospital is continuing to create scalable, adaptable, and responsive workforce strategies to support employee wellbeing.

Throughout the challenges posed by the pandemic, what are some of the key workforce strategies TTSH has implemented to help employees transition to a new normal?

Lek: Our strategies focus on workforce growth, workforce transformation, and workforce development to build a sustainable workforce for TTSH and Central Health. The pandemic has changed many fundamentals in the workplace, and we must retain a flexible mindset to do things differently moving forward. It also became more evident during the pandemic that a successful workforce strategy must be responsive, adaptable, and scalable. These also apply to our employee wellbeing strategies, as we find new ways to strengthen initiatives already in place, along with a greater emphasis on employee wellbeing and mental health.

One of TTSH’s key employee initiatives during the pandemic was the introduction of the Welfare Officers (WOs) Programme, which helps us care for each other better and address employee concerns at the department level. The initiative is key not just for personal mental wellbeing but for us to build a community for social wellbeing too. Within a short period of two weeks after the pandemic began in February 2020, 120 WOs from clinical departments were nominated by the heads of department (HOD) to provide care to clinical and frontline employees. Their role was to look out for the wellbeing of their peers and to serve as a liaison between their department, HOD, and the Wellbeing Committee, which involved several departments working together during the storming, norming, and implementation of wellbeing initiatives. Scalability and partnership are key principles of the WO Programme, which are also aligned with TTSH’s workforce strategies.

How do you define employee wellbeing and how is TTSH improving employees’ health and mental wellbeing while expanding headcount in a candidate-short market like Singapore?

Lek: As an organisation, it is important for management to be accessible and show their support for employees. This includes having a variety of channels for employees to share their feedback and interact with management. Amongst our multi-communication channels, allowing the ground opportunities to provide feedback is critical for us, and we have established the 9000 Voices initiative for such conversations. The initiative features our CEO regularly meeting small groups of employees without the presence of their direct managers. The same practice, where senior management members listen to employees directly, also takes place in other divisions and departments.

Providing a safe space for employees to escalate concerns has been a practice in TTSH. Beyond these conversations, TTSH also organises regular anonymous pulse surveys, where employees are allowed to share their concerns and the status of their morale through an online form. The form gathers insights into what keeps employees well and what stressors management needs to look out for. Carrying on this culture of listening and openness are regular feedback from WOs and an active social interaction platform, namely TTSH Workplace by Meta, on which both hospital leaders and employees share their thoughts and reflections on their work moments and accomplishments.

Innovation is essential to the success of our Wellbeing department. In addition to traditional welfare initiatives such as talks, workshops, and corporate deals, the team had to figure out how these initiatives could be delivered differently. For individuals, wellness campaigns were introduced to provide monthly challenges for employees to participate, from the comfort of their homes. A Mental Health Awareness campaign was also organised in 2022 to increase mental health literacy and educate staff to recognise common mental health conditions in the workplace.

For their teams, the Wellbeing department leveraged the WOs and shared with them bonding activities, such as art and music therapy sessions, conversational card games, and newsletters titled Wellbeing Wednesdays that include wellbeing tips and insights. The WOs were also taught basic psychological first aid to help look out for signs and symptoms of distress amongst their colleagues. With this knowledge, they become more enabled to support our TTSH workforce for further triaging and recovery.

We remain mindful that our employees have gone through a very prolonged period of rapid changes and adjustments due to the evolving pandemic situation, an unforgiving rate of intense work pace and load, and the prolonged stress of being on alert, followed by managing a backlog of non-COVID cases. As we rest and recover, we are also working on the renewal of our infrastructure and professional expertise and resetting our operating norms.

What are the factors you would consider most important to building employee resilience, and what challenges did TTSH face when fostering resilience in the workplace?

Lek: Resilience, to TTSH, is rooted in the values of meaning and ownership. Three of the most important factors to build employee resilience are also the three challenges that TTSH would likely face to foster resilience. These are:

  1. Meaning of work to the individual
  2. Relationship at work for the individual
  3. Stress management and ability to cope with rapid changes

Like the legs of a stool that lend stability, these factors help one realise their value in the workplace and the role they place in their function. When employees are able to build their resilience during peacetime based on these three areas, it provides a sense of belonging and ownership in the work that they do. These factors will help align employees to a common mission during crises and, most importantly, cope with the stress.

It is reasonable to say that we can expect other variants of concerns to emerge or other outbreaks other than COVID-19 or face other challenges no lesser than COVID. We will continue to maintain confidence between the leadership and employees by cultivating a trusted and collaborative culture, where timely and candid communication is key.

Allowing open conversations, having programmes in place to drive relationships at work, and exposure to stress management techniques such as exercise, arts and crafts, and mindfulness, are just some of the various ways TTSH, or any other organisation, can help its employees strengthen the three factors, and ultimately, build resilience. Having a regular “pulse” on how employees are coping would also enable the organisation to intervene and support addressing concerns in a timely manner.