Employee mental wellbeing: A corporate growth strategy

Anthea Ong, Founder of WorkWell Leaders, shares how corporate leadership is essential in cultivating a supportive and thriving ecosystem at work.
By: | March 15, 2024

Singapore is a nation built on its people. Our human capital is our greatest asset, and our success as a country depends on the creativity, innovation and productivity of our workforce.

While Singapore prides itself on its people-driven progress, it is sobering to realise that one in seven Singaporeans experiences a mental health disorder in their lifetime. This means that hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans are struggling with mental health challenges, which can hurt their relationships, work, and overall quality of life.

Poor mental health has also been costly to national GDP, with anxiety and depression costing an average of SG$15.7 billion (US$11.78 billion) in lost productivity annually. This translates to approximately 2.9% of GDP, a significant amount that could otherwise be used to fund critical social programmes or bolster infrastructural developments.

If a company’s success hinges on the calibre of its workforce, it is paramount that businesses prioritise the mental wellbeing of employees. More employers are beginning to recognise that effectively managing employee wellbeing is a core component of a company’s growth strategy. A 2018 study by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) found that for every SG$1 (US$0.75) invested in workplace adjustments for mental health, organisations saw a return of SG$5.65 (US$4.24) in improved productivity, reduced sick days, fewer medical claims, and increased staff morale.

In the case of Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), a founding member of WorkWell Leaders, allocating resources to support mental wellbeing has led to its lowest attrition rate in company history. Given the taxing and emotionally-laden work that AIC does in the community, this is a significant business outcome.

Employee wellbeing starts with leadership

While appreciated by employees, traditional perks like yoga and counselling do not address daily employee experiences. Shifting the norms of a work environment begins at the very top with leaders walking the talk themselves.

To authentically champion mental health at the workplace, leaders must be willing to share and demonstrate their own wellbeing practices, such as protecting personal time and embracing a healthy lifestyle. Lam Chee Weng, CEO of Singapore Pools, launched a 100-day challenge for his leadership team to spend 50 minutes every day on their own wellbeing practice, thereby setting a strong precedent for prioritising mental health within the organisation.

It is also crucial for leaders to offer guidance and training to middle managers, who play a pivotal role in setting the tone of organisational culture. 

“If a company’s success hinges on the calibre of its workforce, it is paramount that businesses prioritise the mental wellbeing of employees.” – Anthea Ong, Founder, WorkWell Leaders

Managers influence employee engagement on a daily basis and are crucial in bridging any communication and empathy gaps that may arise.

When crafting an overall strategy to address workplace wellbeing, leaders must consider the entire spectrum of employee needs, from prevention to intervention, recovery, and return to work. This spectrum can be broken down into three layers of action:

  1. Culture and Strategy: Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) and policies to support employee wellbeing.
  2. Systems and Infrastructure: Translate culture and strategy into action through training, office infrastructure, and employee evaluation/ promotion criteria. A people-centred approach to systems change involves reshaping performance metrics, job roles and workloads.
  3. Support and Resources: Establish formal and informal support channels for employees, such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), peer support networks, and benefits like insurance.

While it may seem daunting to tackle three dimensions altogether, a helpful place to begin is with a thorough audit of how employees perceive their organisation’s wellbeing. To be sure, this goes beyond collecting data points from an annual employee engagement survey.

READ MORE: #IWD2024: Mental health a keystone in employee benefits

Leaders should invest in a wellbeing-specific audit that asks employees to identify gaps in offerings across the three aforementioned layers. This might seem excessive, but numerous studies cite that about 60-75% of CEOs think they are doing a good job, while only 30-40% of employees feel the same way.

Leadership’s commitment to mental wellbeing is pivotal in transforming the workplace into a supportive and thriving ecosystem. By going beyond standard provisions, leaders not only cultivate healthier work cultures but also propel organisations toward sustained business growth. 

About the author: Anthea Ong is the Founder of WorkWell Leaders.