Mental health at work: Building an engaged and healthy workforce

Larisa Beckhouse Okeke, Cigna International Health, discusses how HR professionals can help inculcate good mental health practices at work.
By: | May 20, 2024

Exacerbated by the changes in behaviour and perceptions that arose over the last few years, there is a growing recognition of the importance of mental health by organisations, said Larisa Beckhouse Okeke, Chief Marketing Officer (APAC), and Global Head of Insights at Cigna International Health.

Speaking recently at HR Tech Festival Asia 2024, she shared the importance of discussing employee vitality and how organisations can help to inculcate and rejuvenate employee vitality.

Citing studies from the 2023 Ipsos Global Health Service Monitor, Beckhouse shared how 46% respondents from Singapore point to mental health as the biggest health problem facing the country today. She also cited how the Cigna Healthcare Vitality Study 2023 shared alarming results of around 87% of respondents reported feeling stressed.  Yet, Beckhouse does not think it necessarily reflects a rising crisis in mental health; instead, she believes the crisis is already here. “While these findings reflect the challenges people face, they may also be attributed to greater awareness and destigmatisation of mental health issues, with more people now speaking up about their mental health struggles,” she theorised.

It becomes increasingly necessary for HR professionals to recognise how different generations view and treat mental health, and then customise their solutions accordingly. Gen Z employees, for example, are more likely to demand having proper mental health support as a part of a robust health and wellbeing programme, followed by millennials in the 25-44 age group, and then Gen X employees in the 45-59 age group. “This may be due to the increasing importance of mental health only surfacing in recent years, resulting in the younger generation being more vocal about their mental struggles and open to seeking help, while the older generations who were previously less exposed to these issues may be more hesitant to do so,” shared Beckhouse.

Solutions, thus, must be different. For the younger generations who are more aware of the stress and burnout symptoms they face, HR professionals can adopt an approach where they directly address the causes and seek to mitigate the impacts as much as possible. For the older generations, outreach can take the form of educational talks for them to understand these symptoms of stress and burnout, and the resources available to them. “Employers should look to first understand the drivers behind employees who are stressed,” Beckhouse emphasised.

She also detailed the importance of having a comprehensive private health insurance plan as the most preferred element in a robust health and wellbeing programme which covers mental health services and includes other forms mental well-being support, as well as offering flexible time off or work arrangements. She also pushed the importance of employers fostering a culture that prioritises employee wellbeing and encourage open communication about mental health challenges. Practical steps include training managers to recognise signs of stress and burnout and encouraging regular check-ins between managers and employees to discuss workload, stressors, and potential solutions.

“By providing holistic support for all employees and responding to their varying and evolving needs, employers can build a highly engaged and healthy workforce which tends to be more productive and resilient, with fewer sick days and lower turnover,” Beckhouse espoused.

Another way of offering employees a better way of managing their stress and the challenges in their work life includes offering hybrid work models, which, as Beckhouse explained, are gaining popularity among a new subset of employees with unique challenges that lead to different stress and burnout levels, “Our study found that hybrid employees tend to find their stress more manageable, likely due to the flexibility in work arrangements afforded to them,” she shared. “Meanwhile, with hybrid employees more likely to work odd hours due to their work arrangements, employers can also promote boundaries and a work-life balance to ensure that their employees are not ‘always-on’ and are able to differentiate between work and their personal lives.”

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

Employers with employees on a hybrid work model may find it more challenging to engage with such employees on a more personal level, due to the lack of in-person interaction. Beckhouse believes that mental health and stress management of these employees can be helped by keeping employees informed and feeling connected to help them feel that they are still part of the community despite their remote location. This can be done by including them in regular team meetings, having one-on-one check-ins, and organising virtual get-togethers, which can help mitigate the feeling of being isolated. Employers can also implement employee assistance programmes and counselling services for employees who may feel isolated and ensure that such support systems are easily accessible.