trust, mental health support, upskilling, employee wellness, burnout

"Please acknowledge more of me, my productivity, and my work ethics, instead of just pushing me to do more," said one employee cited in a new report. 

Since the onset of COVID-19, employees in Singapore and Malaysia are placing their careers lower on their priority list — with 49% and 50% of those surveyed recently, respectively, saying so. 

In particular, while employees now see improving awareness around workplace culture and employee experience, many could still be questioning the role that work plays in their lives, new research by Employment Hero has found. Employees could either be looking to move industries, seek a remote role, or try a different working model, it was noted.

The research, published in the Employee Wellness Report in end-April, involved employees in Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, and the UK, with over 1,000 respondents each in Singapore and Malaysia. The survey was conducted between 28 February and 7 March 2022, on the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, how financial stress impacts employees' workday, how personally fulfilled they are by their work, and more.

Highlights of the findings in Singapore and Malaysia, which employers and HR leaders can note, are shared below.

Malaysia

There is a "vicious cycle" of burnout, poor work-life balance & low productivity

In Malaysia, about half of the employees surveyed (51%) said that the pandemic has negatively impacted their career progression, and 67% are stressed about their finances. 

No doubt, burnout stood out as a major factor affecting employees, with most respondents (58%) agreeing they felt burnt out from work in the three months prior to the research. Of the remaining, 26% were unsure if they had experienced burnout, while about 15% disagreed on experiencing it.

Delving deeper into the data, a "vicious cycle" was spotted  – employees who stated that they had poor work-life balance over the last three months were 45% more likely to also have felt burnt out. At the same time, those who felt burnt out were 9% more likely to feel that their productivity was low. And finally, employees with poor productivity were 278% more likely to feel a poor sense of work-life balance.

Employers do continue to support mental health, but some are possibly taking a step back

Per the research, 52% of employees agree that their company is "very supportive" of employees’ mental health. However, this is a drop from the percentage recorded in February 2021, 56%. In that vein, the research also noted that the proportion of employees who are uncomfortable discussing mental health at the workplace has increased from 47% in 2021 to 50% in 2022, and those agreeing that there is no budget for mental health support services at their workplace rose from 42% to 51%.

Adding on, the proportion of Malaysian workers who agree that they avoid reporting mental health concerns for fear of repercussions has jumped from 34% last year to 49% this year; and the proportion of those agreeing that they didn’t know how they can approach HR or their manager about mental health has increased from 33% to 50%.

Finally, taking a quick look at how this pans out remotely, six in 10 (60%) employees who work remotely in some capacity found it harder to have mental health conversations with their manager virtually. Thus, the research noted, with the continuing popularity of remote working, managers will need to find new strategies to virtually support distributed teams. Recognising the signs of an employee who is struggling, keeping up a communications cadence, and providing remote mental health tools will be essential.

In their own words: What employees in Malaysia say they need to improve their wellness in the next six months

Respondents were asked: "If your organisation could do one thing to help improve your wellness in the next six months, what should it be? Some responses included: 

  • "Please acknowledge more of me, my productivity and my work ethics, instead of just pushing me to do more."
  • "Menjaga kebaikan pekerja dan memahami fungsi dan kepelbagaian tugas serta agihan kerja yang adil buat setiap pekerja. ("Caring for the wellbeing of employees and understanding the functions and diversity of tasks as well as fair distribution of work for each employee.")
  • "Send for paid training to increase productivity."
  • "Creating a healthy work environment, work that does not burden employees and working as a team to make the right decisions."
  • "Allow most staff to maintain their work-life balance since they cannot afford to increase our pay at the moment."

Singapore

Employees' stress levels have been impacted by COVID-19

According to the research, as many as 45% of employees in Singapore said that the pandemic has negatively impacted their career progression. Moreover, 68% said they are stressed about their finances, and 65% said their stress levels were severely impacted by the effects of COVID-19 on the workplace.

Importantly, burnout was found to affect the majority of respondents — with 62% agreeing they felt burnt out from their work in the past three months prior to the survey; 22% were unsure if they had experienced burnout, and 17% disagreed about experiencing it. Among age groups, the young group appeared to be more at risk, with 18 to 24-year-olds 24% more likely to feel burnt out and 25 to 29-year-olds 20% more likely. 

Like Malaysia, a "vicious cycle" was also spotted in Singapore, albeit with higher numbers – employees who stated that they had poor work-life balance over the last three months were 52% more likely to also have felt burnt out. At the same time, those who felt burnt out were 42% more likely to feel that their productivity was low. And finally, employees with poor productivity were 282% more likely to feel a poor sense of work-life balance.

But employers are making an impact with mental health support

Despite the above, mental health support appears to be an area in which Singapore employers have managed to make impactful changes, with 47% of employees agreeing that their company is "very supportive" of employees’ mental health — up from 41% surveyed in 2021. However, it was also found that 53% of employees are uncomfortable discussing mental health issues in the workplace, and 49% of employees are concerned that reporting mental health issues would lead to repercussions in the workplace.

While these may seem like tough challenges to tackle, there are valuable rewards to be gained by businesses that choose to focus on employee wellness, with employees who rated their employer’s commitment to wellness as "good" stating they were 45% more likely to say they were loyal to a business.

In their own words: What employees in Singapore say they need to improve their wellness in the next six months

Respondents were asked: "If your organisation could do one thing to help improve your wellness in the next six months, what should it be? Some responses included:

  • "Introduce regular mindfulness sessions. Provide training on how to be more mindful and the benefits of mindfulness. Encourage employees to slow down and take breaks in the workday."
  • "I feel that my company should do bonding activities to help raise the morale.”
  • "Give me more time off to rest. Hire more staff to lighten my work or shift schedules. Have me on permanent work shifts rather than irregular shifts."
  • "Set a friendly fitness challenge…and introduce wellbeing-based employee benefits."
  • "Provide more support for upskilling and long-term career progression."
  • "Be more appreciative and trusting in my work."
  • "Assist me in developing higher skills to do my work better."

Commenting on the findings for both markets, Ben Thompson, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, Employment Hero, said it is clear that employees are seeking mental health support, balance, and education, and employers must step up and offer the right resources to create a happy and productive workforce.

"By taking small steps in the right direction such as increasing mental health support budgets, prioritising financial education, and implementing remote working practices that enable a greater work-life balance, employers can quickly pivot towards the kind of people-first approach that employees will truly be able to appreciate.

"Ultimately, workers will stay with companies that support them, and leave the ones that don’t, so in order to retain top-tier talent and foster a successful workforce, it’s critical for employers to take these demands to take action where it’s most needed," Thompson added.


Overall, the research cited four quick tips for employers looking to improve their employees' career health:

→ Create a flexible development and coaching strategy, for instance by using tools such as learning management systems, one-on-one meetings, mentorship programmes, career pathways, and external learning opportunities.

→ Strongly articulating your company’s mission and values. Without a mission, employees won’t know what they’re ultimately working towards, making it harder to find meaning in the everyday. Values set a tone for the company’s culture and give guidance when making decisions.

→ Reward and recognise your team for great work. Teams need to feel appreciated for the work they do, and the best way to make sure this happens is to create structured programmes for both top-down and peer-to-peer recognition.

→ Set clear and achievable goals. It is so much easier to stay motivated when you’re moving towards a clear objective. Goals should be ambitious, but clear and achievable. 


Lead image: Employee Wellness Report

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