Corporate Wellbeing Asia 2023
Strained employee mental health in Asia: 45% surveyed say it is impacting productivity

Strained employee mental health in Asia: 45% surveyed say it is impacting productivity

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Employees from Malaysia, the Philippines, India, Vietnam, and Thailand were most likely to say so.

The mental health of Asia’s working population is strained — and work-related exhaustion, burnout, and financial insecurity are among the likely causes.

Other factors Aon and TELUS Health's joint 2022-2023 Global Wellbeing Survey possibly attributes this to also include cost-of-living challenges, rising healthcare costs, climate change impacts, geopolitical instability, and the increasingly complex and ambiguous nature of today’s workplace, which has been changing rapidly since COVID-19.

Data for the report was collected in November 2022 via an online survey of 13,000 people living across China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. Participants represented a range of ages, genders and industries, and were asked to consider the prior two weeks when answering the questions.

To gauge the Asia Mental Health Index, a scoring system was applied to turn individual responses into point values. Higher point values are associated with better mental health and lower mental health risk. An overall Mental Health Index score (MHI) out of 100 is generated by dividing the sum of scores by the total number of possible points, with scores between 80 and 100 indicating optimal mental health and mental health risk, and scores below 80 representing ‘strained’ or ‘distressed’ mental health and higher mental health risk.

With a score of 62.4, the Asia Mental Health Index revealed that employees in Asia are under significant mental health strain in every location involved in the study. Organisations in the Asia Pacific region particularly rated employee wellbeing among their top two concerns and identify mental health and burnout as the top two wellbeing issues that need addressing. 

Overall, the most prevalent mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, are estimated to cost the global economy US$1tn per year in reduced productivity, and before the pandemic those costs were predicted to rise to US$6tn by 2030. This year, it was estimated that the total economic burden of lost productivity due to anxiety and depression in Singapore is S$15.7bn (US$11.72bn) annually.

At the same time, 82% of workers in Asia have a moderate to high risk of experiencing mental health issues. Breaking this figure down, 35% have a high risk of experiencing a mental health issue. Of this, 30% are highly likely to develop a mental health issue. 

Locations identified with the highest proportion of employees with a high mental health risk profile are:

  • South Korea 44%
  • Malaysia 42%
  • Japan 41%

Conversely, Indonesia had the lowest proportion of employees with high mental risk, at 17%. 

The Asia Mental Health Index also explores measures known as ‘sub-scores’ to reveal a more nuanced picture of mental health and mental health risk in the workplace, and potential impacts. In Asia, the lowest sub-score is for work productivity, representing a significant financial risk to organisations.

  • Work productivity — Asia: 47.2 vs Mutli-regional: 63.1 
  • Anxiety — Asia: 51.7 vs Mutli-regional: 56.71
  • Depression — Asia: 54.5 vs Mutli-regional: 62.5
  • Financial risk — Asia: 63.3 vs Mutli-regional: 69.5

For context, the report refers to the 'multi region' as Canada, the US, the UK, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia.

Work productivity

Strained mental health and moderate to high mental health risk have a significant negative effect on workplace productivity, which is far lower in Asia than in the multi region.

In fact, 45% of employees say their mental health is having an impact on productivity, with seven locations reporting higher than average productivity losses for Asia. Locations where the highest proportion of employees say their mental health is impacting work productivity are:

  • Malaysia 62%
  • Philippines 60%
  • India 53%
  • Vietnam 53%
  • Thailand 50%

Anxiety

According to the study, there is a very high risk of anxiety, depression and burnout among Asia’s working population. Overall, 36% of employees in Asia say they feel unsettled and nervous.

Anxiety levels are highest in:

  • Malaysia 45%
  • India 43%
  • Philippines 41%
  • South Korea 41%

Depression

Over one in three workers (33%) often feel a sense of helplessness. Locations where workers are experiencing higher levels of helplessness include:

  • South Korea 46%
  • Malaysia 44%
  • India 43%

Financial risk

Financial wellbeing refers to how people feel about the control they have over their financial future and their relationship with money.

In Asia, 34% of employees say they do not have emergency savings ‘Emergency savings’ typically means having a minimum of three months salary set aside for unexpected expenses. Locations where employees have the highest levels of financial risk are:

  • Philippines 48%
  • Malaysia 42%
  • China 39%

Looking at the key aspects of mental health, over half of the respondents feel more sensitive to stress compared to last year. This group also has the poorest mental health and the highest mental health risk with a Mental Health Index Score of 53.9. Nine of the twelve countries report that more than half the workforce is feeling more sensitive to stress than last year. Employees most likely to report feeling more sensitive to stress are in:

  • Malaysia 57%
  • Taiwan 54%
  • Thailand 54%

At the same time, burnout is work related and materialises during periods of sustained stress, driven by excessive workloads, lack of rewards, perceived lack of support, unreasonable expectations and toxic work environments — 33% of employees say they are finding it more difficult to concentrate on their work compared to last year. The Mental Health Index score of this group is 49.7, significantly below the Asia average of 62.4.

Locations most likely to have employees report difficultly concentrating on their work compared to last year:

  • India 45%
  • Malaysia 40%
  • Thailand 39%
  • Vietnam 39%

The survey also provided insights by markets:

China

The Mental Health Index score for China is 60.6, indicating that the mental health of employees there is strained. The score is 1.8 points lower average for Asia.

  • 34% feel anxious,
  • 33% feel depressed, and
  • 33% feel isolated.

Hong Kong

The Mental Health Index score for Hong Kong is 59.9, indicating that the mental health of employees there is strained. The score is 2.5 points lower than the median. 

  • 39% feel anxious,
  • 33% feel depressed, and
  • 32% feel isolated.

India

The Mental Health Index score for India is 64, indicating that the mental health of employees there is strained despite being 1.6 points higher than the median.

  • 44% feel isolated,
  • 43% feel anxious, and
  • 43% feel depressed.

Indonesia

The Mental Health Index score for Indonesia is 69.4, indicating the mental health of employees in Indonesia is strained despite being seven points above the median.

  • 23% feel isolated,
  • 20% feel anxious, and
  • 14% feel depressed.

Malaysia

The Mental Health Index score for Malaysia is 59.6, indicating that employees’ mental health there is strained. The score is 2.9 points lower than the median.

  • 45% feel anxious,
  • 44% feel depressed, and
  • 40% feel isolated.

Philippines

The Mental Health Index score for the Philippines is 65, indicating that employees’ mental health there is strained but 2.6 points higher than the median for Asia.

  • 41% feel anxious,
  • 35% feel isolated, and
  • 32% feel depressed.

Singapore

The Mental Health Index score for Singapore is 63.2, indicating that employees’ mental health there is strained. The score is 0.8 points higher than the median.

  • 33% feel anxious,
  • 32% feel isolated, and
  • 31% feel depressed.

Thailand

The Mental Health Index score for Thailand is 66.4, indicating that employees’ mental health there is strained despite being 4 points higher than the median.

  • 36% feel anxious,
  • 26% feel isolated, and
  • 24% feel depressed.

Vietnam

The Mental Health Index score for Vietnam is 63.6, indicating that employees’ mental health there is strained. The score is 1.2 points higher than the median.

  • 40% feel isolated,
  • 36% feel anxious, and
  • 33% feel depressed.

Lead image / 2022-2023 Global Wellbeing Survey

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