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Top wellbeing issues plaguing the APAC workforce, and how to address them
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Top wellbeing issues plaguing the APAC workforce, and how to address them

Employee wellbeing is rated high in APAC, yet resilience remains low. Why is that so? We explore this, talk about the shift from ‘initiatives’ to ‘strategies’, and more, in this analysis.

This article is brought to you by Aon.

What has only emerged as a business priority in the past few years, but now stands among the top three priorities of leaders today? Employee wellbeing, as Aon’s 2022-2023 Global Wellbeing Survey Report revealed. Within Asia Pacific (APAC), in fact, it ranks among the top three priority areas for companies over the next five years – just behind attracting or retaining talent, and profits & financial margins.

According to the report, 63% of companies surveyed say wellbeing has become more important since 2020, while 47% it has become a higher priority during this period.

With wellbeing established as a key priority, what is the current state of employee wellbeing in the region? It might not surprise you to know that it is considered to be highly rated among survey respondents in the region, who comprised employees from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and other APAC markets.

Close to half (49%) of the respondents in APAC rated overall employee wellbeing at their companies as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’; while 37% said it is ‘good’, 13% rated it as ‘fair’, and 1% said it was ‘poor’. Respondents also shared the top five wellbeing issues they currently face:

#1 Mental and emotional health,
#2 Burnout/languishing,
#3 Working environment/culture,
#4 Virtual and hybrid work support, and
#5 Financial risk and stress.

As can be seen from this list, among all aspects of wellbeing cited, a majority of the most pressing issues deal with emotional wellbeing.

Delving deeper, wellbeing's impact on the business can be rated across dimensions of what is deemed ‘a sustainable working life’ - comprising the pillars of resilience; agility, and belonging (a feeling of support and connection from the community in a working environment). Interestingly, while overall employee wellbeing in APAC ranked higher than the other regions surveyed (global average: 46%), employee resilience in the region ranked the lowest (43%, vs the global average of 50%).

In conversation with HRO, Hellena Wang, Associate Director, Wellbeing Solutions, Aon, sheds light on why this might be so: "Let’s take a step back and think about what resilience means. Resilience is our ability to bounce back and to weather change. The three areas that make up resilience are:

1. Supporting mental health,
2. Having work-life balance, and
3. Being able to support employees’ entire life, both personally and professionally."

Therefore, she elaborates, with mental health support a crucial factor, resilience becomes a problem when we link it to the top employee wellbeing issues identified, i.e., mental health and burnout.

"Digging a little deeper into burnout – burnout is a result of having chronic job stress. Having blurred lines between work and life has a very strong impact on the ability of an employee to be able to 'rest' so they are able to 'bounce back.'"

As such, Wang brings up the role of employers in creating an environment that strives to minimise stress as a way of life, and in giving employees an opportunity to embrace work-life integration, whatever that might look like to an individual.

Addressing wellbeing holistically: Moving from 'initiatives' to 'strategies'

While it may be tough to acknowledge these issues, it may be even harder to tackle them effectively – whether it’s because of budgets, resistance from leadership/employees, not having the tools or understanding, or the lack of a comprehensive strategy that ties together different wellbeing initiatives. In fact, we often hear of companies taking up wellbeing initiatives ad hoc – for example, a lunchtime eye check-up, or a Friday afternoon mindfulness webinar – but tying these pockets of activities together into a cohesive wellbeing vision has seen slower uptake.

That said, the numbers are looking up: according to Aon, the share of companies who are investing in a wellbeing strategy over individual initiatives – which may be happening in silos – has risen 35% in APAC since 2020, with 85% currently doing so. Globally, the figures have reached 83% (up 28%).

"Keeping this in view, there is a sense of employers and key stakeholders wanting to understand how they can help employees to feel a holistic sense of self, which includes mental health," Wang observes. "They are also thinking about how employees’ sense of financial freedom or physical health impacts how they are feeling emotionally.

"In short, [it’s about] how they can help them bring their best sense of self to work. It's a holistic journey that employers want to understand, but may not have all the knowledge on."

Making another point, Wang adds that building an effective strategy often depends on location as well – for instance, Indonesia, Malaysia, and South Korea would likely have integrated wellbeing strategies in place, while more conservative markets such as Japan or China may have different views of what a wellbeing strategy is.

So, there has been a mindset shift. What’s next?

While we acknowledge the increased investment in wellbeing strategies, the journey does not end there. Instead, the next milestone is for employers to align wellbeing with the wider talent – and even business – strategy, where a gap still exists. As an example, looking at wellbeing alongside talent attraction and retention: what employees (current and prospective) may perceive of wellbeing may vary from what organisational priorities, stakeholders, and culture portray, as Wang points out.

Additionally, there may be instances where organisations have ‘solid’ structures in place to address one or two aspects of wellbeing, but not all. So where does that leave the impact of wellbeing on building, say, employee loyalty?

To close this gap, it is important for employers to develop an understanding of wellbeing and ensure all areas of the company are aligned on their perceptions of wellbeing, Wang explains.

"Think: What is the type of organisational culture we want to build as the calling card of the company to attract a certain type of employee, to be able to engage them, and then ultimately retain them?"

Keeping these in mind, what steps can leaders take to better invest in their employees’ wellbeing, and ultimately close this gap?

First, Wang shares, is to take a bottom-up approach, instead of just a top-down approach to wellbeing. She elaborates: "We see more and more companies engaging internal wellbeing champions, and that is proving to be very important because not only do they advocate for different areas of wellbeing, but this also helps employers and leaders shape what that culture looks like."

Second, and Wang can’t stress this enough, is to have an acute understanding of what employees need. People leaders must look at employee listening tools, as well as leverage data points such as claims data and other health drivers to better understand what employees need, without them having to state it directly.

Third, once you have a better understanding of what employees are going through and what they need, then comes the need to identify the right kind of tools, support, and resources to make available to them. Wang tells us: "For instance, we're seeing an increase in manager-related health training. As managers are sandwiched in the middle from an organisational structure point of view, they have to very quickly understand the signs and symptoms that employees might be facing, whether that's mental health related, physical health related or otherwise."

As such, Wang reinforces the need for leaders to support people managers, so they can understand what those symptoms might be, and how they can close the gap.

A dashboard to identify and manage your wellbeing vendors

After identifying your wellbeing objectives and priorities, the next step is bringing in the right experts and tools. In addition to the above framework shared by Wang, leaders may choose to work with specialised partners who are better placed to evaluate their workforce needs and advise on best-fit solutions that drive a stronger wellbeing strategy.

One of the challenges companies face is, knowing whether they are choosing the right solution from an overwhelmingly large and fast-growing range of providers. That’s where Aon comes in. "We are helping C&B leaders identify and manage providers that offer appropriate solutions for their requirements," says Wang.

"Our network of global, regional, and local providers has specific capabilities and a strong track record for facilitating workplace health initiatives. The providers have been vetted on key criteria, including security/compliance, geographic scope, quality of care, and service."

For a better understanding of country and region-specific wellbeing trends, explore Aon’s 2022-2023 Global Wellbeing Survey Report or contact Aon directly.

Aon plc (NYSE: AON) exists to shape decisions for the better — to protect and enrich the lives of people around the world. Its consultants provide clients in over 120 countries and sovereignties with advice and solutions that give them the clarity and confidence to make better decisions to protect and grow their business.

The 2022-2023 Aon Global Wellbeing Survey Report was conducted in partnership with Ipsos, involving more than 1,100 companies from across industries.

Respondents in APAC were from the following markets: Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Image: Provided

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