With pressures on employees mounting amid a disruptive, dynamic, and competitive environment, it is critical to give focus on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees. Asif Upadhye, Director at Never Grow Up, on the importance and how employers can make it happen.
According to an article published by South China Morning Post in 2019, the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions had found that 20% of Hong Kong’s 3 million employees ended up working for 55 hours every week in 2018, extending beyond the 40-hour standard. Alongside, in Aetna International's recent Business of Health 2020 report, only 22% of employees in Singapore rated the availability of health and wellness benefits as good. The same proportion (22%) of employees also rated the current support as poor.
How can companies revisit their overall wellbeing strategies?
The APAC region is experiencing rapid growth, with thriving economies like Japan, China, India, Thailand and Singapore. While employers in the region are focusing on the wider aspects of employee wellness, HR teams must become the guardians of employee wellbeing and focus on a holistic approach and employee assistance programs (EAPs). It is critical, therefore, to create frameworks around physical and mental wellbeing and building the right company culture.
Physical wellbeing As an organisation, see how you can prevent work-related illnesses and occupational diseases. That will also tie in to the ergonomics of the workplace. For example, the monitor should be at arm’s length, wrists should be straight, hands should be at or below elbow level, and the height of the chair should be such that knees are at about the same level as hips.
Also, assess if your employees might get exposed to any possible work-related hazard so that you can take requisite precautions. You can also arrange for regular health check-ups and encourage your employees to take regular breaks through the work day.
Mental wellbeing Competition, stress, inferiority complex, lack of empathy, exhaustion, overworking – all of this can be detrimental to the psychological wellness of your employees. How can you help them strike a work-life balance? To begin with, be clear in your communication about work hours and if possible, connect with each employee to see if they have any specific requirements. When you mention flexible work hours, also mention the extent of it.
Also, we often underestimate the power of three simple words – please, thank you, and sorry. The relationship between an employer and employee is interdependent, and small gestures can do wonders to strengthen inter-personal relations. Yes, most organisations have their annual rewards & recognitions (R&R) programs but it is important to praise and motivate employees for a job well done, on a more regular basis.
It would also be a good idea to revisit and update your R&R policies at regular intervals and consider more frequent financial rewards and performance incentives rather than just the annual bonus. You can use tech tools to track performances and reward employees on a more real-time basis or even outsource the R&R activities to agencies who specialise in the domain. As an organisation, you must be able to create an environment where people work together and appreciate each other’s efforts and achievements.
Building the right culture
This is a tough nut to crack. A recent Qualtrics study showed that the average employee engagement score across Singapore was 47%, behind the global average of 53%. While India topped the list at 79%, Japan was at the bottom of the list, at 35%. The concept of ‘happy workplace’ has been around for quite some time now and organisations are gradually warming up to the idea of EAPs.
Interactive corporate workshops, expressive art sessions, professional counselling, quirky office supplies – all these can help encourage employee wellbeing. However, as an organisation, it is extremely important to understand that mental health issues can still be considered taboos. Therefore, it is important that you break the barriers and encourage open discussion.
You have to help your employees shed their inhibitions so that they feel comfortable enough to open up about their issues, approach counsellors or opt for other therapies that the organisation might offer.
Also, make sure that your strategies and policies are in line with your vision of employee wellness. Remote working policies for differently abled, work from home policies for freelancers, policies for new parents, health insurance plans, learning and development programs to enable upskilling in digital and technology, flexible leave policies, a robust system that assigns and tracks KPIs and performance in a transparent manner – all these should certainly be considered.
In a rapidly evolving work environment, it is important that you hear your employees out, understand their challenges, and help them grow. As Anne Mulcahy, former Chairperson and CEO, Xerox Corporation, had put it, “Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.”
This article was first published in 2021 in Consultancy Asia