Workplace mental health issue has become a pandemic crisis

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

RESEARCH: Mental health disorders in the workplace have skyrocketed in the last few decades, and the Covid-19 pandemic has only increased the pressure on employers and their HR teams.

Since 1990, the number of people suffering from depression or anxiety has increased by 50% (to more than 600 million people around the world) according to data from the World Health Organisation. Instances of post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder cases have also increased dramatically.

While the world may have grown economically, longer working hours and the pressure of being constantly connected to our devices, social media and the office have all taken their toll. As a consequence, depression, anxiety disorders, loneliness, addictions, and even suicides have soared. The World Health Organisation estimates that by 2030, depression will overtake obesity as the largest health risk on earth. Burnout has become part of our everyday vocabulary.

Governments, think-tanks, academics, and employers have all recognised the importance of mental wellbeing, and happiness in general, on improving productivity and tackling social instability.

The World Happiness Report by the United Nations noted how some economies are now looking at new measures of economic success not just focusing on GDP. For example, in 2016, the United Arab Emirates appointed a Minister of Happiness. Their main responsibility was to harmonise all government plans, programmes and policies to achieve a happier society.

Countless studies have shown that happy workers are significantly more productive.

Add global upheaval and stir

While the global pandemic has primarily been a health crisis, it has also been viewed as an economic one, as economies and companies have each suffered significant upheaval. The Covid-19 outbreak could yet develop into a mental health crisis as well.

Professor Clare Yeo is a Senior Principal Clinical Psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health in Singapore. In May, she gave a talk on how the pandemic had affected our mental state of health and gave a raft of tips and advice to help reduce stress and anxiety during these unprecedented times. Professor Yeo said that there were many challenges of being isolated together and working from home. Finding personal space and time could be difficult with a partner also working from home, not to mention children also taking part in home-learning activities.

The Singapore government is also looking closely at the issue. It has set up a tripartite advisory group (with members representing employer groups, labour unions, and the government itself) to look at mental wellbeing at workplaces across the country. Among its initial findings, the group has said that practices such as mandatory work-from-home and split team arrangements have been widely adopted, “leading to drastic changes to work content and work context that can and have contributed to work stress for many employees”.

What working life will look like in the so-called “new normal” is also a moving target. HR leaders are expecting to see more hybrid working arrangements, with time split between the office and home. However, some employers want staff to come back to the office just as before, while others are letting staff continue to work from home (or wherever suits them) on a permanent basis.

This feature is extracted from Chief of Staff Asia's report on Mental Health in the Covid-era Workplace. For further coverage, and access to the full report, please see any of the below links:

Pressure from all sides: Mental health in the Covid-era workplace (full report)

Pandemic drives increase in burnout (news highlight) October 15, 2021

Workplace mental health issue becomes a pandemic crisis (feature) October 18, 2021

Burnout boom: Encouraging staff leave during the pandemic (feature) October 20, 2021 Workplace mental health: How employers are responding (feature) October 22, 2021

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