Stressed out over work? Help at hand

Govt acts to tackle issue as survey here finds 22% of respondents reported high level of stress since Covid-19, against 5% for pre-pandemic pressure

An accountant was so afraid that he would be retrenched amid the Covid-19 pandemic that he could not concentrate at work, his productivity plummeted and he began to suffer from anxiety and insomnia.

The sole breadwinner was worried about having to pay the mortgage while supporting two young children and his pregnant wife, who eventually took him to see psychiatrist Seng Kok Han after noticing her husband staring blankly at the computer.

His plight is far from rare these days with more employees here reporting high stress levels.

Dr Seng, a consultant psychiatrist at Nobel Psychological Wellness Centre, says he has seen about 20 per cent more patients seeking help for work-related stress in the last few months, and the numbers could increase if the pandemic drags on.

A survey by consultancy Mercer done between July and September found that 22 per cent of the 750 respondents here reported a high level of pressure since the pandemic. Yet just 5 per cent said their stress levels were high before the pandemic.

The survey also noted that 74 per cent said they worked on rest days or beyond regular work hours.

Dr Seng says the blurring of lines between the workplace and home, which often now doubles as an office but may not be as conducive, can also be a key cause of pressure during this time. He cites one patient who had to sit on the floor with his laptop on a stool as there were other family members occupying the only work space in the house.

Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI) president Low Peck Kem says the fear of losing one's job has also been one of the major concerns for workers.

"In this current climate of higher unemployment, economic uncertainty and flexible work arrangements, the workforce is naturally stressed over job security, income security, how their jobs - if they are lucky enough to remain employed - might change...and whether they are skilled to be ready for those new roles," she says.

Mental health advocate and former nominated MP Anthea Ong says work stress predates the pandemic. It can be induced by worries that an employee feels unable to meet job demands or that their role lacks meaning or perhaps from concerns over relationships, which could arise from conflict with colleagues or from prejudice or discrimination.

Initiatives to boost mental health

The Government has taken notice, announcing this month that a Tripartite Advisory on Mental Health to help employers improve staff well-being will be published by the end of this year.


And on World Mental Health Day on Oct 10, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that a new inter-agency task force has been convened to provide a coordinated national response to the mental health needs of Singaporeans due to the pandemic.

As workers and bosses start to pay more attention to mental health, insurers too have been launching new initiatives in this area.

All 1.2 million or so employees of AIA's corporate customers will be able to sign up for a complimentary four-week training programme from next month to cultivate a "resilience mindset", AIA Singapore chief executive Wong Sze Keed tells The Sunday Times.

AXA Insurance launched an employee benefits programme last week with optional add-ons, including fitness and wellness classes via ClassPass as well as mental wellness support from digital therapeutics firm Naluri.

Aviva, NTUC Income and Prudential Singapore corporate customers can include psychiatric treatment coverage in their group plans.

In terms of individual insurance, AIA also insures against five mental illnesses, including major depressive disorder and schizophrenia, while Prudential has a maternity plan covering psychological consultations and postpartum depression.

SHRI's Ms Low says workers can also take steps like eating healthily and taking breaks to look after their mental health. "We all need to exercise self-care, to make sure we ride through this crisis and come out stronger and fitter," she adds.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 18, 2020, with the headline 'Stressed out over work? Help at hand'. Print Edition | Subscribe