Collective action needed to create caring, inclusive workplaces

Mental illness still carries social stigma in Singapore. So, it is no surprise that a high percentage of people recovering from mental conditions are excluded from gainful employment (People with mental illness deserve a shot at work; Oct 7, 2017).

Aside from employing deaf people as facilitators, Hush TeaBar - a not-for-profit social enterprise that I founded - also hires people in recovery and people with mental health issues for corporate functions.

Supporting a team completely made up of differently abled people has not been a walk in the park. Yet, over the last 15 months, this team has run all the Hush projects at different workplaces on their own.

I now know it is definitely possible. We just had to retool the work environment, redesign work processes as well as listen and empower to be inclusive and productive.

So in early May this year, 20 leaders - including C-suite executives and the heads of human resources, corporate social responsibility as well as diversity and inclusion - and I came together to form the WorkWell Leaders Workgroup (WLW) to create a network of employers that specifically champions for workplace well-being as a leadership priority.

This is a lofty private-sector-driven effort to address mental wellness in workplaces as an increasing challenge to our productivity and innovation, and move Singapore towards being a strong and resilient economy.

We cannot have a caring and inclusive society if we do not have caring and inclusive workplaces.

As the first collective action of this initiative, we have agreed to support the national anti-stigma campaign by the National Council of Social Service called Beyond the Label.

WLW meets every quarter to share, discuss and co-create inclusive practices for a more caring and inclusive workplace.

This position of leadership that we have is a privilege, but also brings with it a responsibility to create organisations that will support the society we want to live in. The only answer for that is collective action.

Anthea Ong (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2018, with the headline 'Collective action needed to create caring, inclusive workplaces'. Print Edition | Subscribe