The recently released Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-being at Workplaces is encouraging (New tripartite advisory sets out steps to tackle mental health needs of workers, ST Online, Nov 17). However, most of the recommendations are focused on strengthening workers' resilience or spotting warning signs but do not consider the more important aspect of actually fixing faulty working cultures in organisations.
As highlighted in an article in the Harvard Business Review last December, employee burnout often has less to do with a person's characteristics than the organisation he is working for. A survey of 7,500 full-time employees by Gallup revealed the top five reasons for burnout to be:
• Unfair treatment at work
• Unmanageable workload
• Lack of role clarity
• Lack of communication and support from their manager
• Unreasonable time pressure
These factors are inherently related to an organisational culture over which employees have little control. Hence, the onus is on leaders to recognise that preventive efforts can only start with them.
The Covid-19 pandemic provides the perfect opportunity for organisations to reflect on their current practices and change them as necessary to support their employees better.
For example, implementing task-based schedules instead of working hours where possible could allow greater flexibility for employees to negotiate and agree upon a reasonable number of assignments or tasks that need to be completed each week or day.
This change empowers employees to determine how their time should be spent while ensuring the organisation's productivity is not hindered. For shift workers, perhaps reducing the duration of each shift and allowing employees to spread them out across a week, should they wish, would give them greater autonomy, allowing them better work-life balance.
The possibilities and future of work are endless, limited only by how organisations choose to balance productivity and employee mental health - the two not being dichotomous choices.
Organisations that do not support the well-being of their employees experience a higher turnover rate, lower productivity, and increased healthcare spending. Implementing measures such as more workshops and wellness classes is not going to improve the mental health of employees if the broader organisational and working culture is the problem. This pandemic is our chance to re-envision and redesign working life in Singapore as we know it.
Jonathan Kuek Han Loong