Consider flexi work arrangements to promote mental wellness: Panel

(From left) Singapore Kindness Movement general secretary and moderator William Wan with entrepreneur and professional speaker Wong Su-Yen, non-profit Club Heal counsellor Nabiilah Hanifah, NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine's Associate Professor Jo
(From left) Singapore Kindness Movement general secretary and moderator William Wan with entrepreneur and professional speaker Wong Su-Yen, non-profit Club Heal counsellor Nabiilah Hanifah, NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine's Associate Professor John Wong Chee Meng and FLY Entertainment CEO and founder Irene Ang at the panel discussion yesterday. PHOTO: SINGAPORE KINDNESS MOVEMENT

Employers should consider putting in place flexible working arrangements to promote mental wellness among employees as more of them return to the office amid the outbreak, a panel of mental health experts and business leaders said yesterday.

Associate Professor John Wong Chee Meng, a mental health expert at the National University of Singapore's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, said: "Some people might be afraid or anxious about returning to work because of the risk of contracting the virus when travelling during peak hours. Supervisors could take a more understanding view and allow employees to come in during off-peak hours."

He was among those who spoke at a panel discussion moderated by Singapore Kindness Movement general secretary William Wan.

Given that many have already been working from home for months, Prof Wong said: "It's a good time, during the pandemic, for all workplaces to consider how they may recalibrate work arrangements to provide better work-life balance for employees."

Citing a survey in August last year by EngageRocket, an employee engagement and performance software provider, which found that most Singaporeans wished to continue working from home, professional speaker and entrepreneur Wong Su-Yen said that firms should think about how best to support their staff in doing so.

"It might require a shift in budget from real estate to support in other ways," said Ms Wong, adding that employers could ensure the right ergonomics for their employees and good Wi-Fi connections when they work from home.

Beyond working arrangements, the panellists also highlighted the importance of providing emotional support to employees by creating a more empathetic work environment.

Ms Irene Ang, chief executive and founder of local talent agency FLY Entertainment, said she has learnt to spot the signs of emotional distress among her staff, and reach out when necessary.

Signs of work anxiety include being flustered and having difficulty focusing or remembering things, said counsellor Nabiilah Hanifah at non-profit Club Heal.

Prof Wong also highlighted that the most visible sign of stress is irritability, which can be observed in day-to-day conversations.

Other ways of promoting mental wellness include injecting some fun into meetings through games, or allotting time for employees to share their feelings or talk about themselves, said the panellists.

As for what employees should do when facing stress or burnout, panellists suggested reaching out to supervisors and communicating their needs.

Employers should, in turn, do their best to accommodate their workers. Said Ms Ang: "If you're a smart business owner, don't get in the way of their needs: Provide as much as you can afford."

In reply to a question about how to rediscover passion for work, Ms Wong gave two suggestions: linking work to a higher purpose or reinventing yourself, and perhaps finding a new career direction.

The full panel discussion can be viewed on the Singapore Kindness Movement Facebook page.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2021, with the headline 'Consider flexi work arrangements to promote mental wellness: Panel'. Print Edition | Subscribe