Experts and business leaders say flexible work arrangements can promote mental wellness

Most Singaporeans wished to continue working from home. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - 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 pandemic, a panel of mental health experts and business leaders said on Wednesday (Jan 13).

"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," said Associate Professor John Wong Chee Meng, a mental health expert at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

He was among those who spoke at the 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 re-calibrate 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 companies should think about how best to support their employees 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, who is the chief executive officer and founder of local entertainment 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 Ms Nabiilah Hanifah, who is a counsellor at 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 by playing games, or allotting time for employees to share their feelings or talk about themselves, said panellists.

As for what employees should do when facing stress or burnout, the 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 response 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.

Correction note: An earlier version of this article gave Prof Wong an incorrect designation. We are sorry for the error.

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