Trust in working relationships important for employees' mental well-being, says HR professional

When employees are not well physically or mentally, it will impact their work. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Whenever Ms Lyn Lee wants to have an intimate conversation about mental well-being with a colleague, she first tries to gently disarm them with a story from her personal reservoir of life experiences.

The chief diversity and inclusion officer at energy giant Royal Dutch Shell, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder more than 10 years ago, told the Straits Times this approach usually puts colleagues at ease.

They are then more willing to trust and open up about their own personal struggles.

"It is about making it safe for other people, because people relate to others through their stories and their experience," said Ms Lee, a Singaporean and the first person outside of Europe appointed to fill this global role, in 2018.

"A colleague or a family member who is struggling or hurting will most likely open up if they feel like you will truly understand them."

Ms Lee, who is in her early 50s, said she was diagnosed during a difficult period in her life.

Ms Lee said her colleagues at Shell helped her through those difficult times.

Recalling their care and compassion, the single mother of two daughters said her immediate managers were also very supportive.

She credited Shell for giving her the safe environment to have conversations about what she was going through.

"I told them that because I knew that I was not going to be penalised, it was a safe environment. I would not have shared had I known this was going to come back and bite me," Ms Lee said.

Developing an environment that helps to nurture trusting working relationships is important for organisations aspiring to support their employees' mental well-being, she added.

"We are not talking about this because we want people to divulge what is uncomfortable for them, but we come from a perspective of wanting to care for the individual," she said.

Ms Lyn Lee was diagnosed with bipolar disorder more than 10 years ago. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

"We want people to be able to thrive, so obviously it's a business imperative."

When employees are not well physically or mentally, it will impact their work, added Ms Lee, who was in the pioneer batch of students in the National University of Singapore's psychology department.

For local businesses who may not have the depth of resources available to them like a multinational corporation, Ms Lee said to just do the simple things.

For instance, a business owner can call to check in on workers from time to time and to try and understand what they might need.

"That does not take a lot of resources or time... It's really about pausing for that one moment in time to let people know that they are a very important part of the business," she said.

Ms Lee was among representatives from various companies who attended the virtual launch of the inaugural Workplace Mental Well-Being Campaign on Thursday (Dec 9).

Among the new initiatives launched was a human resource playbook to guide HR professionals and employers in ways to support their employees' mental well-being.

Co-created by the Ministry of Manpower, the Institute for Human Resource Professionals and the Workplace Safety and Health Council, the playbook complements the resources on national mental health portal MindSG.

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