New tripartite advisory sets out steps to tackle mental health needs of workers

The Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-being at Workplaces called on employers to recognise the need for staff to have adequate rest outside work hours.
The Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-being at Workplaces called on employers to recognise the need for staff to have adequate rest outside work hours.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Under a new advisory to tackle mental health concerns of workers here, companies are encouraged to organise talks and workshops on the issue and train managers to spot signs of distress, including workplace burnout, and offer support to their colleagues.

The Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-being at Workplaces also calls on employers to recognise the need for staff to have adequate rest outside work hours.

This can be done by establishing a work-life harmony policy to offer clarity on after-hours work communication.

The new advisory was jointly released by the tripartite partners Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) on Tuesday (Nov 17).

The recommendations come a month after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that a new inter-agency task force has been convened to tackle the mental health needs of Singaporeans.

PM Lee noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about more stresses, pressures and disruptions.

The outbreak has led many workplaces to adopt work-from-home arrangements as the norm, blurring the line between work and home and putting workers at a higher risk of burnout, said the tripartite partners in a statement.

Companies are now advised to extend employees flexible benefits to cover mental health-related consultations and treatments, or offer workers access to counselling services such as employee-assistance programmes.

But workers and self-employed persons can also initiate by reaching out for help if they feel overwhelmed.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who introduced the advisory at the start of the Singapore Workplace Safety and Health Conference 2020 on Tuesday, noted that the pandemic will be a long-drawn battle, and urged employers and their workers to adopt the recommendations.

"While the future remains uncertain as the world continues to battle Covid-19, let us not lose sight of our goals," she added.

"It is timely for the Government, unions, businesses and workers to come together and collectively chart a future where everyone can bounce back."

The two-day virtual conference, organised by the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council, MOM, NTUC and SNEF, will see regulators, industry leaders and safety professionals offer recommendations and implement best practices to improve safety standards and prepare businesses for a post Covid-19 workplace.

It is the first time that the biennial conference is being held online.

Over the two days, key areas that will be covered include a healthy workforce, the impact of digitalisation and how employers can take greater ownership of their workers' well-being.

NTUC assistant secretary-general Melvin Yong said many workers are facing greater mental stress from juggling work and personal commitments in this prolonged period of telecommuting work arrangements.

He noted that the tripartite advisory will therefore "help to reassure workers that safeguards are in place to support their mental well-being".

WSH Council chairman John Ng added that when the workers' mental health is looked after, employers will "benefit from a healthy and productive workforce which can contribute to better business performance".


Key recommendations from the tripartite advisory

Employers are encouraged to adopt the following practices:

• Appoint mental wellness champions to raise employees’ awareness on mental well-being and mental health conditions through talks and workshops;

• Provide access to counselling services such as Employee Assistance Programmes to allow employees to speak to a professional on their work and non-work related challenges;

• Train managers to spot signs of mental distress, and on where they can refer employees to seek help from; and

• Recognise the need for employees to have adequate rest outside work hours by establishing a work-life harmony policy to provide clarity on after-hours work communication.