More firms offering counselling for staff

Employee Assistance Programmes include mental health workshops and services like confidential personal counselling.
Employee Assistance Programmes include mental health workshops and services like confidential personal counselling.PHOTO: SINGAPORE ANGLICAN COMMUNITY SERVICES

Greater support provided amid rising stress at work, awareness of impact on productivity

Counselling firms have seen a rise in the number of corporate clients who want to give their staff more mental health support.

Firms say this is due to a more stressful work environment caused by the slowing economy, as well as companies becoming more aware of how poor mental health can affect productivity.

Such support for employees, which often falls under an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), typically involves confidential personal counselling, as well as a slew of other services such as mental health workshops.

The Centre For Effective Living has seen a 10 per cent to 20 per cent increase in the number of corporate clients from the private and public sectors over the past three years.

The centre supports more than 160 companies covering more than 60,000 employees in Singapore.

Its business development manager Phua Honghao said: "In recent years, articles in the local papers have discussed how there has been an increase in the number of employees who say they are mentally exhausted in addition to an increase in young professionals suffering from burnout due to the increase in workplace stress."

Stress at work, and indeed at home, can cause problems on both fronts, he added.

This can cause an increase in presenteeism or absenteeism, or both, at the workplace which leads to a drop in productivity.

Presenteeism occurs when people turn up for work when they should not or when they clock longer hours than necessary.

  • 72%

    Of employers in Singapore consider stress and mental health an issue affecting productivity

    62%

    Of organisations plan to implement mental wellness programmes in the future.

Mr Phua said companies are now recognising that there is much more that they can do to support their employees. It also makes business sense to invest in their welfare, he added.

Just over half of employers in Singapore have emotional and psychological wellness programmes in place, according to a study by Aon, a global firm that provides risk, retirement, and health solutions.

Layoffs among stress factors

The APAC Benefits Strategy Study 2017 found that 72 per cent of employers in Singapore consider stress and mental health an issue affecting productivity, while 62 per cent of organisations plan to implement such programmes in the future - six points lower than the Asia-Pacific average.

PwC Singapore offers an EAP for its employees.

Its Human Capital Leader Trillion So told The Straits Times: "At PwC, we believe that it's important to have a culture that cares for the well-being of employees. We understand that there are times employees might face challenges at work or at home, and may wish to seek counsel from professionals."

A Microsoft spokesman said the firm works closely with Human Dynamic for EAP services.

The cost of an EAP at the Centre For Effective Living varies according to how extensive the programme is. It starts from $2,500, which includes a 24-hour crisis management hotline, to more than $10,000 for the full suite of services.

Work and Health Psychologists' Dr Elizabeth Nair reported a threefold increase in its number of corporate clients over the past three years. She attributes this to company restructuring, which translates to layoffs and retrenchments.

In August, the Singapore Anglican Community Services (SACS) launched EAP+, in partnership with the National Council of Social Service. EAP+ provides employees with face-to-face counselling, e-mail consultation, a dedicated counselling hotline, and training and awareness programmes.

SACAC Counselling's director Ashish Mittal said the organisation has seen a 30 per cent increase in corporate clients over the past year.

He said he has observed greater incidences of depression, as well as an increase in stress and anxiety, particularly at the senior level.

He said besides managing stress, companies could also consider offering more flexible working hours, or allowing employees to work from home.

Companies need to be more understanding and "bring out the human element", he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline 'More firms offering counselling for staff'. Print Edition | Subscribe