Parliament: Advisory to help employers improve their staff's mental well-being to be published by end-2020

Senior Minister of State Zaqy Mohamad acknowledged that the current work-from-home arrangements have blurred the lines between work hours and personal time. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - An advisory to help employers improve their staff's mental well-being will be published by the end of the year.

It will highlight notable initiatives for companies to emulate, such as giving access to anonymised external counselling services, as well as training supervisors to identify symptoms of mental health issues early.

Responding to a question by Mr Melvin Yong (Radin Mas), Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said on Tuesday (Oct 6) that the Tripartite Advisory on Mental Health is currently undergoing consultation.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is working with employers, unions, mental health professionals and civil society groups, including the Youth Wellbeing Network.

The idea behind such recommendations for employers was discussed in March during MOM's Committee of Supply debates.

Mr Zaqy noted then that an advisory would educate employers on how they can best support their employees' mental well-being.

On Tuesday, Mr Zaqy said the Inter-Agency Advisory on supporting mental well-being of workers under Covid-19 work arrangements, published in April, might serve as a useful reference.

It contains a list of external resources that employers can consider engaging to provide support for their workers' mental health.

"Employers can also initiate support for their workers.

"For instance, supervisors can check in regularly with their workers, talk to them to find out if they are facing any problems, and refer them to external help if needed," added Mr Zaqy.

Mr Yong also asked if the Tripartite Advisory would address the right of employees to disconnect from work outside of the work hours, as the current prolonged telecommuting arrangements have blurred boundaries between the home and the office for many workers.

"Many have told me that they now work increasingly long hours as e-mails, calls and WhatsApp messages have come in outside of their regular working hours. Some shared that they now have Zoom work meetings in the night, which they never had before Covid-19," he said.

In response, Mr Zaqy acknowledged that the current work-from-home arrangements have blurred the lines between work hours and personal time, and said it is important for the Government to examine how to better manage work-life balance.

But he noted that such a "right to disconnect" law is relatively new around the world, with many countries, including Singapore, still observing its outcomes.

"We must consider whether something like this would be relevant or rigid in Singapore's context, given that many of us do work for multinational firms or firms that work across time zones," he said.

He also pointed out that enforcing work hours rigidly may negatively impact workers who currently enjoy the flexibility of running errands during the day and working at night instead.

However, Mr Zaqy acknowledged that such concerns are important and could be raised as part of the discussion on the Advisory.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) also asked if the Advisory would clearly state that employers should not request for information on the person's mental health condition, unless the condition has a direct connection with their ability to perform their job.

In response, Mr Zaqy said: "The Tripartite Advisory has not been announced, I can't confirm. But certainly we'll look into it."

He added that employers are currently already discouraged from asking for such information during the employment application process, where the job does not require it.

"This is something that I think we need to hold strong to... rest assured... we want to make sure that the well-being of our workers are protected, both from the physical health state, as well as the mental health state," he said.

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