MPs, unions welcome new mental health advisory for workers

SINGAPORE – Members of Parliament and unions welcomed the announcement on Tuesday (Nov 17) of a new tripartite advisory to look after the mental well-being of workers here.

The advisory comes as employees face greater mental stress and a higher risk of burnout from juggling work and personal commitments, especially with telecommuting work arrangements due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-being at Workplaces was launched by the Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation.

NTUC assistant secretary-general and Radin Mas MP Melvin Yong, who had highlighted workplace burnout, said the advisory reassures workers that safeguards are in place to support their mental health.

“It provides practical measures that employers can adopt to support their employees’ mental well-being. The advisory also provides a list of resources that employers, employees and self-employed persons can tap on,” he added.

One recommendation urges employers to establish a work-life harmony policy to offer employees clarity on after-hours work communication.

Mr Yong, who has been pushing for a “Right to Disconnect” law that would help employees have protected time to recharge, noted that workers can better focus on their work when they have enough rest.

Fellow NTUC assistant secretary-general and labour MP Desmond Choo, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, said the decentralised workplace norms, such as working from home, have “drastically reduced traditional support structures” to help workers cope with stress.

“Coupled with recessionary pressures from Covid-19, the impact on mental health is magnified,” he added.

Yio Chu Kang MP Yip Hon Weng, who is a member of the GPC for Manpower, noted that the pandemic has reduced physical interactions between individuals, resulting in workers having less opportunities to confide in others if they need help.

He added that those who have to work from home and deal with caregiving duties, which include looking after their children, may find it hard to multitask.

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Mr Yip called on employers to build up their awareness of mental health matters, which will allow them to detect issues early and find help for their staff.

Unions and associations said that with work-from-home arrangements becoming the new normal, at least for the foreseeable future, such a move would ensure a healthy and productive workforce.

Employers are recommended to provide access to counselling services and training managers to spot signs of distress.

Singapore FinTech Association president Chia Hock Lai said: “While there might be incremental cost associated with such initiatives, they are also likely to result in more engaged and mentally healthier employees, which would translate into more sustainable productivity gains for the companies.”

Mr Gary Khoo, director of preventive health programmes at the Health Promotion Board, said employers can train leaders at the workplace to identify and support staff who may have mental health concerns.

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“This will create a supportive workplace environment for better engagement of employees,” he added.

Singapore Human Resources Institute president Low Peck Kem added: “When an organisation looks after their employees, it’ll reflect positively in their business. Hence, paying attention to an organisation’s mental wellness is a business imperative, and not just nice to have.”

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