With the increasing emphasis on mental health and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in recent years, we’re witnessing a global movement around Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) in workplaces aimed at supporting mental health. According to local research on the economic impact of mental health, the excess costs of mental disorders in Singapore were estimated to be about S$1.7 billion per year, with medical care and loss of productivity as the main cost drivers. While some workplaces are still lagging behind in advocating for their employees’ mental health, the upward trends and economic costs will likely become unavoidable in the near future.
Given the concerns over staff well-being and corporate productivity, what should EAPs entail? Should organisations focus on equipping skill sets to support mental wellness, or should welfare policies cover a broader range of support for emotional well-being? While there might not be a silver bullet solution, here are some considerations to ponder:
Consider the Nature of Work:
Every industry and workplace bring different types of risks and stressors to employees’ mental health at work. For example, customer service personnel face risks of violence, while frontline workers may experience traumatic events such as accidents, suicides, or deaths. A strategy like trained peer support may be applicable for service staff interacting with the public, but it might not be as effective for industries that encounter trauma where mental health first aid would be more suitable. Assessing the impact of the nature of work on one’s mental well-being provides insight into how organisations can tailor their EAPs.
Prevention is Better Than Cure:
Businesses often focus on growth principles, such as maintaining good practices or implementing improvements in their systems to minimise losses and maximise profits. However, mental health is a situation that goes beyond merely treating the problem when symptoms or signs arise. While most EAPs offer counselling as part of their strategy, this solution often has a treatment mindset. Alternatively, some questions that organisations can ask themselves before issues escalate include: “Do we understand the emotional climate of our team?” and “Are there preventive measures and strategies we can take to sustain the mental wellness of our organisation?”
Awareness is the Greatest Agent for Change:
In counselling or therapy, part of our skill set is to raise awareness in our clients, which is one of the most significant factors for change. Similarly, people “don’t know what they don’t know,” and change cannot happen without awareness. Being aware of the state of mental health can differ in various systems (from self to team to organisation). Often, people usually seek help only when they have exhausted their capacity to function; they do not identify the first signs and symptoms of their emotional and mental wellness. Whether you are an employee or a business owner, awareness can be as simple as starting a conversation, or it can be facilitated through various platforms such as meetings, talks, training, and even work review sessions.
Last but not least, choosing the right EAP strategy is a process. The dynamics of working with people are ever-changing, and sometimes it can be a hit or miss. Yet, what matters more is the action we take to care for mental wellness. If health is truly wealth, then healthy minds will bring about a wealthier workplace.
Abdin, E., Chong, S. A., Ragu, V., Vaingankar, J. A., Shafie, S., Verma, S., … & Subramaniam, M. (2023). The economic burden of mental disorders among adults in Singapore: evidence from the 2016 Singapore Mental Health Study. Journal of mental health, 32(1), 190-197.
Attridge, M. (2019). A global perspective on promoting workplace mental health and the role of employee assistance programs. American Journal of Health Promotion, 33(4), 622-629.