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Now back at work, Singaporeans want better mental health support, gender equality

Jovi Ho
Jovi Ho • 7 min read
Now back at work, Singaporeans want better mental health support, gender equality
From mental health support to equal parental leave, what do Singaporeans want from the workplace of the future?
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Singapore’s labour force may not be in the throes of The Great Resignation seen in the West, but could it?

According to work-tech start-up EngageRocket, studies conducted in 2020 on employee engagement discovered flagging enthusiasm among Singaporeans, which may threaten employee retention.

Global HR and payroll leader ADP found that employee engagement levels in Singapore, at 11%, are lower than the global average, at 14%.

EngageRocket’s study of over 7,000 employees here supports this, where the number of detractors — or those unlikely to recommend a company to friends and family — increased by 17% between 2020 and 2021.

Indeed, employers in Singapore fell behind in supporting staff during the pandemic, according to a Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB) survey.

Employees who feel supported during the pandemic are less likely to want to leave their job, but more than half (56%) reported that they did not receive strong support from their employers, compared with 51% of workers globally and 46% in Asia.

See also: Fighting pandemic fatigue digitally with mental healthcare apps

“Having gone through such a disruptive year, it is clear that employees in Singapore are now looking for more from their employers,” says Krystal Tang, wellness leader at Mercer Singapore.

The HR consultancy’s Health on Demand survey polled over 14,000 employees across 13 countries, including over 1,000 respondents in Singapore.

See also: In women we trust: How the financial sector can encourage female investors


There were a lot more employees last year who faced burnout and issues where they couldn’t switch off from work.

Top on the list of Singaporeans’ most valued support? Flexible work.

Employers were at first wary when Covid-19 forced hybrid work arrangements, Tang tells The Edge Singapore. “They were very afraid that their employees were not productive.

“But there’s two sides to the coin,” adds Tang. “Employees with families and children at home prefer that because they have more time with their family. The flip side is that there are not a lot of boundaries between work and home. There were a lot more employees last year who faced burnout and issues where they couldn’t switch off from work.”

Asia’s struggle with mental health

While most employees have access to the usual benefits like medical coverage and dental care, critical gaps remain.

The rollout of mental health support schemes, while commendable, face cultural roadblocks in Asia, says Tang.

See also: Women in the boardroom: How greater gender parity helps companies

“A lot of employee assistance programmes [EAPs] are actually US-based. When US vendors come in, companies complain that there’s not much utilisation because employees in Asia Pacific [APAC] don’t feel very comfortable speaking to an American counsellor,” she adds.

Homegrown solutions would be a better fit for employees than global mandates, says Tang. She points to Intellect, a Singapore-based mental healthcare start-up serving Fortune 500 firms like Avery Dennison and Schroders, along with Foodpanda, Shopback and Carousell.

“What Intellect did was make sure that they have a huge pool of APAC counsellors, as well as Asian counsellors around the world that they can tap on.”

Finding the best-fit counsellor for an employee may help, but Singaporeans are still bashful about opening up to strangers.


What if I’m facing a very huge issue against my manager? And if the counsellor hears about it, are they going to bring it up with my manager?

According to MMB, more than half (55%) of Singapore employees experienced everyday stress, but only 10% of them are comfortable with discussing mental health challenges.

This “professional barrier” remains a hurdle, says Tang. “A lot of them are still afraid. There is still the notion that if I use the EAPs, or any benefit from my company, especially for mental health, it will go back to my manager. What if I’m facing a very huge issue against my manager? And if the counsellor hears about it, are they going to bring it up with my manager? So, the confidentiality may not be as confidential.”

Tang adds: “The other thing, especially in APAC, is ‘losing face’. ‘If I air my dirty laundry to this counsellor, will they laugh at me? Is it very uncomfortable?’ Even though EAPs are based on confidentiality, a lot of the employees here in Singapore and the region are still not comfortable with it yet.”

‘Period leave’ and caregiver support

According to MMB, only 10% of women reported receiving “very good” support from their employer during the pandemic, half that of men (20%).

“I would say that is mostly because the benefits do not really cater to women,” says Tang. “For example, women are mothers or caregivers, so they don’t have enough time to actually seek out a solution in the workplace.”

Tang calls on companies to reimagine workplace benefits to meet the requirements of women where they are coming from. “For example, in China, I heard some companies offer what they call ‘period leave’.”

Since 2016, some Chinese provinces have offered up to two days of paid leave monthly to women experiencing menstrual pains.

The pandemic has given us the opportunity to reimagine the way we work. This workplace of the future could be more inclusive to parents or caregivers, says Ruma Balasubramanian, managing director, Southeast Asia, at Google Cloud.


The past two years have helped us learn to be really conscious that everyone is working in a different environment.

“At Google, for instance, we expanded carer’s leave from four to 14 weeks of paid time off to support employees with caregiving duties, including those with children, those taking care of the elderly and those with families impacted by Covid-19,” Balasubramanian tells The Edge Singapore.

Instead of the traditional workday, many employees are now working in two- to fourhour blocks of time, she adds. “The past two years have helped us learn to be really conscious that everyone is working in a different environment, and how to drive inclusion regardless of where someone is working from or located.

“We designed Google Workspace to address this, through a range of accessibility features that allow people to contribute equally,” Balasubramanian explains. “I have met many mothers, for instance, who use our technology to automatically communicate their work availability to colleagues, indicate where they are working from, set focus time to minimise distractions and assess how they are spending their time against their own priorities, so they can make flexible arrangements and set aside time to attend to family obligations.”

Creating a gender-equal workplace is not just about focusing on women. Employees of both genders should receive equal parental leave, says Tang. “Maybe Singapore can think about standardising it not just for women, but also men. Fathers are also very stressed supporting their families.”


Since the pandemic hit, it has become an employee-centric world.

Since 2017, working fathers in Singapore can take two weeks of government-paid paternity leave, while working mothers can take up to 16.

“Standardising parental leave will probably make things a lot easier in terms of gender equality in the workplace. I know some workplaces do that, even beyond the government mandate, and I see that employees are a lot happier,” Tang says.

Perhaps one good thing to come out of the pandemic is the world’s shift to a more futuristic way of working, one where employees are thought about first, Tang notes.

“Since the pandemic hit, it has become an employee-centric world,” she says. “Employees’ voices matter and what they need matters. Should those be met, you’ll see a huge number of people staying with a company instead of leaving it.”

Photos: Shutterstock, Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore, Google Cloud, Mercer Marsh Benefits

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