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Keynote Speech By Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State for Manpower at Mercer's Singapore Health Forum

Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State, The Westin Singapore

Mercer CEO Ms Peta Latimer,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


  1. Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to join you at Mercer’s Singapore Health Forum 2022 today. I am heartened to see a strong turnout from the HR industry, coming together to share best practices on building a sustainable workplace culture and advancing together in these challenging times.


  2. We meet here today amid perhaps one of the most important turning points in the evolution of the workplace for as long as any of us can remember. The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have prompted fundamental mindset shifts in how we live, work and play. The pandemic has also put a spotlight on employees’ well-being and mental health. As we recover and face other headwinds, companies must prioritise workplace sustainability and better understand the needs of their people to stay ahead of the competition for business and talent.


  3. These shifts in the workplace are happening in the context of greater focus on sustainability. In recent years, the escalating threat of climate change and growing demand for climate action have spurred countries and companies around the world to accelerate their efforts and investments to slow down the effects of global warming. One way to assess and manage the risks and opportunities related to sustainability is the environmental, social and governance framework, or “ESG” in short, which is commonly used for business sustainability reporting. Today, I would like to offer a perspective on how these factors also apply to building a sustainable workplace culture.


  4. First, environmental factors. Talent attraction and retention is an evergreen priority in workplaces, and it is now viewed through green lenses. Our younger workforce wants to contribute meaningfully to society – they are looking beyond bread and butter issues, to considering the company’s sustainability goals and carbon footprint. Hence, companies with clear commitment to environment sustainability goals and strategies to reduce carbon footprint are more likely to attract people with similar values – especially top talents who are globally mobile and progressive.


  5. Besides employees, investors are also increasingly more inclined to be identified with companies who are already on the green economy bandwagon, as part of sustainable product stewardship and progressivity. It is therefore timely for companies to pay greater attention to its impact on the environment and adopt sustainable practices.


  6. Second, social factors. Everyone here recognises the importance of focusing on your employees’ health and safety, including mental health and well-being. The effects of remote work and adjustments to safe management measures (SMMs) during the pandemic has put a lot of spotlight on our workers’ mental health and well-being. In today’s tight labour market and the global war for talent, this is a key factor in talent attraction and retention.


  7. We want our employees to be as productive as they can. Therefore, we must cater to their mental well-being to support them in achieving their personal goals and career ambitions. It's known that being an exemplary employer will not only improve your branding, but also the competitive advantage for your business.


  8. Employers who value and support their workers’ mental well-being will reap long term benefits such as employee retention, low absenteeism and high employee morale.


  9. To provide more practical guidance to companies on how you can support your employees’ mental well-being, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), together with the Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP) and Workplace Safety and Health Council (WSHC) came together to develop a Playbook on Workplace Mental Well-being last year. The playbook includes plug-and-play templates and tips to guide HR practitioners in implementing mental well-being initiatives.


  10. One of the templates in the playbook that companies found useful was the step-by-step guide to set up a peer support system. The playbook lists out several peer support models that organisations can adopt to fit their needs; guidance on how to appoint, recognise and train suitable peer supporters; and how these peer supporters themselves have an adequate support system. I encourage organisations to use the playbook to implement mental well-being initiatives within your organisation.


  11. A company’s mental well-being journey begins with assessing its workforce’s state of mental well-being. On this front, MOM launched the iWorkHealth tool, which helps to assess key workplace stressors and employees’ state of mental well-being.


  12. One company which had used iWorkHealth shared that they were able to able to uncover the underlying reasons for unhappiness in their workplace, as the confidentiality and anonymity of respondents allowed their employees to share honestly. Through iWorkHealth, they found that some of their employees experienced workplace harassment, and they were able to take targeted measures to address this.


  13. I encourage more companies to sign up for this free tool, which provides organisational and departmental-level aggregated reports on your workforce. Employees themselves will also receive individual reports, so that they can have a better understanding of their personal workplace stressors.


    1. As of end June 2022, more than 15,000 individuals have used the iWorkHealth tool and benefitted from it. Companies should continue to monitor their workforce’s state of mental well-being and implement mental well-being initiatives that are relevant and targeted.


  14. I am happy to share that we have started to formally recognise companies with exemplary mental well-being practices. We named eight companies as winners of the WSHC's Culture of Acceptance, Respect and Empathy, or CARE Awards, on Wednesday. The awards raise public mindshare that these companies are progressive employers and we hope that this will help them attract talent.


  15. One of the winners is ARLANXEO (pronounced "AR-LANG-SEO"), a synthetic rubber polymer manufacturing company. They have a suite of measures to support their own employees, including training mental wellness champions to reach out to colleagues in distress, and paying for mental well-being counselling as part of their benefits package. Not only does ARLANXEO support its own employees, it supports its contractors' employees too. ARLANXEO organised recreational activities to lift the spirits of their contractors' employees, many of whom were migrant workers, who had been unable to go home due to pandemic travel restrictions. I hope such practices will gain traction across more companies and industries.


  16. The Government recognises that businesses may incur some costs to provide for employees’ health.


    1. To support companies, the government encourages business to tap on the Total WSH Programme, a free programme by WSHC where companies will be coached by Total WSH providers to manage safety and health in an integrated way, which is free for first-time participating employees.


    2. Tripartite partners also recommend the adoption of portable medical benefits, where employers restructure employer-provided medical benefits from Group Hospitalisation and Surgical Schemes (or GHS schemes) to additional MediSave contributions or other flexible benefits. This eliminates duplication between employer-provided medical schemes and MediShield Life. Employees benefit from having the same medical coverage with no risk of exclusions when they change employers. At the same time, employers are able to better manage its long-term costs for healthcare benefits and premiums which will increase as the workforce ages. The government supports employers who come on these schemes with additional tax benefits.

    3. These are important investments, because in the longer term, healthy and happy workers will drive business productivity.
  17. Work-life harmony and mental well-being are closely inter-related. Having work-life harmony supports good employee mental well-being. Employers can support their employees’ work-life harmony by providing flexible work arrangements (FWAs) and other forms of work-life support.


    1. The pandemic has led to more pervasive implementation of FWAs, particularly telecommuting. But FWAs are more than telecommuting. There are also flexi-time and flexi-load arrangements such as staggered work hours and part-time work. Both employers and employees have seen the benefits of such work flexibility. Employers all over the world are adjusting to this workplace trend while more employees are factoring the availability of FWAs in their job search.


    2. With FWAs, employers will also be able to tap on a wider pool of potential workers who might otherwise be less able to enter the workforce, such as seniors and caregivers. This is especially crucial amid an ageing population and as businesses look to fulfil their manpower needs as the economy recovers.

    3. The government has been providing more resources and training support to equip companies with the know-how to implement FWAs in a win-win and sustainable manner, through training sessions run by TAFEP and SNEF, as well as a playbook on managing a hybrid workplace which IHRP had published. Employers can also tap on grant support for pre-approved digital solutions (e.g. under Productivity Solutions Grant , SMEs Go Digital) which can reduce the need for on-site presence and facilitate telecommuting. NTUC Company Training Committees could help companies to chart their business and workforce transformation plans, and identify opportunities for job redesign.

  18. Finally, governance. In terms of workplace culture, this pertains to how an organisation transforms its workplace and prepares its workforce to support businesses’ shifting needs.


    1. Tech adoption and digitalisation will be an important enabler for HR, allowing them to be more productive through automation as well as more strategic through the use of data and analytics to drive organisational and employee-decisions.


    2. This is why IHRP has launched two additions to its set of Human Capital Playbooks, to help businesses pave the way forward.


    1. The first playbook - Work Transformation Playbook offers 5 guided steps to help businesses evaluate the impact of COVID-19 and the external environment on business strategy, workflow, and the workforce.


    2. The second playbook titled "Digital Transformation Playbook" will guide businesses to address their digital adoption challenges and determine the infrastructure considerations, skills and mindset needed for a successful digital transformation journey.


  19. I invite all employers and HR leaders to make good use of the available resources to transform your businesses and the way you manage and engage your employees.


  20. The government is committed to working with our partners to build a stronger and more sustainable workforce and workplace culture for all workers in Singapore. I applaud Mercer for organising today’s event as a platform for sharing amongst the various stakeholders.


  21. Let's take this opportunity to exchange ideas and think about how to build a happier workforce and achieve a more sustainable workforce culture, which would in turn improve the performance of your business. Thank you.