Response to Adjournment Motion at Parliamentary Speech
MOS Gan Siow Huang, Parliament
I thank the Member, Mr Edward Chia, for his continued passion and interest in driving mental health and wellness at the workplace.
2 The Government has recently formed the Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being (TMW), chaired by SMS Janil. Within the Taskforce, I lead a sub-group that looks specifically at improving the employment and employability of Persons with Mental Health Conditions, as well as strengthening support for mental well-being at the workplace.
3 We have just completed a series of public consultation on the ideas that we are exploring. These include:
- having trained mental health champions at the workplace,
- raising awareness and adoption of mental well-being resources available,
- and reducing stigma around mental health.
We will take into consideration the Member’s inputs as we put together the recommendations.
4 I also thank the Member for laying out the economic case for better workplace mental wellness. With the pandemic bringing mental health to the fore, and the Government’s support through several measures, many employers have started to put in place more measures to support their employees’ mental well-being. Based on MOM’s survey on quality workplaces, the percentage of employers who have adopted two or more mental well-being initiatives has more than doubled, from 16.1% in 2019 to 42.5% in 2021.
5 The Public Service Division (PSD) has taken the lead by launching a suite of initiatives to better support public officers. These initiatives include:
- having a whole-of-government hotline for confidential counselling services to provide all our public officers a safe channel to speak to trained counsellors; and
- building a community of Wellness Ambassadors to serve as added support at the workplace.
6 As the Member has rightly pointed out, more can be done for workplaces in Singapore. I echo the Member’s suggestion for companies to regularly assess the state of their employees’ mental health, for example through the use of the iWorkHealth (iWH) tool ─ a free online psychosocial tool for organisations and their employees. This is the first step to identifying psychosocial risks in the workplace, by giving an indication on the state of mental well-being within the organisation, not just in areas with potential to cause risks, but also areas where the organization has done well.
7 The 20221 iWorkHealth results showed that one in three employees experienced work stress or burnout. The customised and anonymised company report allows each participating company to have a better understanding of their employees’ state of mental well-being and stress factors at work, which then allows them to implement targeted interventions to address the unique challenges within their company.
8 Since the tool was introduced in 2021, the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council has been promoting the use of iWorkHealth through the Trade Associations and our Tripartite Partners. Several government agencies have also started using it. As of end 2022, more than 22,000 employees have used iWorkHealth.
9 To encourage greater adoption:
- Companies which adopt the iWH tool are awarded bonus points that count towards their overall standing to qualify for and win bizSAFE Exemplary Awards.
- Similarly for the annual WSH CARE (Culture of Acceptance, Respect and Empathy) Awards, the use of iWH or any equivalent tool to regularly assess the state of workforce mental well-being will be a key criterion from this year onwards.
10 To get more companies to embrace taking care of their employees as a priority, I believe the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) would be happy to consider the Member’s suggestion to include workplace mental health and well-being support in their new framework around Corporate Purpose for the recently launched New Company of Good programme.
Workplace Mental Health Competencies
11 On workplace mental health competencies, I agree that the Management, HR, those in supervisory positions and employees themselves can be better trained to support mental well-being at the workplace. In particular, HR plays a pivotal role in developing mental well-being policies and encouraging workers to go for mental well-being workshops to raise awareness and competencies. Ideally, all workplaces should identify and equip relevant representatives to:
(i) spot signs of mental distress and common mental health conditions,
(ii) provide initial support to their co-workers, and
(iii) guide the person in distress to seek professional help.
12 I thank the Member for his suggestion to enhance the Playbook on Workplace Mental Well-being, to propose differentiated interventions for different groups of workplace stakeholders. Employers and those interested may wish to refer to the iWorkHealth website for a holistic framework which contains different types and levels of interventions, and develop a strategy with interventions that best suit their own context.
Support for SMEs
13 To support SMEs in strengthening their workplace mental well-being, we have the Total WSH Programme by the WSH Council. This programme provides:
(i) free access to qualified consultants who can advise SMEs on how to manage safety and health in an integrated way, and
(ii) free intervention programmes, such as mental well-being workshops, to enhance the SMEs’ current support.
14 Since mental well-being was incorporated into Total WSH in 2020, more than 62,000 employees have access to Total WSH mental well-being workshops, of which more than 13,000 have attended and benefitted from these workshops.
15 Similarly, the Health Promotion Board has a Workplace Outreach Wellness (WOW) package which supports both SMEs and large companies in rolling out broad-based workplace health programmes, including mental health workshops and Workplace Health Programmes based on the company’s readiness and their employees’ needs.
16 In addition, SkillsFuture Singapore funds various courses relating to mental well-being which seek to equip individuals, employers, managers and professionals managing workplace well-being with an overview of mental wellness, and information on how they can better support their colleagues and staff in times of mental distress. Training providers are able to contextualise these courses to suit the needs of the organisation, including SMEs. Mr Edward Chia would be pleased to know that the Young NTUC WSQ-certified training programme that he mentioned is one of the courses funded by SkillsFuture Singapore.
17 Much has been said about what employers and HR can do to create more supportive workplaces. We must not forget that workers too, have to take ownership of their mental well-being by taking active steps to stay positive mentally and seek help when needed. This is similar to how each of us needs to take care of our physical health by having balanced diet, adequate rest and exercise, and seeking treatment when we fall ill.
18 Colleagues at the workplace can play a role as well, by providing emotional support to their peers or simply, showing kindness and lending a listening ear to those around us.
19 We need to normalise conversations around mental health and mental well-being and remove any associated stigma. This was why the Health Promotion Board (HPB) launched the “It’s OKAY to Reach Out” campaign in 2021 ─ to build awareness and understanding around mental health, empower individuals with coping skills to improve their mental well-being and to reach out for support when they feel overwhelmed.
20 Mr Speaker Sir, I would like to acknowledge the efforts by employers, HR professionals and workers to implement mental well-being initiatives at the workplace, create a safe space for conversations around mental health and mental well-being, and for those in need to seek timely help.
21 Supporting the mental health and well-being of our workers is key to enabling them to lead a dignified and fulfilling life. Let us continue working together to build more inclusive workplaces where workers can thrive in, and as part of our contribution to making Singapore an inclusive place for all.