Over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on companies and the well-being of their employees. Therefore, it is unsurprising that a shift is occurring in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region to provide mental health support to workers, according to a Willis Towers Watson (WLTW) survey.

2020 Restoring Stability report surveyed 746 employers who employ about 1.6 million employees in different industries. While 33% of the respondents felt that COVID-19 would negatively affect employee welfare and well-being in APAC from a moderate to a large degree, 30% thought that the pandemic would hurt productivity too.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mental health problems, such as depression, cost the global economy $1 trillion USD annually through a lack of productivity. Fixing these issues reduces burnout and employee absenteeism and boosts work efficiency, which increases revenue.

Supporting employees through unprecedented times

Because of the potential economic challenges facing APAC companies, they have taken steps to protect themselves. The WLTW survey shows that many respondents have set hiring freezes across their organisations to cut costs. Unfortunately, 16% opted to let employees go, while another 21% contemplated reducing their workforces.

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Another step has involved managing salaries and bonuses. Around 13% decided to freeze pay rises for a while, whereas 10% opted to reduce wages altogether. Meanwhile, 26% thought limiting annual bonus increases for the remainder of last year would benefit them.

Even so, emotional health is now the “top priority” for company heads, according to the report. Organisations in India, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand are changing their benefits system to make well-being programmes the most important ones.

For example, 80% of businesses are promoting digital mental health services for their employees. About 72% of respondents are supporting their work-from-home staff by highlighting well-being apps and telemedicine services to use.

The three significant priorities for companies will be safety, resilience management, and talking about benefits and wellness. With 52% of respondents enhancing employee safety, 38% plan to focus on mental health services and 35% plan to share information with their staff about relevant well-being programmes.

Businesses working on mental health in APAC

Even though the hustle culture of the past helped grow startups, it caused much harm as well. Its aggressive nature affected mental health, brought with it debilitating stress and increased physical ailments, such as heart disease.

Now, with people and businesses struggling because of COVID-19, a rethink is necessary to navigate this period. As the WLTW report notes, organisations in APAC are supporting their workers through the new digital environment.

For example, 57% provide virtual solutions to help employees work from home without issues, while 79% connect their employees through video-conferencing tools. In addition, there has been an amenable approach added, with 52% of companies offering flexible work hours and paid leave. The region is now seeing more virtual care and yoga initiatives and digital support for remote workers.

Leaders need to take an active role in ensuring their team’s mental well-being. There’s a risk in pushing employees too much because it might break their minds and spirit. The good news is that two-fifths of the survey respondents are revising their 2021 healthcare strategies. They’ll review vendors, how workers use benefits, and the mental health solutions their business offers.

Taking care of workers builds loyalty and enhances productivity

Startups in APAC are getting in on the act and contributing immensely toward staff wellness. For instance, growth capital fintech company JenFi has a flexible financing plan to help businesses navigate the pandemic, giving funding options for new mental health strategies.

Another company is Singapore-based MindFi, a mental well-being platform that provides employees self-help apps and gives employers insights on improving their workplaces. They also offer coaching and counselling services. Their solutions are necessary with many stressed and overwhelmed employees unable to access healthcare services due to rising costs.

Insurance firm Chubb Asia Pacific launched a Work from Home insurance cover to help employers protect their remote workers. Their policy covers home accidents, deaths, and disabilities and pays for therapy consultation fees, surgeries, and counselling expenses.

Enhancing mental health support programmes and signing up for insurance coverage that includes wellness cover will improve employee welfare and well-being in APAC companies. Employers should focus on creating an open, inclusive, and understanding culture that addresses employee concerns and health emergencies quickly and efficiently.

Moreover, they should prioritise mental wellness and finance health resources to manage stress and anxiety in the workforce. In addition, counselling and social services should be available to every employee to function at their best. These and other programmes will significantly increase staff retention and make companies more attractive to those seeking work. It also boosts employee productivity to help economic growth in the region.