Shawn Lim
Oct 10, 2023

Mental health in APAC workplaces: A deep dive into WFA's findings

On World Mental Health Day, Campaign looks at the state of mental health in APAC, the positive trends and challenges, according to the 2023 WFA global census.

Mental health in APAC workplaces: A deep dive into WFA's findings

The second WFA global census offers a comprehensive view of inclusivity and mental health in brands and agencies across several countries.  

Campaign has exclusive insights into the APAC findings of the WFA DEI survey, building upon the global revelations released in June.  

In our first report of the findings, we found countries like Philippines, India, and New Zealand have made strides to demonstrate positive trends to create a sense of belonging and culture for employees. In contrast, work needs to be done in markets like Japan and Malaysia that face challenges in creating more inclusive and discrimination-free work environments. 

On World Mental Health Day, Campaign looks at the APAC findings of the WFA global census to reflect on the state of mental health in the industry and speaks to experts to understand what needs to change. 

The state of mental health in the workplace in APAC

The findings of the WFA's 2023 survey are based on responses from more than 13,000 respondents across 91 countries. There were noticeable increases in the proportions of women (from 58% in 2021 to 63% in 2023), disabled (from 7% to 10%) and LGBQ+ respondents (from 16% in 2021 to 19% in 2023). These changes did not affect the overall inclusion score, according to the WFA.

Delving into APAC mental health results, New Zealand comes across as a front-runner, with 58% of respondents saying their workplace is open about mental health issues. Philippines has a similar trend; 67% of respondents say their employer is candid about all aspects related to mental health. 

Unsurprisingly, Japan, which has consistently ranked low on the World Happiness Index, does not paint a bright wellness picture in the WFA survey either. According to the 2021 World Happiness Report, Japan was 55th out of the 146 countries, which is relatively low for industrialised countries, and in line with that, around one in three respondents indicate their workplace does not carry a mental health stigma and is open about wellness. 

Other key findings in charts below:

Gayatheri Silvakumer, the chief talent officer for APAC at McCann, says the pandemic opened up various avenues and opportunities for organisations to be more inclusive by emphasising empathy, employee wellness, and adapting to hybrid and adaptable working conditions and ways of operating.  

She notes distress, burnout, and anxiety are common in places such as Japan, the Philippines, and New Zealand. Traditionally, agencies are fast-paced, with tight turnaround times, long hours, high client expectations, and competitiveness, all of which burn out individuals.  

“This can manifest as a toxic workplace, behaviours, and deteriorated cultural factors, which contribute significantly to poor well-being, forcing people to leave the agency or keep enduring in silence, tolerating it, preventing them from reporting mental health issues or raising their hands when they reach extreme burnout,” Silvakumer tells Campaign.

“It is essential to make employee wellbeing a priority and everyone's responsibility! Rather than offloading duties, assist employees in managing their responsibilities. Considering people require different things at different times, the concept of using a single system or support mechanism for all should be shifted to agile practices and leadership, being adaptable as needed individually.” 

L-R: Gayatheri Silvakumer, Jolene Huang and Hannah Dobies

Silvakumer explains agencies can create a culture of openness and well-being, reducing the stigma of getting medical help. 

Having a culture of openness allows people to discuss what and how they feel they need to be at their best, and offering those opportunities would undoubtedly enhance people's general health and the culture of the agencies.

For example, on World Mental Health Day every year, McCann takes a wellness break by pausing operations for the day. The agency customises its employee assistance programs to meet local, cultural, and societal needs; apps like Headspace have made it possible for McCann’s employees to access psychological care whenever needed while overcoming the stigma associated with seeking help.

How to improve mental health in the workplace?

Agencies are taking stock of where we are at an industry, company, or individual level. More importantly, they ensure that focus on mental health lives beyond one day. 

MediaMonks has created a dedicated microsite for staff this year that will help to aggregate a resource for staff that can be accessed at any time. The website will house information, activities, and support related to mental health, stress management, and overall well-being.  

In addition, the agency also organises global guest speakers and engages in discussions, educates to destigmatise mental health issues, and provides valuable strategies to employees to cope.   

“Incorporating community-building healthy activities into company culture on a less formal level is also really important. For example, some of our offices have regular yoga classes, some play football and others get together to play Dungeons and Dragons,” Hannah Dobies, the DE&I and culture manager for APAC at MediaMonks, explains to Campaign. 

“Employee mental health is something that we should be looking out for all the time and a core part of that is ensuring that the right training is in place for managers and staff. We’ve got a schedule of DE&I and Workplace Sensitivities training across APAC that we hope to ensure is a topic year round.” 

Jolene Huang, the chief talent officer of Publicis Groupe in Singapore and Southeast Asia, says agencies can support employees better in mental wellness in three areas: create specific workplace arrangements for better flexibility, automate processes to take out the menial workload, have closure days at fixed times of the year so everyone can switch off. 

“We need to listen to our employees more. Leaders, HR, and talent teams need to be coached to spot early signs of stress and be equipped to have conversations with employees as the first level of support for our employees,” Huang tells Campaign. 

“This also includes giving our leaders the flexibility to dish out any support like time off sabbatical leave when needed. Client support and cooperation are critical so having them understand when we have initiatives like agency closure days it means our employees are not liable to work and/or reply emails texts.” 

Source:
Campaign Asia

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