6 Ways To Promote Mental Wellness In The Workplace

By Chong Seow Wei

Team lunches and ping-pong tables are great, but they don't lower stress levels. Here are six ways you can promote a culture of wellness and decrease productivity-sapping stress levels in your workplace

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Most of us spend about one-third of our lives at work. And when we are in the office, there are many factors that can cause us to experience anxiety—from seeing an inbox with 300 unread emails and chasing tight deadlines, to meeting the expectations of our team members, leaders or investors. 

When unhealthy stress levels are not effectively addressed, they can lead to productivity loss, absenteeism and mental health issues. 

Providing office perks such as free snacks, monthly in-office massages and ping-pong tables may help to take our minds off the issue for a moment, but the reality is that these are temporary answers. 

The long-term solution lies in the culture that a leader instils at the workplace, says the business leaders we speak to below. Here's how six Gen.T honourees promote a culture of mental wellness in the workplace.

Build a close-knit team

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Above  David Pynt

David Pynt

Chef-owner, Burnt Ends Hospitality Group

In 2017, a two-year study released by Mental Health America showed that working environments within the food and beverage industry correlated with a high level of mental health issues. The industry was also found to be one of the worst to work in, due to its long hours, high levels of stress and low wages. While the study only analysed the US, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to make a similar case for other markets globally.

In Singapore, David Pynt of one-Michelin-starred barbecue restaurant Burnt Ends, is no stranger to these issues, and is setting an example for other culinary leaders to follow. 

“Our group is like a family—we treat each other as an extension of our own family. We have chefs with young children as well, so we make sure everyone understands that family comes first. We also have zero tolerance for any form of abuse and bullying. 

Additionally, we value open communication, so we know what our staff is going through in their personal lives. Where they may need help or support, we’ll come up with the best solutions together.”

See also: M17 Entertainment Group's Joseph Phua On The Lessons That Shaped His Leadership Approach

Lead with empathy

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Above  Emily Teng

Emily Teng

Founder, Blessings in a Bag

As founders expand their organisations to other markets, leading a team without physically being in the country with them can be a challenge. 

For Emily Teng, who has been remotely running her Singapore-based non-profit organisation Blessings in a Bag from San Francisco since she moved there with her husband in 2019, extra effort has to be made to stay connected with her team digitally. “I’m very intentional about asking how my team is first rather than the work that they’ve done,” she says. 

“At our monthly ‘team huddles’, we have a self-check-in portion where everyone can share about their happiness levels, how they’re feeling and what they need support with professionally or personally. 

It's important to know how we can relate to each other as humans—to have compassion and empathy. We should take time to build relationships, and not focus on what we stand to gain from them. If you don't take this time to find out where people's hearts and minds are at, it will be challenging to identify or coach them to tap on their strengths.

I’ve also personally found this quote by American researcher and author Brené Brown to be very helpful in guiding me as a leader: ‘Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.’ To me, it suggests that one should lead with courage and authenticity, and to be clear about everything one does.” 

Get the culture fit right when hiring

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Above  Mark Koh

Mark Koh

CEO, Supahands

“Creating communities and environments that foster talent and drive growth is one of our most important missions,” says Mark Koh, CEO of Supahands, a Malaysia-based tech firm that provides data at scale and speed to companies using a combination of artificial and human intelligence. This year, one of the organisation's themes is ‘Caring at Scale’. Several initiatives that have already been put in place include the SupaAgent Hub, a team that looks after the well-being of the organisation’s 11,000-strong remote workforce. 

Koh also notes that while it is important for leaders to build a healthy working environment for their teams, a team’s overall well-being is also dependent on how well every member aligns with the company’s values. 

“Cultural fit is an important feature we look out for during our hiring process. We have a set of core values that we look for in everyone who joins the organisation. This ensures that everyone is aligned and we can grow together as a business, a dynamic team, and a family.” These values include having the courage to speak up, being accountable, and embracing change. 

“Really, we want to create an environment where people can innovate and be productive, which are crucial to Supahands’ overall growth.”

See also: 5 Tips For Finding The Right Co-Founder

Be vulnerable

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Above  Leong Chee Tung

Leong Chee Tung

Co-founder and CEO of EngageRocket

"One of the key methods to ensuring a healthy office culture is making your employees feel psychologically safe,” says Leong Chee Tung, who co-founded human resource-tech start-up EngageRocket to help companies better understand how to keep their employees productive and happy with the help of data. By building a “safe” environment, he explains, employees feel that they can express their opinions honestly without being unfairly judged, and engage in constructive dialogue with their colleagues to create value. 

“Studies find that employees who feel that their voice is heard are not just more likely to have higher mental well-being, but also are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to do their best work.”

At EngageRocket, Leong and his co-founder Dorothy Yiu have built a culture based on three pillars: “Firstly, we encourage transparency in all our discussions. While we are mindful of being civil and constructive, it is important for points to be clearly made, even if they run counter to our own expressed opinions or directions. One of our core values is actually ‘No bullshit’.

Secondly, we value authenticity and vulnerability. As a result of our level of transparency, it is quite normal for us as leaders to share our doubts with each other and our teams. By showing our authentic selves, and our vulnerable side, we encourage everyone in the company to be themselves at work, and to pull together to solve problems. 

Finally, we leverage our own technology. We conduct regular confidential pulse surveys to validate whether our team members feel that their voices are being heard. This is an important barometer for us to take stock of the state of our teams, and if we have been living up to our own values and encouraging the right behaviours.”

Empower your team

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Above  Realrich Sjarief

Realrich Sjarief

Founder and principal architect, Raw Architecture

There’s a quote from American dancer Twyla Tharp that goes: “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination”. For Realrich Sjarief, founder and principal architect at Jakarta-based Raw Architecture, that couldn't be more true. 

For him, one of the key factors to ensuring his team is happy at work is providing them with space to actually tap into their individual creativity. “I think the future is about how we can create space for our creatives to experiment with ideas.” 

The goal is to empower every employee and encourage them to take ownership of their work. To do so, he believes in the need to instil in the team an “enthusiasm to help other people, clarity in their responsibilities, self-discipline and a willingness to never stop learning”.

Listen and be flexible

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Above  Marcus Tan

Marcus Tan

Co-founder, Carousell

From the day it was established in 2012, online marketplace operator Carousell has been a team effort, says its co-founder Marcus Tan. And the team behind it has not once lost sight of this mindset even as the company reportedly reached a valuation of S$1.16b in late 2019, following a merger with 701Search, a classifieds firm owned by Norwegian telco Telenor Group. "We want to build a meaningful and enduring company and we invest in our people as they are truly the bedrock of our success," says Tan.

As such, the company's management has taken specific steps to ensure their employees love their work and workplace. One is putting in place flexible working arrangements. "We recognise that employees of today enjoy having flexibility and this can lead to an overall boost in productivity and well-being," says Tan. These arrangements are "based on a few guiding principles and core values such as being mission-first and caring deeply. Our teams are motivated and feel empowered at work, knowing they can better balance between work and personal needs."

Weekly town hall meetings are also organised where management can share important business updates, and teams can talk about projects they’re working on. Time is also allocated for employees to speak about topics they are passionate about. "We’ve been holding these meetings from the very start, and it started with just the three of us co-founders. Now, our team of over 700 employees across our eight different markets take that hour to disconnect from work and interact with people outside their immediate groups, over lunch."

See also: What Matters To Me: Nattawut Poonpiriya, Film Director

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