Workload is top cause of poor mental well-being for employees across Asia, Mercer’s Healthy Minds at Work Assessment finds

8 in 10 employees report working overtime for more than three times a week.


12 October 2020
Singapore, Singapore


Across job functions and countries in Asia, high work demands have emerged as the top driver of stress in the workplace. Nine in 10 indicated that their jobs required high mental focus and multi-tasking, while six in 10 reported a lack of control over the pace and order of work that they need to complete. Only 41% reported being able to take breaks when necessary.


These are among initial findings of the Healthy Minds at Work Assessment conducted by Mercer between July and September this year to help companies assess and address mental well-being in the workplace. The survey is the first of its kind in Asia to provide businesses with insights into their progress against four key workplace dimensions – “Leadership and Management Support”; “Culture and Social Interactions”; “Work Demands and Career Development”; and “Well-being” – of mental health risks.


The Asia-wide survey, which involved 2500 employees across nine industries (Aerospace, Consumer Goods, Chemicals, Finance, Healthcare, Logistics & Supply Chain, Consulting and Industrial Automation), also found that strenuous work demands have resulted in poor work-life balance. For 83% of employees, working overtime more than three times a week is common. Over 70% report working on rest days or beyond regular work hours. The impact is greater for those in more senior positions.


Workload and work demands are critical areas that employers in Asia need to address to improve the mental well-being of their employees. “The responsibility for creating a positive working environment supportive of employees’ broader emotional wellbeing lies with employers. Organisations increasingly need to support their employees to strike a healthy work-life balance by putting in place the right policies that elevate mental health and safety on a par with physical health and safety. There is also a need for managers to receive training in identifying the early warning signs of employees requiring support,” said Dr Wolfgang Seidl, Partner and Psychiatrist for Mercer Health & Benefits.


Rising Stress Levels


The survey also found that more employees in Asia are reporting high stress levels since the start of the pandemic. While only a handful of employees (7%) reported a high level of pressure before the onset of the pandemic, the percentage has now tripled. 1A pronounced increase in stress levels were also observed in certain demographics and functions. The percentage of senior management and sales professionals who reported experiencing high levels of stress jumped from 9% to 33% and 37% respectively. Respondents who are divorced saw similar hikes in stress levels from 7% to 39%.


As World Mental Health Day on October 10 highlights the theme of “Greater Investment and Greater Access”, it is a timely reminder for companies to take a hard look at what they are doing to safeguard the well-being of their employees, particularly those in vulnerable groups.


“There is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a growing mental toll on employees in Asia and the urgency for companies to prioritize employee mental health has never been greater,” said Liana Attard, Partner, Multinational Client Segment Leader for Mercer in Asia.


“Inaction is not an option. We know that improved mental health in employees across all industries benefits employers and their businesses, positively impacting the productivity of individual, talent retention, and business performance. The challenge lies in bridging the gap between awareness of mental well-being in the workplace and taking action including providing appropriate access to care.”


Employers Do Well with Support and Communication

Despite elevated stress levels, employees across the board reflect that they feel well-supported by their managers and teams. Six in 10 shared that they always receive clear communication (67%) and support from their managers. Support includes assistance to solve problems (66%) or pointing them to others who can help (61%). Respondents also appreciate being heard; with 61% sharing that their individual opinions and views are always taken into account.


Creating an inclusive working environment and culture is another area where employers are getting the thumbs up. 74% shared that they are always able to trust their co-workers, while 78% reported that their workplace culture facilitates collaboration. 77% of individuals find the workplace a safe place to be in, with 76% sharing that manipulation at work is rare. 73% also indicated that their workplaces successes are always attributed to them.


While employers have done generally well in the dimensions of “Leadership and Management Support” and “Culture and Social Interactions”, there is still room for improvement in some aspects. An average of 42% of respondents find it challenging to manage their team, particularly in pre-empting escalated work issues or getting the team to perform. Equally concerning is that 61% of respondents report receiving constant criticisms at work. This is especially distinct among first-line employees who deal directly with customers or the public as well as employees in middle management.


Renee McGowan, Mercer’s CEO for Asia said, “The numbers paint a worrying picture of the impact of work demands and the pandemic on the mental health of employees in Asia, but it also presents opportunities for employers to step up on their measures of support, starting with listening to employees through surveys like these and responding to their concerns with flexibility and empathy.


“The insights from this survey provide valuable indicators and clear action steps to chart new possibilities for mental well-being in the workplace, but is also a reminder that support measures should not be one-size-fits all, given the personal circumstances of each employee. Mercer values the partnership we have with companies throughout Asia; collaborating with them to support their employees’ mental well-being with the right knowledge, resources, and initiatives.”


Notes to Editors


These are the initial findings from the Healthy Minds at Work Assessment conducted in companies across Asia from July to September this year. The survey covered Singapore, Hong Kong, Mainland China, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam as well as Japan.


A full report, including market-specific findings, will be shared in November 2020. The full report will cover wellbeing scores and risk ratings; key drivers of stress in the workplace; what employers are getting right; employee expectations and actions for employers as well as the potential costs of inaction on the part of employers. More information about Mercer’s Healthy Minds at Work Assessment can be accessed here.


1 Respondents were asked to rate their pressure level (from 1 to 5 with 5 as the highest) they generally feel in their job, before and since the pandemic started.


About Mercer

Mercer believes in building brighter futures by redefining the world of work, reshaping retirement and investment outcomes, and unlocking real health and well-being. Mercer’s approximately 25,000 employees are based in 43 countries and the firm operates in 130 countries. Mercer is a business of Marsh McLennan (NYSE: MMC), the world’s leading professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people, with 85,000 colleagues and annual revenue of over $20 billion. Through its market-leading businesses including Marsh, Guy Carpenter and Oliver Wyman, Marsh McLennan helps clients navigate an increasingly dynamic and complex environment. For more information, visit Follow Mercer on LinkedIn and Twitter.