A good offence is a strong defence: Are your managers equipped with the skills to handle employees’ mental well-being?

Mental health isn’t just about a medical diagnosis and making sure your employees have access to the care they need. While it’s certainly part of it, we all need to look after ourselves better in this ‘always on’ world of work. Stress levels are at an all-time high. In its 2017 ‘Healthiest Workplace' study, AIA found that stress and anxiety are leading causes of loss of productivity in Asia. For example, there is a loss of 70 days a year in Hong Kong due to mental health-related time absenteeism.

Employers need to wake up to the impact on their greatest assets and give mental health the credence it deserves, as your organisation is not immune. You won’t necessarily see it in the data, but it exists, and your managers can be a central part of addressing the issue.     


Often times, managers just don't know what to do or ask when they see a direct report in need. Stress and burnout look different in everyone and managers need to be trained on signs to look for and how to talk to someone about stress-related issues.

A healthy work environment starts at the top and senior leadership needs to practise what they preach when it comes to time off, work-life balance and checking in with direct reports. Combined with education & the right HR policies, managers can feel empowered to help.


For example, many health insurance providers include an ‘active at work for 6 months’ clause. When maternity leave extends beyond this point, it may result in the employee either losing coverage or returning to work with the same policies of a new employee (pre-existing condition coverage excluded, probationary periods, etc).

It’s difficult to know where to start when it comes to aligning company intention with practices, especially when keeping up with other current initiatives. But, a complete overhaul isn’t always necessary. One of the things we help companies with is to examine current benefit plans alongside people strategy and employee value proposition. This allows us to find out where HR policy doesn’t align with the employee benefits offering.

In many cases, it’s a matter of reviewing and realigning eligibility documentation for things like extended leave and asking the insurance provider to remove things like the actively at work clause from your policy. Small tweaks to your plan can go a long way. When more significant changes are needed, data and expertise are your best friends. You have far more bargaining power than you realise to change the status quo, regardless of your company size. Don’t be afraid to challenge providers to cover things or remove clauses that are important to your organization.

You’d be surprised by the kind of change collective questioning can bring. You owe it to your employees and your value proposition to have policies align with your diversity and inclusion aspirations.

Alice Harkness
by Alice Harkness

Principal, Employee Health & Benefits Asia, Mercer Marsh Benefits

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