Office life can be extremely stressful, especially with the competitive nature of work and long hours that can lead to stress and sleep disorders for some employees.


In fact, research by Mercer Marsh Benefits for our 2018 Medical Trends Around the World survey showed that globally the top three risk factors for employees remain metabolic and cardiovascular risk, dietary risk and emotional/mental risk. To put the global mental health problems into perspective, 1 in 3 people in the UK have been recorded as suffering from mental health issues.    


The emphasis is now on employers to help with the mental wellbeing of their employees by providing comprehensive wellbeing strategies for emotional and mental health. Adopting integrated health and wellbeing strategies underpinned by stronger digital and data capabilities will be a critical factor in managing the rising costs of workforce health benefit programs.


Employers are encouraged to adopt a whole system approach to wellbeing, in which mental health is recognized alongside physical health, as one of the essential building blocks to help employees fulfill their potential. But unfortunately, employers are slow to realize the risks concerned with mental health, with less than 50% of insurers and respective employer medical plans providing access to personal counseling.


In Asia, mental health tends to be a taboo subject as it has a stigma around it and employees are concerned about coming forward with their issues in a fiercely competitive workplace environment. The Hong Kong Mental Morbidity Survey, a three-year study launched in 2010, found fewer than a quarter of people with common mental disorders had sought medical support in the previous year, and only 3.9% had seen a psychologist for help, reported SCMP.


When we asked insurers: What three risk factors do you think influence employer sponsored group medical costs the most? Globally, as I mentioned earlier, mental health was third with 43%. However, in Asia mental health ranked bottom, behind occupational risk (44%) and environmental risk (51%), with 31%. 


But this doesn’t mean that mental health benefit programs in Asia should be ignored by companies, even with the increase in medical costs worldwide. According to the 2018 Medical Trends Around the World survey, the global medical cost in 2017 increased at 9.5%, almost three times the inflation rate of 3.4%. Hong Kong’s increment was below the average global level but higher than the other two developed Asian cities, namely Singapore (8.6%) and South Korea (7%).


“Hong Kong’s medical costs significantly outpaced the local inflation rate and employer’s cost on health care continues to grow. Therefore, employers should review the existing design of health care plans, further invest in data analytics and adopt a whole system approach in order to effectively manage employee health care cost,” Billy Wong, Mercer’s Health & MPF Business Leader, Hong Kong said.


Employers can tackle the risk of mental health problems by launching workplace health strategies. Check out my ideas on ways to keep your workforce mentally healthy and happy.

Mindfulness Training: By implementing mindfulness training at work, employees will be able to effectively deal with stress, increase productivity in the office, maintain greater focus and their overall health will improve.  But what exactly is mindfulness training? It’s a meditation technique aimed at focusing the mind on the present moment, which enhances an employee’s ability to work on day-to-day tasks and find balance.

Fitness programs: The physical health benefits of working out are well documented, but exercise is also an effective way to boost your mental health. Exercise releases endorphins which make people feel happy. Employees who are feeling stressed, depressed or suffering from anxiety are advised to workout for 30 minutes a few times a week.

Flexible work schedule: Working from home and flexible work schedules give employees the freedom they need to stay motivated. The flexibility allows employees to take a break and lowers the risk of burnout. Working from home can reduce parenting stress as employees are afforded the flexibility to meet the needs that come with having a family. These factors and more increase employee morale and help to reduce absenteeism.

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About the Writer


Liana is a Partner based in the Singapore office and the Asia Consulting Leader for Mercer Marsh Benefits. She has worked 18 years in the insurance, broking and consulting industry, with 10 years of experience focused on international benefits, global and regional benefits management and multinational pooling.


Liana is responsible for leading the regional consulting team across  Asia, the Middle East and Africa and for the provision of consulting services to multinationals across multiple markets, including benefit strategy, health strategy, governance, plan design advice, flexible benefits consulting, innovation, multinational pooling, captives and analytics. She is an active ambassador of diversity and inclusion in the workplace across Asia driving thought leadership in partnership with clients on mental wellbeing in the workplace, aging workforce, structuring inclusive rewards programs with a focus on LGBT, flex and choice in the workplace. She has represented Mercer on BBC Asia (Live) – providing thought leadership on Diversity and Inclusion best practices, LGBT policies and women in the workplace.

Prior to joining Mercer in 2006 as the Australian Health & Benefits Consulting Lead, Liana worked for various life insurance offices in roles ranging from business development to product management.


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