Listen to #Hashtag Hong Kong every Sunday morning at 8.15
Focussing on issues affecting civil society, we'll hear from representatives of NGOs, associations, statutory bodies, and non-profit groups.
(Sundays 8.15am - 8.25am)
I grew up in Hong Kong and have spent the majority of my working life here. People in this city are notoriously hard working, which is both good and bad. Working overtime and being constantly busy are somewhat glorified here, which I believe has impacted the workforce’s mental health.
With COVID and social and economic concerns, our mental health has been affected in various ways. This is not just a Hong Kong issue; Gallup reports show that stress among workers globally has been consistently on the rise over the last 10 years. Workplaces all have a role to play in working together to prevent this trend from worsening.
So, good mental health also means improved productivity, quality of work, and retention rates - workplace mental health initiatives are for the betterment of employees, and therefore, the organisation as a whole.
Hong Kong has one of the highest average working hours in the world (over 50 hours per week), so it’s no surprise we also have one of the highest levels of presenteeism - workers are going into the office for long hours but being unproductive, mainly because of the mental health challenges they are facing. On average in Hong Kong, companies lose around 60 days of productive work per employee per year due to presenteeism alone.
Another issue we have been seeing in Hong Kong is the lack of access to mental health support. According to City Mental Health Alliance, around 27% of employees locally have reported experiencing a mental health problem in the last 12 months. That’s a large number.
So, there is a growing demand and need to support those who are facing mental health conditions and those who are experiencing symptoms, such as stress and anxiety, to prevent the worsening and development of mental health conditions.
Mind Hong Kong’s research also shows that workplaces just aren’t providing the support that people need; over 70% of respondents stated that their workplaces don’t provide any support for mental health needs. There is a large gap in the system - there is a need and it’s not being met.
Stigma is another concern; it’s rife and deeply ingrained in workplaces. CMHA, so, City Mental Health Alliance, reported that only 51% of the professional working population in Hong Kong reported having an inclusive culture of talking about mental health in their workplace.
So, in the workplace, stigma is very much pervasive and has unfortunately translated into workplace cultures where it’s not acceptable to speak about one’s mental health. There is a common myth that having a mental health problem of any kind, be it anxiety, depression, or simply stress, is a form of weakness and a lack of self-discipline and may reflect poorly on your professional capabilities. This is simply not true.
So what is a healthy workplace? Work can be great for us - it’s not all bad. A healthy workplace can support an individual’s mental health. Work provides us with a source of income, a sense of identity and meaning, friendships and community, structure, and an opportunity to gain achievements and contribute to society. These are all attributes that are foundational to good mental health. This being said, an unhealthy workplace can quickly negate all these positive traits.
For a positive workplace culture to exist, several things can make a difference, including:
Mental health days and sufficient leave days
Leadership speaking on mental health
Resources or space for exercise
Good office design
Flexible work arrangements
Provision or coverage of free mental health support is another important one. An organisation has to have a structure in place to provide timely resources and services to anyone seeking support for their mental health, whether it be EAP or coverage for mental health services externally; this is essential to highlight that a company cares about the mental health of their employees. That they see mental health as equivalent to physical health.
Introducing education programmes, such as the mental health workshops we provide at Mind HK to improve mental health literacy, and internal mental health campaigns, can help normalise mental health and again make a company more inclusive and open to employees being transparent about their mental health concerns.
So about the pandemic - it has impacted workplaces in ways beyond just long working hours. Mind Hong Kong’s research conducted in March 2022, amidst the 5th wave, shows the severity of the situation; almost one-quarter of the Hong Kong population is experiencing symptoms of mild to moderate mental health conditions, a significant jump from before.
A part of this problem could be remote working. A sense of community and consistent social interaction and structure are important parts of maintaining good mental health and the boundary between work and home has now been blurred; previously, we all went to the office and had a commute to differentiate between work and home.
This lack of physical divide has unfortunately brought work into our homes, making many of us work overtime and have fewer social interactions.
However, it’s not all bad and further research needs to be done on this; hybrid work has quickly become normal globally, and to many, it’s a preference for a good reason. Remote working may not negatively impact mental health for all, and I think we need to be cautious, yet innovative and forward thinking, while adapting to this new norm.
The secondary impacts of COVID have also caused additional stress for many, such as financial and job security concerns and new caregiving responsibilities, which have added to the stress and anxiety brought about by the uncertainty and fear of the pandemic in Hong Kong.
As we look forwards, from the top-down employers need to have a zero-tolerance approach to stigma towards mental health and a clear-cut commitment to improving the overall mental health of a workplace. There is no one solution to do this, as a cultural shift is required; several changes will determine improvements in this.
The company should take it step by step and work to ensure that policies, HR training, ESG, DEI initiatives and management, mental health is considered a priority across all.
New World’s new policy introducing a 4.5 day work week is one example of a company trying something new to encourage work-life balance. It’s a welcomed change - pilots as such are essential in learning what works and what doesn’t. Over the last few years, various pilots studies trialling shorter work hours have taken place globally. The research indicates that overall, productivity and quality of work tend to improve and there are reductions in absenteeism and stress levels. So it will be interesting to see how this works in a large, local company here in Hong Kong. I mean, at the end of the day, we all have to learn from each other.
Quite simply, caring for your employees' well-being is the basis for a healthy work culture - placing their mental health first is essential not only for their well-being of themselves, but also for the company. There has been a positive shift in recent years, especially among the younger workforce - people are actively seeking work-life balance and healthy environments. We need to adapt to this, and it’s time to do so.
The song I’d like to dedicate to the listeners is Vienna by Billy Joel.
From the beginning of the outbreak of COVID-19 until now, we have launched various surveys to understand the effects of the pandemic on children, parents, and parenting.
During school suspensions, children had to stay at home, meaning parents had to reorganize childcare. 80% of parents were worried about their children’s development. 70% of them expressed their concerns about their children’s learning progress via online means. 65% of parents were concerned about the social skills development of their children due to no peer interaction. More than 70% revealed concerns about the risks of them and their children being infected with COVID-19. The parents indicated that their work and social lives had been significantly disrupted because of social distancing measures in Hong Kong. The parents were stressed out.
Moreover, it was found that parent-child relationships had deteriorated. More than 60% of parents said that they had more frequent arguments with their children since kids were more prone to have emotional and behavioral problems due to the stressors of the pandemic. In particular, young children under 6 are vulnerable to developmental shocks resulting from the pandemic because of a confluence of risk factors. These factors include delays in healthcare visits, lost access to child care and early education programmes, and economic-related hardship.
Fear, uncertainty, and being holed up at home more to slow the spread of COVID-19 can make it tough for families to keep a sense of calm. It’s therefore specially important to help children feel safe, maintain a healthy routine, manage their emotions and behaviors, and build resilience.
Parents should address the fear of their children, and answering their questions about the pandemic age appropriately.
Keep predictable routines even under school suspension in order to keep up the momentum of children’s lives. Parents can structure play, learning, exercise, nap, and reading time during school closures.
It’s important to spend quality time with relatives and loved ones with different means like Facetime, WhatsApp, writing letters, or YouTube videos. These practices will maintain good social interaction with others. At least, social skills can be practiced in the usage of social media.
It is normal that children will act out more often under stress, anxiety, or fear through their behaviors during the pandemic which can in turn upset parents, particularly if they are already stressed. It is highly recommend that parents to use positive parenting to regulate children's misbehaviour. It means parents should acknowledge the wants behind the misbehaviours of their children, speak aloud about the feelings or wants of their children, and suggest timely alternative behaviours to them.
In order to face the challenges together with parents, our organization has launched different kinds of services to respond to their needs. For lessening the stresses of parents on children’s learning, we have developed home-based learning materials via our community centres for the families. Parents can use these materials, performing the role of their children’s first teachers and lead their kids to learn age-appropriate knowledge at home. In turn, the parent-child relationship will keep upbeat with the help of these interactive, fun, and meaningful learning activities. For soothing the high tension of the parents under the pandemic, our Parent Wellness Project has offered online wellness programmes to assist them to get their own “me-time”. The parents can put aside their work and communicate with their inner-self. For less fortunate families, such as low-income families, young parent families, families with mental health issues, or having children with special educational needs, their difficulties are much more than for other families during the past 2 years of the pandemic. We have continuously provided anti-pandemic measures, meal allowances, limited face-to-face parent-child services and online interactive services.
Whatever our circumstances, this period is tough on our mental health and our relationships. We may face challenges with our children but perhaps also opportunities to get to understand our children better, to learn new things together, and to be together as a family.
And now I have a song I'd like to dedicate to all of you listening. My song is: 姜濤嘅 蒙著嘴說愛你