Dealing with the Elephant in the Room

Dealing with the Elephant in the Room

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We kicked off 2020 with our first mental well-being talks at St. Andrew’s Community Hospital last week.

And no, there were no physical elephants in the room (a little about that later). But we were encouraged to hear of the hospital’s commitment to raise awareness and train their staff on mental resilience. Through a series of talks and workshops which will take place in 2020, we will be working alongside the hospital to reach every staff member as we equip them with the knowledge to manage and further enhance their mental well-being.

The Global Elephant

Much has been written about stress at work and the problem of burnout, not just in Singapore, but around the world. With increased complexities and demands at the modern workplaces, burnout has become the new workplace crisis we can no longer ignore.

In May 2019, the World Health Organization recognized burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD)1 and the OC Tanner Global Culture Report also recently reported how 79% of employees are suffering from mild, moderate or severe burnout2.

The Local Elephant

Back home in Singapore, a new index found that Singapore is ranked 32 out of 40 for work-life balance3 and the island city-state is the second most overworked city4, trailing only behind Tokyo. The Cigna 360 Well-Being Survey reported in early 2019 that 92% of working Singaporeans felt stressed5 and O.C. Tanner Institute, in their 2020 Global Culture Report, found that 44% of employees in Singapore feel a sense of burnout 12.

As we begin the new year, we continue to gather new revelations of the size of this “elephant in the room”, as Human Resources Online cited the Cigna Asia Care Report on how stress-related illnesses have cost Singapore’s economy about S$3.2 billion a year or about 18% of the country’s total health expenditure6.

Encouraging Steps

It is time for us to deal with the elephant in the room before it grows into a massive problem. The good news is that there has been relatively more attention given to this growing issue of workplace stress and burnout. In August 2019, the National University Health System (NUHS) signed an agreement with the Association of Psychotherapists & Counsellors Singapore and NTUC’s Healthcare Academy to support their healthcare professionals7. Leaders in Singapore’s private and public sectors also signed a joint pledge in October 2019 to “champion and prioritise mental well-being within their organisations and the wider Singapore workforce”8.

What We Can Do?

Indeed, now is the right time we can to render more attention to our people’s well-being. After all, most of us spend a great amount of time at our workplaces and organizations are only as healthy and productive as their people. We can all collectively put in place “cooling measures” to mitigate some of the effects of burnout and stop further deterioration in its tracks.

Dialogues & Conversations as a Powerful Starting Point

One of the first few steps we can take is to facilitate dialogue on the matter, simply because there is still much stigma surrounding mental health challenges. Half of the respondents of the Mind Matters study felt that mental health problems “are a sign of personal weakness” 9 and seven in 10 respondents in the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) 2016 Quality of Life study agreed that negative attitudes of co-workers are “major barriers to employing persons in recovery from mental health conditions”10. We should help people to begin to see how mental health challenges are sometimes a byproduct of our modern pace of life and that it is not necessarily a sign of personal weakness or that it is a common struggle we may face given the demands on our lives.

NCSS suggests how we can begin to build such psychologically safe workplace by raising awareness, encouraging dialogue, providing mental health training and education, providing access to support and adopting best practice in mental health policies11. Human Resources Online, in a recent article a few days ago, also echoed how we can begin by creating awareness, facilitating a workplace culture in which it is safe for talk and dialogue on the matter of stress and burnout, equip managers to recognize and respond where necessary and having smart work design6.

Partner Us

Keen to kickstart stress and burnout conversations with your staff in a safe and unthreatening manner? Want to help them understand what burnout is and equip them with the necessary skills to prevent and overcome it? We offer programmes that go beyond stress management to help build mental resilience and enhance mental well-being. Contact us for more information.


1 WHO recognises burnout as medical condition
2 OC Tanner Global Culture Report
3 Singapore ranks 32 out of 40 in new index on work-life balance
4 Cities for the Best Work-Life Balance
5 A whopping 92% of working Singaporeans are stressed – and women are prioritising families over themselves, study finds
6 3 ways to protect and promote good mental health at the workplace
7 More training and mental wellness services for 14,000 NUHS staff; NTUC Health also boosting training efforts 
8 Singapore bosses pledge to champion employees’ mental well-being3 ways to protect and promote good mental health at the workplace
9 IMH study reveals stigma surrounding mental illness 
10 NCSS Study Reveals that Workplace Adjustments in Companies Will Address Barriers to Hiring Persons with Mental Health Conditions 
11 The Mental Health Public Education Grant Call
12 O.C. Tanner Institute’s 2020 Global Culture Report


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Dealing with the Elephant in the Room

by James Lim
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