Is your mental health suffering at work?
Hong Kong has one of the longest working hours in the world, with many employees spending anywhere between 44 to 55 hours or more per week on work matters, with significant numbers of employees expected to work outside office hours, including the weekend. Ample research has shown that promoting such an unhealthy office culture and high-pressure working environment inevitably affects the well-being and productivity of workers.
Mental health issues relating to Hong Kong’s long working hours culture could give rise to demotivated staff, incoherent or irrational behaviour, or varying levels of severity of depression, which in turn can lead to frequent sick leaves, unexplained absences, poor work performance and frequent mistakes, among other things. A recent study shows that 3 in 10 employees in Hong Kong have suffered from mental health issues in one form or another. Of those subjects admitting to struggling with this condition, 70% of those continued to go to the office and remained silent.
Stress from work can also lead to insomnia, anxiety disorder, alcohol consumption, loss of appetite, and an increasing risk of heart disease or other serious health issues. Seeking help is not easy for many Hong Kongers, generally because people don’t wish to admit to poor work performance (generally a taboo in a city like Hong Kong where the bar is set high), or it creates the fear that it could affect one’s career development or promotion prospects in the future. Few employees are willing to share their feelings or emotions to their superiors and that often makes the problem worse. According to a survey conducted by the Department of Health in 2018, 40 percent of the respondents rated their mental health status in fair, poor or very poor in the survey.
How to solve the problem?
Relieving the stresses from work requires a multitude of actions, by from the employer and employee alike. These can include:
- Training and development - provide training to line managers and encourage open and continued discussions with the employees in order to understand the underlying causes to an employee’s poor mental health, and to discuss ideas on how to improve the work environment, work flows, expectations or how to promote a positive, healthy, office culture. The Occupational Safety & Health Branch of the Labour Department issued specific recommendation for employers and employees to follow which provide the guidance.
- Maintain a healthy work-life balance - Employers may provide more flexible working hours or few days home office to improve the productivities that employees tend to be more focused and motivated.
- Nutrition and fitness – get rid of the junk food and sugars in your diet, and replace it with healthy, fresh and nutritious food! Of course, taking regular exercise and adopting a healthy diet go hand-in-hand to boost your overall health and wellbeing, but it’s worth noting that studies have repeatedly shown that good nutrition plays a bigger part to a healthier body and mind than increasing your exercise activities. Even if you’re time poor, make more effort to prepare your own lunches at home, cut out sugars and fried food.
- Boost your self-esteem – use your annual leave! Take time off from work to visit friends and family, go on regular hikes or sign-up for volunteer work during your weekends.
- Get a new job – leaving a toxic work environment and joining a new organisation or pursuing a brand-new career path will be an instant boost and longer term safeguard to your mental wellbeing, as well as giving you the opportunity experience success without the prolonged, crushing stress in your current role. You never know what would happen in the next chapter of your career.
In any event, employees should never feel they should suffer in silence and continue in the hope that things will eventually improve. Taking no action can lead to more serious negative consequences, when often, the issue can be identified with steps to relieve the stress at an early stage (either with the help of your line manager, or with your simply walking away and moving to a new, more supportive employer).