Mental Health Leave in Singapore: This Company Gives Employees up to 6 Months Leave To Recover From Their Mental Health Ailments
Here’s a mental health statistic for you.
According to the latest nationwide Singapore Mental Health Study published in 2018, about 1 in 7 people in Singapore has experienced a mood, anxiety or alcohol use disorder in their lifetime.
FYI: The study involved face-to-face interviews with a sample size of 6,126 participants from 15,900 randomly-selected residents.
Among the conditions assessed in this study, Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), alcohol abuse, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) emerged as the top three mental disorders in Singapore. MDD was the most common, with one in 16 people in Singapore having had the condition at some point in their lifetime, while alcohol abuse and OCD affected one in 24 and one in 28 people, respectively.
Even though mental health ailments are so prevalent nowadays and the costs of treating mental health ailments can take up a significant amount of a person’s budget, mental health, be it at home or at work even, is rarely talked about.
Workplace Mental Health Singapore and Mental health at Workplace
This is something I hope will change. This is why I was grateful invited to this year’s CNA Leadership Summit 2022, which had a focus on Mental Health at Work.
At the summit, the talks given were candid and thought-provoking.
But what really caught my attention was this panel featuring where the CEO for Singlife with Aviva, Pearlyn Phau mentioned that her company gives employees up to 6 months of paid leave to recover from their mental health ailments.
Naturally, I had many questions.
So, I reached out to Singlife, and I interviewed Hayley Yap, the Group Head of People at Singlife with Aviva, to find out more.
Here’s what she had to say.
Disclaimer: This article is not sponsored by Singlife.
Medical Leave Singapore and Sick Leave Entitlement Singapore for Mental Health Ailments
To set the context for this article, I would like to refer to the statement Minister of State for Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Zaqy Mohamad, made at the Committee of Supply debates in Parliament back on 3 March 2020.
He stated that one can use sick leave for both physical and mental health conditions and added that the doctor does not need to include the nature of the patient’s health condition unless he/she consented to it.
With that, here is the interview.
At the CNA Leadership Summit 2022: Mental Health at Work Group CEO for Singlife with Aviva, Pearlyn Phau, talked about your company giving employees up to 6 months of paid leave to recover from their mental health ailments. Can you tell me more about this policy in greater detail?
We recognise that retaining valuable talent in the company means taking good care of them. As colleagues, we spend a good chunk of our week with each other, and through a prolonged period of time, we may become akin to a family with one another. Just as we have a responsibility to take care of our own family, it is equally important for us to care for our Singlife family.
That’s why as part of our broader prolonged illness leave policies, we have a process that facilitates the transition of the incumbent into different support stages. Employees can have up to six months of paid leave as diagnosed by a medical expert, ensuring that our staff can fully focus on recovering while being able to maintain a steady income stream to relieve any financial stress or worries. Should they require additional leave as advised by their doctors, our employees will continue to receive 50% of their salary for the next six months.
What challenges does your company face when implementing such a policy? Is there an issue reintegrating the employees thereafter?
The challenge is no different from any other illness. The extension of this policy to include mental health is a step by us to recognise that such struggles are real and need to be acknowledged in the workplace. It may require the same medical attention and recovery time as other clinically diagnosed conditions, and in some cases, even more time. It is important for us as an organisation to support employees through such situations.
It’s a partnership, after all, between us and the employee. We work together to help them recover and reintegrate. It is only natural to have to rebalance resources effectively and ensure the workload of other employees is still manageable. Our priority throughout such a period is to ensure that all employees’ health and well-being are protected, and that affected employees have sufficient support while recuperating. Managers also need to understand what is required to keep a balance by being fair and compassionate so that everyone’s welfare is accounted for.
As a company that offers hybrid working styles, our process to reintegrate staff includes internal mobility and employee support channels which help ease employees back to work. These are all policies and processes we put in place to help employees, but ultimately, the culture and tone set by company executives are what will enable a smooth transition. This is why having a compassionate company culture and instilling strong support networks is necessary to ensure employees can transition smoothly and get back on their feet in due course.
While we can be committed to offering support for employees to return to work, the decision ultimately lies with each individual. As such, it is important to instil confidence and a healthy support ecosystem to help employees regain their momentum when they return to work.
May I know what other mental health benefits your company offers?
At Singlife with Aviva, we are finding ways to improve our policies and benefits so that the professional careers of affected individuals will not be impacted during challenging times. Employees are covered with $5,000 inpatient psychological or psychiatric treatment without any co-payment and a further $1,500 outpatient psychological or psychiatric treatment with a 10% co-payment. We are still speaking to our colleagues to gather feedback so that we can actively review our company policies to better strengthen our benefits and support mental well-being so watch this space!
Beyond chatbots, wellness classes and lip service, what do you think companies can do to implement practical mental well-being practices in the workplace and build a positive work environment?
People and culture are at the core of every company. To develop a positive work culture, it is important to foster an environment that celebrates acceptance and empathy in the workplace. Creating an open environment so employees are able to express opinions is vital to ensuring that issues are heard and addressed.
Leading by example also plays a role in setting the tone of the company, where heads, managers and executives can take the first step in creating an open culture and encouraging staff to air their concerns without judgement or prejudice. Simple acts such as acknowledging that we are all human and that sometimes mistakes are made are easy changes that can create a more empathetic and understanding office environment.
It is also important to recognise that for larger, more complex organisations, not all concerns can be resolved immediately. That’s why it takes everyone in the company actively working together to foster transparency and compassion so that staff are cognisant that their voices are being heard and they are supported through challenging times.
According to the latest NTUC Learning Hub’s Special Report 2021: Mental Wellness, three in five employees surveyed expressed that they remained uncomfortable discussing their mental health issues, with another 60% fearing that they’ll be judged or ‘perceived differently’ if they spoke up. What do you think companies should do to help address employees’ concerns and destigmatise mental health issues?
Approximately one in seven people in Singapore will experience a mental disorder at least once in their lifetime. With the prevalence and prominence of mental health issues today, it is an unavoidable topic that should be addressed. As mental health issues often manifest invisibly — which can transform into something extremely debilitating — many people often struggle in silence and are not given the support they need to recover.
Given the increasing number of people struggling with mental health issues, it is likely that we have co-workers facing their own silent battles in the office. As mentioned, it is important to create an open, honest culture where more people can be comfortable discussing their mental health issues without fear of discrimination or backlash. If appropriate, senior executives can set the tone by sharing stories about their own mental health challenges and how they are managing them. This will hopefully inspire colleagues that no issue is too little and normalise conversations around mental health. There is, of course, no single, direct way to destigmatise mental health issues, and it takes a collective, concerted effort to make the workplace more compassionate and empathetic.
Personal Thoughts on Mental Health Leave and Taking Care of Wellbeing in the Workplace
I am heartened that companies like Singlife and many others are implementing these progressive mental health policies.
Also, if you were considering
Personally, I am thankful that my workplace is a psychologically safe environment where I can share if anything is affecting me mentally.
But, I understand that not many workplaces are as compassionate and empathetic.
If you require any mental health support, here’s a list of helplines in Singapore you can reach out to:
|Emotional & Psychological Support
|Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)
|24-Hour Hotline: 1-767
Care Text: Link
Care Mail: [email protected]
|Hotline & Care Text: 24-Hour
|National CARE Hotline
|8am – 12am daily
|Silver Ribbon Singapore
|Tel: 6386 1928
|Monday – Friday (excluding Public Holidays)
9am – 5pm
|Fei Yue Online Counselling
|Mon, Thu, Fri (excluding Public Holidays)
10am to 12pm
2pm to 5pm