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4 in 5 employees in Asia at risk developing mental health issues: study

4 in 5 employees in Asia at risk developing mental health issues: study

Employees in Asia are under “significant mental health strain,” with 82% having a moderate to high risk of developing mental health issues.

That’s according to a new report from insurance broker Aon and TELUS Health, which found that 35% of workers in Asia have a high mental health risk profile, and 47% have a moderate risk. 

The survey, which was conducted in November 2022 among 13,000 workers across 12 locations in Asia — also found that 51% are feeling more sensitive to stress compared to 2021. 

“While the pandemic may have been drawing to a close in 2022, employees across Asia have been exposed to a number of new stressors,” said Jamie MacLennan, senior vice-president and managing director for Asia-Pacific at TELUS Health.

“That includes economic uncertainty, cost-of-living challenges, rising healthcare costs, climate change impacts, and geopolitical instability,” he told CNBC.

Employees with a high risk of developing mental health issues

Location Percentage
South Korea 44%
Malaysia 42%
Japan 41%
Hong Kong 40%
China 39%
India 39%
Vietnam 35%
Taiwan 35%
Singapore 34%
Philippines 31%
Thailand 29%
Indonesia 17%

Source: Aon TELUS Health Asia Mental Health Index report

South Korea (44%), Malaysia (42%) and Japan (41%) had the highest percentage of employees who are high-risk individuals.  

“Mental or emotional difficulties, including depression and anxiety, are prevalent among employees at all levels and in every surveyed industry and location throughout Asia,” the report added. 

Lost productivity in Asia

Asia is “significantly” more at risk of low work productivity, anxiety, and depression compared to other parts of the world, which highlights a “growing concern” of workplace well-being in the region.

For example, Asia has a work productivity score of 47.2 out of 100, compared to 66.7 for the U.S. and 60.1 for Europe.

“These numbers are driven by a number of factors, starting with the fact that Asia has traditionally had far higher levels of stigma associated with mental health,” MacLennan explained.

“More than half of respondents said they would be concerned about career options being limited if they had a mental health issue that their employer was aware of.”

Organizations that do not implement support structures or choose to dismiss the impact of mental health in their workplace will realize there is a significant cost in doing nothing.

Tim Dwyer

Aon Asia Pacific

The report also found that 45% of employees in Asia believe their mental health is having an impact on their productivity at work — with seven locations reporting “higher than average” losses, including Malaysia, India and Philippines. 

This should be a concern for employers, due to business costs that can arise such as medical leave, long-term disability, presenteeism and employee turnover, the report said.

A recent study from Singapore found that individuals with anxiety and depression reported being less productive, missing “an extra 17.7 days of work per year.”

This lost productivity attributable to anxiety and depression is also estimated to cost Singapore almost $12 billion. 

“Organizations that do not implement support structures or choose to dismiss the impact of mental health in their workplace will realize there is a significant cost in doing nothing,” said Tim Dwyer, Aon Asia Pacific’s chief executive officer for health solutions.

“Supporting employees’ wellbeing is necessary for organizations to maintain high levels of engagement and productivity to deliver measurable return on investment.”

1 in 3 have no emergency savings 

Other than stress, anxiety and burnout being important factors that impact employees’ productivity — financial insecurity also goes “hand-in-hand with high mental health risk,” said the report. 

That’s especially true in today’s economic environment, where employees are struggling with rising costs and tightened purse strings. 

“Financial wellbeing is closely linked to things that make life enjoyable and meaningful, both in the present and along the journey to retirement,” the report added.

According to the survey, employees in Asia have a higher financial risk compared to the rest of the world — about 1 in 3 do not have emergency savings and say their financial well-being has a significant impact on their mental health.

Those without emergency savings are 60% more likely to have difficulty concentrating at work compared to employees with emergency savings, the report added. 

Employees without emergency savings

Location Percentage (%)
Philippines 48%
Malaysia 42%
China 39%
South Korea 36%
Japan 35%
India 34%
Vietnam 32%
Thailand 31%
Hong Kong 29%
Taiwan 29%
Indonesia 28%
Singapore 28%

Source: Aon TELUS Health Asia Mental Health Index report

Locations that have the highest proportion of employees without emergency savings were the Philippines (48%), Malaysia (42%) and China (39%). 

The report added that companies play a role in providing educational programs that can help employees “build healthier money habits” and provide access to confidential, evidence-based counseling.

Those surveyed reflected that the preferred mode of receiving mental health support is face-to-face meetings or onsite counseling, which employers “need to consider.”

“Clearly and repeatedly promoting and explaining the health resources available … is key to helping employees find appropriate care and addressing problems before they escalate into more complex issues that take longer and are more expensive to resolve,” said the report.

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