Accounting for Employee Mental Well-Being is No Longer an Option

Impacts of Work-Related Stress

Work-related stress is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope [1].

The demands of contemporary work are expected to create pressure in the workplace. When the amount of pressure is perceived by employees as being appropriate, it can motivate them to learn and perform well. However, excessive pressure may result in work-related stress that can impact their physical and mental health as well as the performance of the organisation [2].

While the impact of stress on employees' health may vary depending on the characteristics and responses of individuals, a high level of stress may lead to physiological, behavioural, emotional and cognitive effects like headaches, sleep issues, anxiety and poor concentration.

Over time, affected employees may suffer from high blood pressure, musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease, depression or burnout. These physical and mental health conditions can translate to human, social, and financial costs for organisations arising from lowered productivity, motivation, commitment, satisfaction, work quality, and increased absenteeism and turnover [3].

Sources of Work-Related Stress

The causes of stress at work (stressors), which can be referred to as psychosocial hazards or psychosocial risks [3], tend to be related to the content of work (i.e., the way work is designed) or the context of work (i.e., the way organisations are managed) [2].

Some of the hazards associated with work content may include:

(i) Job content (e.g., monotonous tasks or a low variety of tasks);

(ii) Workload and work pace (e.g., too much work or excessive time pressure);

(iii) Working hours (e.g., long working hours or poorly designed shift arrangements); and

(iv) Participation and control (e.g., low autonomy in decision-making or no control over work procedures)

Other hazards linked to work context may comprise:

(i) Career development, status and pay (e.g., lack of job security, limited opportunities for promotion or unclear performance appraisal system);

(ii) Employee's role in the organisation (e.g., role ambiguity or role conflicts);

(iii) Interpersonal relationships (e.g., unsupportive management or poor relationships with colleagues);

(iv) Organisational culture (e.g., lack of communication or poor leadership); and

(v) Work-life balance (e.g., incompatible demands of work and home or lack of policies to support work-life balance)

Indeed, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased work demands and affected employees' mental well-being. According to a survey by Mercer Marsh Benefits with over 14,000 employees from 13 countries, more than half (56%) of Singapore employees reported that they did not receive strong support from their employers during the pandemic. Similarly, over half (55%) of Singapore's workforce stated that they had experienced everyday stress. Interestingly, these results are higher than those reported by other employees in Asia and globally [4].

Nevertheless, on a positive note, the pandemic has helped to generate greater awareness of employee mental health [5].

Code of Practice on Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Risk Management

In November 2021, the revised Code of Practice on Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Risk Management, more commonly known as the Risk Management Code of Practice (RMCP), was published by the Workplace Safety and Health Council to take into consideration employee mental well-being at work [6].

In other words, it is now a legal requirement for organisations to account for their employees' mental well-being by updating their risk management processes to comply with the Workplace Safety and Health Act and the Workplace Safety and Health (Risk Management) Regulations.

Besides detailing the legal requirements, the RMCP is also a valuable resource that offers a systematic approach for guiding organisations to implement risk management at work.

Playbook on Workplace Mental Well-Being

Apart from the RMCP, organisations may refer to the Playbook on Workplace Mental Well-Being - co-developed by the Workplace Safety and Health Council, Institute for Human Resource Professionals and Ministry of Manpower - published in December 2021 [7].

As an extension of the Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-being at Workplaces, this playbook aims to guide organisations in supporting employee mental well-being through five initiatives:

(i) Create safe spaces for conversations;

(ii) Encourage self-care;

(iii) Set up a peer support system;

(iv) Use digital mental health tools; and

(v) Set clear expectations for after-hours communication

ISO 45003:2021 Standard

Finally, organisations may also refer to the ISO 45003:2021 standard published in June 2021, which can serve as a guide to managing psychosocial risk based on the ISO 45001:2018 standard on occupational health and safety (OH&S) management system.

This new international standard contains extensive information on raising awareness about psychosocial risks, developing abilities to manage psychosocial risks, and supporting the recovery and return of affected employees to the workplace [8].

In sum, psychosocial hazards or risks can cause work-related stress that is detrimental to the health of employees and the performance of organisations. Hence, organisations must address these hazards and risks, not solely to comply with legal requirements but also for their employees and, ultimately, their business. The above resources would be valuable in supporting them in achieving this goal.


[1] Leka, S., Griffiths, A., & Cox, T. (2003). Work organisation and stress: Systematic problem approaches for employers, managers and trade union representatives. World Health Organization.

[2] World Health Organization. (2020). Occupational health: Stress at the workplace.

[3] International Labour Organization. (2016). Workplace stress: A collective challenge.

[4] Mercer LLC. (2022). Employers in Singapore fell behind in supporting staff during the pandemic, according to a Mercer Marsh Benefits survey.

[5] Loh, D. (2021, July 07). Singapore's stressed workers highlight COVID mental health strain. Nikkei Asia.

[6] Workplace Safety and Health Council. (2021). Code of Practice on Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Risk Management.

[7] Workplace Safety and Health Council. (2021). A Playbook On Workplace Mental Well-being.

[8] International Organization for Standardization. (2021). ISO 45003:2021(en): Occupational health and safety management – Psychological health and safety at work – Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks.