How Malaysian workplaces need to manage the impact of “coronastress”

The pandemic has pushed many beyond their limits from social isolation, resulting in potential long-term mental health issues. This could be a result of, fears over job security, the challenges of working from home or the tragic consequences of the pandemic taking a loved one.

This is a global issue, as we are seeing a rise in mental health conditions. This is further exacerbated by the need for remote work, which is often accompanied by higher risks of poor work-life balance, burnout, and isolation from colleagues at the workplace.

This has sparked a new phenomenon coined as ‘Coronastress’, stress occurring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Malaysia is seeing similar trends as one in three Malaysians suffer from a mental health condition. Despite the high prevalence, more than 80 per cent of workers with a mental health condition choose not to seek professional help, owing to a lack of resources and the fear of potentially being seen as “unprofessional” in a work environment.

This has an adverse effect on both their personal and professional lives. More than 60 per cent of respondents surveyed globally, said they were losing at least one to two hours a day in productivity due to  COVID-19—related stress.

Employers are beginning to notice and are starting to emphasise a healthier work environment while ensuring that the support for their employees’ mental health goes beyond acknowledging the issues or allowing a ‘mental health day’.

However, is enough being done and can Malaysian businesses keep up with the issues caused by the MCOs and “coronastress”?

Understanding the impact and addressing the real issues

Identifying the actual issue is critical before developing any potential solutions. While not everything will be within your purview to manage from an organisational standpoint, knowing the various struggles of your employees would enable you to create better processes and ideas that are more empathetic.

As with most crises or significant challenges, it weighs down our mental defences. For employees in Malaysia, it is likely that many are feeling the pinch from battling feelings of loneliness exacerbated by lockdown regulations and social isolation, financial stress, to poor work-life balance.

While not all these struggles can be deemed purely ‘work-related’, employers and leaders can help mitigate potential stressors.

During the multiple MCOs, many employees complained about back-to-back virtual meetings and the pressure to continue working or responding to messages past their work hours.

As 63 per cent of Malaysians struggle with work-life balance while working from home, boundaries need to be introduced and respected by both parties.

Additionally, the problem lies with communication and feeling supported by management. Too often, employees feel burnt out due to unclear requirements from their bosses and managers.

There’s a level of frustration as instructions change with little notice and ambiguous explanations while they’re expected to comply with the changes without knowing the actual expectation. This uncertainty with their work performance often breeds worry and stress about their work performance.

Dealing with mental health needs to be normalised in Malaysia’s workplace

According to the World Health Organisation, mental health refers to a state of well-being in which individuals realize their abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life,  work productively, and contribute to their community.

With the mental health conversation gaining ground, some leaders have already started implementing various measures and policies to aid and support their employees.

These may be small changes such as implementing simple boundaries such as “no work correspondences after 5pm on weekdays” or providing access and compensation to seek professional help.

However, these initiatives, while a step in the right direction, are not enough. Employers need to step up to enact real cultural change. This can be achieved through a multitude of several ways though most would include the act of changing some processes within your existing workflow.

This can be in the form of establishing clarity on job expectations, by improving the communication between managers and their individual team members. This can help manage or remove stress factors caused by WFH or uncertainty in your evolving job role.

By implementing practices such as Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) into your team’s workflow, it helps to align everyone and ensures that clear expectations are set so that employees don’t have to stress about what they’re working towards.

Additionally, OKRs are better able to boost their productivity and develop positive habits and a growth mindset which helps in alleviating negative self-talk, thus improving their mental health.

When businesses and their employees have clear shared goals they have set together, it allows them to distinguish and prioritise their work tasks easily and helps employees alleviate their stress as they’re better able to manage their time and tasks.

Adding to this,  it is also essential to have frequent check-ins amongst team members to keep everyone on track. Develop and encourage meaningful conversations and understand employee needs, you will be able to identify any potential issues early on and implement solutions before they escalate.

By improving the working conditions and putting practices in place to drive better employee wellbeing, organisations are better able to achieve a high-performance culture that’s able to successfully attract and retain their talents.

In fact, one of the key reasons why companies such as Google and Netflix are deemed as such great places to work is because they understand employee wellbeing and are able to effectively engage them.

Coronastress doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. As offices begin to open up again, it’s important to ensure that your employees are feeling great physically and mentally.