1 in 4 Hong Kong employees experienced mental health issues in past year, City Mental Health Alliance Hong Kong survey finds

Sep 16, 2020

  • COVID-19 was found to be the single largest contributor to employee mental health decline across Hong Kong in 2020
  • Top three related concerns found were ‘fear of contracting the disease’ (42%), ‘lack of social activity’ (35%) and ‘job security’ (25%)
  • Childcare also cited as primary concern (43%) for working parents with young children
  • Physical tiredness (45%), feeling mentally drained (42%) and sleeping issues (36%) cited as most common symptoms
  • Workplace issues that require immediate employer attention are stigma, presenteeism and a middle-manager ‘crunch’
  • Beyond pandemic most employees expect greater flexibility, empowerment and resource support from their employer
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    September, 2020, Hong Kong: The 2020 City Mental Health Alliance Hong Kong (CMHA HK) Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace Survey reveals that 27% of employees in Hong Kong have experienced mental health problems in the past 12 months.

    The survey, which was conducted in collaboration with Oliver Wyman and collected data from 1,500 respondents across 13 different industries between June and July 2020, indicates that COVID-19 has been the most significant contributing factor to their sub-optimal state of mental health.

    The top three related concerns found for employees in Hong Kong were ‘fear of contracting the disease’ (42%), ‘lack of social activity’ (35%) and ‘job security’ (25%).

    As a result, many employees have experienced some common symptoms associated with poor mental health including physical tiredness (45%) , feeling mentally drained (42%) and sleeping issues (36%) .

    Issues that need to be tackled by employers: Stigma, presenteeism and a middle-manager ‘crunch’

    The survey also uncovered three issues that would help to tackle poor mental health in the workplace. These include stigma , presenteeism (turning up for work despite experiencing mental ill health) and a middle- management ‘crunch’.

    Stigma has been shown to be a major inhibitor to people talking about mental health issues in the workplace and the survey found that 32% of respondents in Hong Kong had either personally experienced stigma due to mental health issues or knew of someone who had within the past 12 months. However, this is down from 55% (2018 data) showing clear trends towards change.

    Of concern, 83% of the Hong Kong employees who stated that they had experienced mental health problems whilst being employed* admitted to presenteeism by going to work despite poor mental health in the last 12 months (74%* reported at least 1-2 days of presenteeism every month). The reasons for employees ignoring their mental health symptoms most commonly cited were a ‘sense of duty and work ethic’, ‘too much work’ and ‘fear of negative review’.

    The survey also found that middle-managers have taken the hardest hit in terms of experiencing mental health problems. Of those who experienced mental health problems in the last 12 months*, 36% identified as junior management/ senior staff (middle-management). In addition, this group also has the highest incidence of presenteeism across all ranks and consistently rates the support available in their company as the least helpful.

    Mental health mindset change for employees

    On a positive note, the survey found that the attitude of employees towards mental health is changing with predominantly negatively associated mental health terms (2018: ‘stress’, ‘depression’, ‘crazy’) being replaced with positive terms (2020: ‘happiness’, ‘rest’), suggesting a mindset change had occurred since 2018. The number of people who didn’t tell anyone about personal mental health issues is also down by 19% from 60% (2018 data) to 41% showing an increase in openness to discussion.

    “The good news is that growing efforts by employers to improve workplace wellbeing are now being recognised by employees, with attitudes towards both mental health and mental ill health showing positive signs of change as awareness increases and more employees feel able to reach out for support,” said Dr. Zoë Fortune, CEO of CMHA HK.

    “However, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown us many unique challenges, and as a result, flexibility and listening to staff is more valued than ever. We advise companies to urgently recognise this and work to address workplace issues such as stigma, presenteeism and ensure access to appropriate help and support for employees. On a positive note, the lessons learnt and acted on in 2020 will provide valuable future indicators for the prevention of mental ill health as well as new platforms for promoting wellbeing and good mental health in the workplace.”

    “Flexible work arrangements, company-wide response updates, and the suspension of business-related travel have been the most well-received company support measures during COVID-19. However, it is crucial to bear in mind that employers’ measures of support should not be “one-size-fits-all”, given material differences in personal circumstances and ways policies are executed in different companies,” said Peter Reynolds, Partner and Head of Greater China at Oliver Wyman.

    *17.3% of overall survey respondents

    Please note: The figures used in this press release refer to the Hong Kong only findings and differ slightly from the overall report which include APAC figures in some instances.

    About Oliver Wyman
    Oliver Wyman is a global leader in management consulting. With offices in 60 cities across 29 countries, Oliver Wyman combines deep industry knowledge with specialized expertise in strategy, operations, risk management, and organization transformation. The firm has more than 5,000 professionals around the world who work with clients to optimize their business, improve their operations and risk profile, and accelerate their organizational performance to seize the most attractive opportunities. Oliver Wyman is a business of Marsh & McLennan Companies [NYSE:MMC]. For more information, visit oliverwyman.com.

    About City Mental Health Alliance Hong Kong
    The City Mental Health Alliance Hong Kong (the CMHA HK) is a collaborative venture founded by city businesses. Championed by senior leaders, the Alliance is business led and expert guided and aims to create a culture of good mental health for workers in the city of Hong Kong, share best practice and increase mental health understanding.
    For more information, visit www.cmhahk.org

    Further information about the survey
    For the first time, the survey was open to employees based in not only in Hong Kong, but also major cities in other parts of Asia Pacific. This gave CMHA HK a wider snapshot of the mental health and wellbeing landscape in the region and provided valuable benchmarks for dynamics on the ground in Hong Kong. CMHA HK also added questions specific to the COVID-19 pandemic to better understand the impact on mental health and wellbeing.

    CMHA HK would like to note:

    • Participation in this survey is completely voluntary and anonymous
    • Analyses referring to participants who experience mental health problems are based on self-report
    • The term “mental health problem” was adopted to refer to “mental ill health” in both the survey questions and results as it was felt to encompass a broader range of potential areas of concern and may be more familiar to participants
    • Some, but not all, of the organisations that participated in this year’s survey participated in those in 2017 and 2018
    • Most participating organisations are members of the CMHA HK
    • On completing the survey, participants were provided with personalised feedback based on their responses and directed towards sources of support, as appropriate

    These factors should be considered when drawing comparisons with past and future studies conducted by the CMHA HK or other institutions.

    The information in this document is not and should not be considered as clinical advice or support. Anyone who may have a need for such support should seek professional advice.