February can feel rather stressful for most people around the world. The holidays are over, the weather across the world is generally terrible, and business is picking up steam again. Add to this the disheartening news of recent events; with the inbox overflowing with alerts about the spread of the contagious coronavirus, and you have yourself a population that it already very stressed out; at least according to a recent study by Cigna Corp. and Asia Care Group.

The cost of burnout is no longer just emotional. Research by the World Health Organisation has concluded that up to US$1 trillion is lost annually due to drops in productivity caused by depression and anxiety.

A solution for this issue does exist; and it is cheap too! However, it is not a simple solution. As of late, more focus is being put on the employer and how they can play a role in reducing the mental stress levels of their employees rather than seeing such issues as a personal affliction. The changes that are needed are not financial. Rather it is a shift in attitude so that employees can receive better communication and support from managers. Unfortunately, the topic of mental health is still quite taboo, especially in Asia.

Based on Cigna and Asia Care’s study, more than 90 percent of people in Asia say that they are stressed. Eight out of ten say that they feel like they operate on an “always on” culture; always feeling the need to keep track of work emails. These can be early symptoms of burnout, which is marked by chronic exhaustion, cynicism and detachment from your work, as well as feelings of ineffectiveness.

Beyond social stigmas, Asian nations tend to have an inflexible work culture that can be a hurdle as well. In recent surveys of Hong Kong employees by Deacons, up to 65 per cent of respondents cited long hours as their primary concern; closely followed by “domineering” senior management and uncommunicative bosses. It is also not all that uncommon to find employees in Asian nations working through the weekends and the holidays.

In 2018, Gallup Inc., a market-research company, looked at the main causes of burnout, as well as what employers and managers can do to lessen it. Some of the solutions were shockingly simple. The study found that employees whose managers are willing to listen to their work-related problems are 62 percent less likely to be burned out, and those who have the opportunity to do projects where they excel are 57 percent less likely to experience frequent episodes.

The future of the workplace should involve managers that are equipped with the soft skills to properly communicate and empathise with employees; as well as giving employees sufficient time an space to care for themselves.

For those that can ill afford to put their paychecks on hold, even small, mini breaks or meditation can help. With huge external factors such as the spread of the coronavirus affecting everyone’s stress levels, now is a good time to act.


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