A GLOBAL HEALTH CRISIS
Employees will not return to old ways of working
By Yi Mien Koh, AXA Hong Kong Managing Director Health & Employee Benefits
Yi Mien Koh
Managing Director Health & Employee Benefits, AXA Hong Kong
Hong Kong acted very quickly in response to COVID-19. Memories of SARS in 2003 were still fresh in people’s minds. The government closed schools and public facilities. Mass events were cancelled. Civil servants working from home was significant and businesses just followed the government’s example. Today, Hong Kong has one of the lowest rates of infection without ever having implemented a full lockdown like in Europe or Australia. In the workplace, many people are already saying they don’t want to go back to the old ways. Prior to the pandemic, working from home had been slow to take off in Asia. Most people work for 9 or 10-hour days. Now, as more people work from home, businesses are asking whether they really need as much office space in the future. Furthermore, we have also seen near zero business travel in the past three or four months. Companies are realizing that you do not need to travel so much to do business. All that has led to increased use of technology, a mindset of “digital first”. In the process, we have become more comfortable with technology – a trend before COVID-19 that will now accelerate.
“We have become more comfortable with technology – a trend before COVID-19 that will now accelerate.”
“Employers and employees need to feel they can talk more openly about mental health.”
There is also a greater awareness of mental health. While people may be concerned about COVID-19, they are more worried now about the economy and job security. Hongkongers were already stressed from the anti-government protests that started last year. Employers and employees need to feel they can talk more openly about mental health. At AXA, we have introduced a comprehensive Mind Health program which helps employees to self-care, with additional support from professionals if needed. In terms of corporate customers, employers are asking for a preventive approach that educates all employees, prevents stress from developing into illness and reduce the stigma which is still a significant barrier to people seeking care or treatment. People are realizing that mental health is actually very common. What does this mean for work culture? Frequent, timely and more open communication becomes even more important. I am a big believer in picking up the phone. Sometimes, hearing our colleagues’ voices can convey so much more in emotion and tone than emails or whatsapps. We can show we trust staff working from home. People should feel that managers are not constantly checking up on them – that they are not being micro-managed or monitored. Ultimately, senior management has to model the right behavior – otherwise, this flexible approach will not work.
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