Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

I wish people could understand that the brain is the most important organ of our body. Just because you can’t see mental heath issues like you could see a broken bone, doesn’t mean it’s not as detrimental or devastating to a family or an individual.

Demi Lovato

Mental Health: The Facts

Mental health should be treated as a primary concern to us, as individuals, as much as it should be to organisations around the world. The reasons for this are quite simple, yet heart-breaking, in many ways. As Natasha Bach commented in her article, illness in the workplace is more common than you might think.


As WHO (World Health Organisation) articulates, more than 300 million people suffer from depression (a leading cause of disability) and a recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$1 trillion annually in lost productivity.



Depression is an illness that not only debilitates, but also causes huge productivity losses at work.


Allow those staggering numbers to sit with you for a while.


Let’s take a look at two Malaysian stories that made headlines recently. First, a 15 year old girl who was supposed to take her PT3 examination and was found dead at her apartment block in Penang – she had fallen to her death from her 11th floor unit, leaving behind four letters. It’s not the first time we have heard of similar incidents and yes, children too are subject to and have to manage stress. Second, a manager at a reputable telco was suspended after a video of her flaring up at employees went viral on social media.


In both these situations, mental health was obviously in question. Whether the parties involved were under significant pressure and stress or facing untold challenges, the end result was horrific. Further, what is even more compelling about this, is that situations like these do not only affect the person in question – it affects all those around – colleagues, subordinates, leaders and families.


What Can Employers Do?

As organisations, what are we supposed to do and what can we do? As it turns out, a lot.


As organisations, we do have certain responsibilities towards the people who work for us, but it is a quid pro quo situation. Our people devote the best hours of their days to us and in return, we treat them as they deserve to be treated. We support, we mentor, we teach, and generally, we help our talent to do the best job they can so that we, as organisations, are able to drive forward, achieve our targets and deliver the products and services we believe in.



Employers can provide counseling for workers at risk of mental health issues. Peer support programs can make a world of difference for an employee coping with mental health issues.


Mental health is one of the things organisations need to pay attention to because work takes up so much of our time, energy and resources.


First, in tangible terms, it takes up a third of our day at the very least, assuming an eight hour day. But many of us work much longer hours, both officially when we stay longer or work weekends as well as unofficially, when we are answering phone calls, emails or text messages late into the night or bringing our work home.


Second, harassment and bullying at work are commonly reported and these can have a significant and adverse impact on mental health.


Third, the idea of mental health check-ups, which were raised some time ago but didn’t receive significant traction then, has been raised once again. Much of this is coming out of both the UK and the US and the goal is integrating mental health care into physical health care.


As L. Casey Chosewood, director of the Office for Total Worker Health at NIOSH said, “The best companies invest in the health and well-being of their workers throughout the day. Workers bring that additional health back to the job the next morning in the form of increased productivity, decreased injury and illness risk, decreased health care spending, and more engagement with their work.”


What’s Holding Us Back?

It all makes perfect sense. However, organisations around the world still struggle with getting this right. There are so many risk factors for mental health within the work environment. A great part of it relates to the interactions between people and the interactions between the different types of work. Some of relates to the organisational culture and managerial environment. Some of it relates to the competencies people bring to their roles, the expectations managers may have of them and very importantly, the work that organisations do as a whole to support the employee in carrying out their work. All of these factors, and likely, the combination of these factors have a profound impact of mental health.


A lack of understanding and communication breakdowns at work can worsen an already precarious situation when it comes to mental health. Managers and co-workers must practice empathy and listening to contribute to a more receptive culture in the workplace.


Mental health is also affected by the communication and management practices, how much autonomy people feel they have over their work, the quality of work they are tasked with and how the work they do relates to the wider organisational objectives.


In reality, organisations understand the need for a healthy work environment, but they can sometimes place unreal and unreasonable pressures on their people in their drive to lower costs, increase profitability or manage stakeholder expectations. It has become so commonplace in business today that the organisation that takes a more reasonable stand, who does not put profit over people and who takes a more holistic approach stands out.


To take a positive and proactive stand would involve taking a closer look at the culture within, what does not seem to be working and why. It involves a degree of transparency and honesty to come to terms with what is wrong within an organisation and then taking the necessary steps to fix the problem at its root. We do this for the well-known economic impact it will have but also because we owe it to our people. If we show them we care and have their interest at heart, then we are working in unison and together towards a single common goal.




World Mental Health Day is observed on the 10th of October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilising efforts in support of mental health.

Feedforward Instead of Giving Feedback

Feedforward Instead of Giving Feedback

You’ve worked nights for many days this month and at least three weekends in a row on a big project. You’ve shown the commitment and done the time but Peter, the project manager, has called you for a meeting and has started pointing out some errors you made and the things he is not happy with. Here’s the difference between feedback, and feedforward coaching.



Nobody likes to hear about their mistakes. The same goes to the person giving the sometimes necessary negative feedback.


Don’t they know how hard you’ve been working? Doesn’t it matter?

Naturally, you’re not happy with Peter’s focus on what does not work, even though he did sandwich the criticism between two positive comments. The good didn’t seem to matter. Why can’t he see all the work you’ve put in and recognise that?


This is the problem with feedback.


Feedback is typically focused on the past and mostly, on what is not working.  Managers do not like to provide feedback and faced with the situation, would often sandwich negative feedback between two positive ones. The problem with that is that it has the tendency to reduce the impact of what needs to be said and often enough, comes across inauthentic.



Most of the time, negative feedback is sugarcoated, which can diminish the intended effect and create an environment of misunderstanding.


Looking back or looking forward?

The focus on the past also leaves you feeling disempowered. It has already happened and there’s nothing you can do to change that which naturally brings up a host of negative emotions you feel helpless, upset, frustrated and uncertain as to how to move ahead.

The question you have to ask yourself is, “Are most people raised to accept criticism well?” You only have to look inward and realise from your own reactions and behaviour that criticism is hard to take. We see criticism as a threat, we get defensive and we react or hit back verbally (sometimes physically).


What’s the point?

The entire point of criticism is to learn from the past and change what we can about future actions. But if people are focused on the wrong things, then everyone loses. The manager does not get a person who has learnt from his mistake and that person is bound to repeat the mistake because he knows what is wrong but not necessarily what is right and what works.


As Joe Hirsch, author of The Feedback Fix : Dump the Past, Embrace the Future and Lead the Way to Change shares, there are three reasons why feedback does not work. First, it shuts down our mental dashboards – i.e. it becomes all about our emotional state and reactivity to what is upon us. Second, it focuses more on ratings than on development. This feels more like a test than a way to improve what we are doing. Finally, feedback reinforces negative behaviour because the focus is on what has happened.



So what can we do when feedback does not work? Here’s a hint: go forward!


Let’s feedforward

This is where feedforward comes in as a bright and workable alternative to giving feedback. Feedforward is future-focused by allowing people to pay attention to what they can do differently in the future. It’s not only about what happened but what can be learnt and then adapted moving forward. It is positive, provides background information and options, makes suggestions for improvement and focuses on developing the person, not just rating them.


It also becomes less about feedback and more about coaching. By involving the person in the feedback loop, he becomes an active participant in the process, thus enabling him to feel more in control. As Marcia Reynolds explained in her article, Why Feedback Doesn’t Work, and What To Do Instead,  people want “conversations that pull their ideas out and have their eyes opened to greater possibilities they could explore, not one-way directives focused on what they did wrong”.


Kevin Kruse, NY Times bestselling author (latest book, Employee Engagement 2.0) talks distinctly about feedforward coaching as a great tool for creating a more engaged workforce, specifically that it is a continuous process focused on future performance and career pathing. Engagement is then tied to growth.


How should you start?

  • Focus on goals, not standards. This means articulating these at the start and being very clear in your communication about what is expected;
  • Let the coaching include career guidance so that you focus on the skills, experience and expertise the individual needs to build upon to do their job.
  • Anytime, all the time. Do not limit it to an annual review or set time. The more times these two way communication channels are open, the better the communication of expectations, of problems and issues that need addressing.


In the end, through active participation and a clear focus on the end objectives, you, your peers and managers can come to the realisation that feedforward presents the better alternative.

Driving Business Outcomes by Focusing on the Employee Experience

Driving Business Outcomes by Focusing on the Employee Experience

Our (and Nettium’s) CEO, Lam Mun Choong was a keynote speaker at the 2018 Talent Ecosystem Conference, held on the 15th of August at Connexion, Bangsar South. He delivered a session on the topic of “Driving Business Outcomes by Focusing on the Employee Experience”.

Mun Choong first introduced the concept of design thinking – a process that serves as a protocol for solving problems and discovering new opportunities. Deloitte research indicates that companies where HR delivers the highest levels of value are almost 5X more likely to be using design thinking in their programmes compared to their peers.



Central Aspects of EX

When his team (Nettium) first approached the idea of designing their EX, they centered their strategy around addressing employee needs, making work more human, and to make work simpler through living out company values. Applying design thinking, his focus has been on three central aspects of the EX – culture, the workspace and technology.




Nettium’s Improved Benchmarks

Mun Choong outlined some intriguing statistics from Nettium over a 3-year period, ending 2015. While Nettium showed a 2X rise in headcount (86 to 174), the company’s productivity index went up by 2.5X, quality index by 1.4X, and customer satisfaction rose from a B- to a B+.



Nettium also showed lower absenteeism, which brought more than MYR1.36 million to their annual bottom line. A higher rate of employee advocacy was seen as well, which contributed to more than MYR600,000 in annual savings for their recruitment costs. More than 50% of all employees hired up to now have been coming in through employee referrals.


These findings have reinforced the belief that a good EX contributes significantly to the bottom line. Hence, should be approached with some rigour.


Here’s a sneak peek into the 3 central aspects of Nettium’s EX that Mun Choong shared.



The Employee Experience – Culture

There are three gaps, in particular, that Mun Choong wanted to address. First, the knowledge gap because employees often lack an awareness of the culture that the organisation needs. They are often more concerned with their own situation.


Second, the mindset gap – not everyone will believe in the culture that the organisation needs. You will, therefore, need to spend time to see how you can bridge this gap.

Finally, the behaviour gap where employees do not always incorporate the behaviours related to the culture that the organisation needs.


All 3 gaps had to be filled before focusing on communicating the importance of culture. Leaders have the responsibility to manage things operationally based on the culture they create. This involved budgets, structures they establish, as well as policies they enforce.





The Employee Experience – The Workspace

Mun Choong wanted the workplace to be employee-centric, which reflecting the company’s aspirations and values. He involved the employees from the start. The office is Instagram-able, and creates a sense of belonging and pride for all. The workspace helps greatly in employer branding.




Flexible options are present, ranging from open, team-based workspaces, stand-up meetings, sofas and cafes, recreation and nap rooms. He mentioned that people often ask about the purpose of a nap and games room – is he encouraging his people to sleep on the job, or play when they should be working? Would it not be distracting?




Mun Choong’s response was that the environment needs to be a product of the people who have to live and breathe there for a significant portion of their lives. With a 74/26 male to female ratio where the average age is 29, this is what was in demand. He trusts that people will enjoy and appreciate the environment, and trust that they will accomplish what they need to. The philosophy is, “We treat people they way they want to be treated and the way they deserve to be treated.”



Nap room!



Games room (there’s a PS4, pool table, and foosball table)



Yoga classes to unwind after a long day at work.

The Employee Experience – Tech

Mun Choong decided that helping managers become better coaches and mentors would be a key piece to the positive EX by providing more insight into individual strengths, motivation and stress factors. After all, Gallup research showed that managers account for up to 70 percent of variance in employee engagement.



Behavioural analytics are used to determine the cultural fit, as well as opportunities for job crafting.


Building the culture around collaboration and continuous feedback was going to help. He knew that he could allow technology to become an enabler for a whole host of things – personalised micro learning, provide real-time employee recognition, personalised rewards and flex benefits, help employees improve self-awareness and achieve their goals in real-time.




In his closing notes, he summarised that EX does help to drive better business outcomes. If employers can connect the relationship between the two strongly, they can ensure greater longevity in these campaigns and a better business all around.


This blog post showcases some key slides from Mun Choong’s keynote speech. To get the full public release set of slides, let us know your email here and we’ll email you a copy!


6 Keys to Building a Strong Workplace Culture

6 Keys to Building a Strong Workplace Culture

Six aspects to build on every day.

What’s different about workplace culture today? One significant difference is that we’re in the age of the connected stakeholder. Whether it is your employee, partner, customer or community at large, this connectedness can either break or make you, as an organisation, in more ways than one.


When you talk about organisational culture, this used to be something that was very internally driven. The experience, for the longest time, was managed within and to a great extent, what happened inside stayed inside. Word of mouth and referrals, of course, had its place. But today, our always on, always accessible culture and smartphone-driven ways has led to a leaching of this culture outside the organisation. What used to be known just to employees can now spread like wildfire on various platforms – regardless of its veracity.  And that can be either a bad or good thing.


Vala Afshar, Chief Digital Evangelist at Salesforce therefore called it right when he said that, “your company culture is your brand’.



Your organisational culture translates into your brand – be it in client meetings, or the way your customers view your organisation.


Aspects of culture

That said, what can we then do about ensuring we build a strong and sustainable workplace culture? You can make sure you tick off the boxes in six aspects of culture.


OC Tanner is a $500 million global company specialising in recognition and culture. They have invested a lot of time and resources in conducting extensive research with more than 10,000 companies where their focus has been on the employee’s view of culture.  Their research shows that there are six aspects of culture in particular that people look for in a great place to work, which are purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, well-being and leadership.


  1. Purpose

This is about connecting your employee to your organisation’s reason for being. This sense of purpose is how your employee makes a difference to your organisation and how your organisation makes a difference in the world. And millennials have long focused on what drives an organisation. These are different values from the days of old where people stayed in one spot for 30 years, waiting on a golden handshake that may or may not come.



As an employee, having a common purpose with the organisation can make all the difference in terms of effort and performance at work.


  1. Opportunity

This is giving it all to your employees – the ability to learn new skills, to develop, to realise their potential and to contribute meaningfully. It seems to make absolute sense except that there are many organisations that are driven by one thing and the employee is their means of getting to it. That narrow-minded approach means they don’t stop to think about their employee and what they may want or need, thus wasting precious time and resources recruiting and retaining people who don’t buy in or remain engaged.

Always think about how your employees can benefit from an opportunity to upskill themselves or for the company to promote cross-functional learning.


  1. Success

Success for the employee, in many ways, is success for the organisation. This necessarily involves a degree of empowerment and letting go in order for employees to fail forward, try new things and not be penalised for exploring and innovating.

“The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.” If every organisation embraced so wholeheartedly this mantra by IBM’s Thomas Watson Sr, things may be very different in our world today.



When employees are empowered to innovate and correct mistakes, the organisation sets up a system that motivates and encourages employees to fail forward to success.


  1. Appreciation

Who doesn’t feel valued when they are appreciated? While it is very important that organisations recognise both outstanding work and unique contributions, I feel it’s just as important to value and recognise effort as well. It would be good to realise that we do not all start at the same starting line in which case, efforts vary and therefore, need to be taken into account as well.



Developing a culture of recognition can significantly boost satisfaction and retention in the workplace.


  1. Well-being

Particularly relevant in today’s always on, technologically-driven workplace, a focus on employee well-being goes beyond foosball tables, a well-stocked pantry and gym membership. It’s recognition that an employee’s health is many fold – physical, social, emotional and financial. An organisation is made up of people, right to the top, who make decisions for the organisation every day. This means these leaders themselves experience a sense of well-being which they should rightfully ensure is an experience other employees get as well.



Well-being initiatives should be in place, beside any foosball tables, game rooms, or a fancy pantry.


  1. Leadership

Leadership comes from the top and drives everything, in many ways. Good leadership connects employees to purpose, empowers them to do great work and helps bring people together in teams and as a whole. Or they don’t.  Don’t just let your organisational culture exist – build it, refine it often and mould it to get it just right.



Leaders must live and breathe the organisational culture that they put in place. Be the positive change you wish to see in your organisation.


Culture is challenging because your organisational culture exists whether you want to confront it or not. As Jacob Morgan, author and futurist, shared – “A physical environment doesn’t exist unless the organisation creates or designates one. But the corporate culture is like air–it’s around all the employees who work there even if they aren’t always aware of it. That is what it’s so crucial to actually create and design a culture instead of just letting it exist.“

Privilege is Invisible to Those Who Have It – Women’s Equality Day

Privilege is Invisible to Those Who Have It – Women’s Equality Day

Equality is not a women’s issue – it’s everyone’s issue.


When you take a moment to consider the ramifications of that simple yet powerful statement, you can begin to understand how something like gender equality remains an issue even to this day. Much has improved by leaps and bounds and yet, it still feels like there is a long way to go.

The path to true equality is a long way to go yet.


Addressing familial and societal issues, rather than “women’s issues”.

For many, gender equality seems a far-away topic. It is something to be debated, hummed and hawed at because the road is long and the fight is always so personal. Things seem to move when someone or some people take a vested interest and dedicate the time and energy to move what seems immovable. Especially when gender-related incidents can happen repeatedly, over time and across geographical lines, it would seem that we can get desensitised to what’s happening around us and to our own. This, in turn, leads to us waiting for someone else to raise the issue and fight the good fight.


While we can and should continue to push for more advances for women in terms of pay parity, paid leave, subsidised childcare, increased representation at the board level as well as in P&L roles, we also need to better address the reasons for women opting out as they get into more senior positions and as they begin to raise their family. These issues are often seen as women issues when in reality, these are issues which affect us as a family unit, a society and community.



Women in senior roles opting out of the workforce to take care of their families should be addressed as family and societal issues, rather than women’s issues alone.


There is a role for everyone in this, which means we should expect and demand sustained participation at the governmental, non-profit and enterprise level. At the same time, there is also room for us, as individuals, to take a stand ourselves – within our circles of influence i.e. family and friends, our organisation and our community.


Change begins with us.

The change starts with us –  in our thoughts and actions –  because within our own circles, we are aware of and experience the discrepancies, biases and patterns that keep creeping up. While we cannot solve these issues alone and often, in our lifetime, we can each take a stand to lead, inspire and advocate, pushing back where we see fit so that we get others more mindful about questionable behaviours and decisions.


This, like many other issues worth fighting, is an unrelenting battle, in many ways.


Why is true gender equality still so far away?

We know that greater equality is not a zero sum game and that it presents a win-win to both sides. The status quo often remains the way it is less because others want to keep things unfair or because they fail to understand the issues at play but far more to preserve the vested interests of those who feel they stand to lose if things were to change. Often, it is  less what they understand and more what they feel about the issue.
Michael Kimmel says that making gender visible to men is the first step to engaging men to support gender equality. That and addressing entitlement.

Ursula Mead, CEO and founder of InHerSight, a website that allows users to rate how female-friendly companies are, says that the business case for gender diversity in the workplace has been made. “Studies show companies are more successful with more women in the ranks. They have higher average returns, fewer incidences of fraud, better decision-making, lower turnover and higher productivity.”


The powerful headline above is attributed to the 2015 TEDWomen talk given by Michael Kimmel, a sociologist and author of “Angry White Men”, entitled, Why Gender Equality is Good for Everyone – Men Included.


SelfDrvn’s PlaySk00L Gamification Series: 4 Key Insights

SelfDrvn’s PlaySk00L Gamification Series: 4 Key Insights

SelfDrvn recently held its PlaySk00L Gamification Series 2: Employee Experiences Geared for Success at SelfDrvn HQ on the 25th of July, 2018. Our participants had an engaging afternoon of learning about concepts like gamification design thinking, how to implement gamification within organisational duties, and the future of gamification in the ASEAN region.

Our Customer Success Director, Melvin Chan delivering the opening notes.


JC Ng, from our event partner Impact Volution, introducing the participants to how gamification can be implemented at work.

Our speakers line-up delivered some golden nuggets of information on gamification and its effect on organisations. Here’s a quick summary of some insights we learnt from the PlaySk00L Series 2 session!


  1. Gamification is not all about games

You may be asking – but gamification has the word “game” in it! Well, you’re half right. As mentioned by our speaker Melvin Chan, the Customer Success Director of SelfDrvn, gamification does not necessarily need to involve complex game mechanics, such as those in modern computer games today. Gamification can be implemented on a very basic level via a rewards mechanic or leaderboard, to improve certain work (e.g. sales quotas, or resolving software bugs) or mundane office chores (e.g. refilling paper for the copier) to make them more engaging and incentivise people to continue taking positive actions.

JC engaging participants in the gamified team-building activities.


Participants used the SelfDrvn application to compete in the activities for the day.


2. A tool for enhancing the employee journey

Game thinking can be used as a guideline that serves the employee in an organisation. As with most computer games, the player is put in the boots of a Hero, who has autonomy, mastery over their roles, and are devoted to a purpose. Take Lara Croft from Tomb Raider as an example. As the main character, she has autonomy over which paths she takes, and how she takes them in the game-world, mastery over her role as a wall-climbing, puzzle-solving, trap-evading adventurer, and is devoted to the purpose of finding her long-lost father. Applied at work, this concept can evoke high-level engagement for an employee, when they are in control of the work they produce.

Our CEO, Mun Choong introducing Game Design Thinking and its application in the workplace.


3. The ASEAN market is growing

The ASEAN countries in particular have shown a strong inclination and receptiveness towards gamification in recent years. This is attributed in part by the high penetration rate of smartphones and social media in the region. The hype of gamification in the US market has somewhat fizzled out, but is just starting to spark in the ASEAN region, according to Mun Choong. This Accenture report supports the notion of gamification becoming more intertwined within workplace activities by suggesting employers to reach out to the intrinsic motivation of employees in the region, chiefly the need to belong within a community, and the chasing of status in, and outside of work. Performance management, ranking systems, and attractive incentives will not only aid in retention of current employees, but also the on-boarding of new roles.

4. Game thinking aligns personalities and career paths

In the session with Mun Choong, participants had the chance to dive deeper into their personality archetypes and personal characteristics, during the Game Design Thinking Sprint. Based on the 4 archetypes and motivations of Doers (social), Teambuilders (freedom), Visionaries (order), and Trailblazers (individual), we were all invited to explore from 12 cards in total, our personalities. As it seems, some people have different personalities at work, compared to being at home. This presented us with some food for thought: can we be truly happy if we maintain two separate personalities, depending on our environment? These personality tests can also prove useful to determine an individual’s cultural fit in an organisation, or their roles in specific departments with different requirements.

Participants identifying their personalities: are they Doers, Trailblazers, Visionaries, or Teambuilders?

SelfDrvn’s PlaySk00L Series brings together industry experts and the public to dive into current matters and topics relevant to the HR and Gamification scene. Like our Facebook page to be updated on any future events!

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