Chartered secretary Maya Abdullah, 37, says that as a full-time mother of two children aged 11 and 14, juggling a full-time career often means working into the weekends.
Her job, as well as her household responsibilities as a wife and mother, sometimes takes its toll on her health and well-being, she admits.
“Work never ends and although I try my best to live a balanced life, it’s normal for work to eat into my personal time with family and friends,” says Maya, who works for a multinational company in Johor Baru.
Rest, although much needed, is not a common word in her vocabulary, she admits.
“As a wife, mother, daughter and granddaughter, I also juggle a multitude of responsibilities,” she says.
Although her boss is aware and understanding of the issues she faces, Maya says that she is reluctant to show any weakness or vulnerability at work.
“Even if you can’t do something, you just have to suck it up and do it, no questions asked because it’s the corporate culture of most companies. The minute you show any sign of weakness, or that you’re unable or unwilling to do something, you may be blacklisted or axed,” says Maya.
There needs to be a paradigm shift in the corporate culture that requires companies to recognise and care for the humanity of the individuals they lead, says Longchamp general manager (Singapore and Malaysia) and Emotional Inclusion (a workforce NGO in Singapore) founder Mollie Jean De Dieu.
It is time to humanise the workforce, she says.
One of the ways is by investing in a clinical psychologist in their organisation,” she adds.
De Dieu was one of the speakers at the recent Women Of Our Time conference held across two days in conjunction with International Women’s Day.
The event featured speakers from all over the world who shared their personal struggles and stories in smashing boundaries, shattering stereotypes, achieving gender equality and promoting women empowerment.
Together with several other speakers, she spoke in a session titled “Burnout” which aimed to explored why women feel burnout, and also why it is difficult for women to take time to rest, reflect and refresh, and more importantly, not feel guilty about it.
De Dieu says that her over 20-year-long career in the fashion industry, where she listened to hundreds of stories of people who have navigated work whilst facing the “perfect storm”, have made her realise the urgent need to “advocate a safe platform in the corporate world, where emotions can be heard, recognised and dealt with”.
“This not only enhances business productivity, but it also spearheads sustainable growth,” she says, adding that her work draws on the latest research in positive and behavioral psychology, leadership development and organisational change.
Her Emotional Inclusion Programme has shown measurable improvement and correlation between leadership effectiveness, emotional inclusion, psychological corporate safety, team performance and employee well-being, she says.
“I’ve always been concerned about bringing more humanity in the corporate landscape. Currently, bringing one’s full self to work equates weakness or unprofessionalism. But that’s a real archaic landscape that we’re still bathing in and it’s time to do something about it,” she says.
Humanising the workforce
De Dieu founded Emotional Inclusion two years ago through which she calls on companies to invest in a trained therapist and to have a programme in their organisations that looks after the mental wellness of their employees in a sustainable way.
“We also have the emotional inclusion podcast where I host global leaders and movers and shakers who are advocates for mental health, wellness as well as emotional inclusion in the workforce. It’s purposeful work to create a more human workplace for the generations to come,” she says.
De Dieu says that it’s often difficult for employees to talk about what’s stressing them out as it’s often attributed to weakness. People find it challenging to come forward when they find it difficult to deal with a situation.
“We’re all emotionally vulnerable. We’ve all experienced mental health hiccups along the way. Not everyone feels comfortable talking about it, especially in the wake of Covid-19 where isolation, overwork, burnout and anxiety have been rampant, resulting in a drop in productivity and a rise in cost for businesses,” says De Dieu.
“90% of employees still feel uncomfortable speaking to their boss about any issues they might be facing, 75% of Gen Z and 50% of millennials have left their jobs for mental health reasons.
“78% employees feel their companies should be doing more to protect the mental health of their workforce,” says De Dieu, referring to a Harvard Business Review research.
“We need proper medical guidance within our corporations. Employers need to share in supporting the strength and resilience of their greatest resource – their people,” she says.
According to De Dieu, for every US$1 (RM4.19) put into treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US$4 (RM16.8) in health and productivity.
“If you have a programme to ensure your employees stay happy and afloat, they will be productive, and obviously it will show in the bottom line results of the company,” she says.
Women, says ESSEC Business School Asia-Pacific Singapore deputy dean prof Aarti Ramaswami, have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
Between juggling meetings and projects, children at home, and managing the household, the task of balancing work and home life can be a major challenge. And more so during the pandemic.
“Working women have been experiencing greater life disruption than men. It’s time to rethink mental wellness, stress, burnout, and its impacts on day-to-day health and wellness,” says Aarti.
It also explored tangible actions that male colleagues, allies and spouses can take to support working women.
“Women need to be empowered with health and wellness in order to prevent burnout,” she says, adding that as someone with a background in human resource management, this is a topic that’s close to her heart.
“We don’t just come into organisations or relationships with just our heads, we bring our mind, body and soul.
“Individuals bring emotions, behaviours, perspectives, prejudices, and filters to organisations,” she adds.
“Inclusion is more than gender equality but it’s about being able to express yourself the way you want to,” says Aarti.
De Dieu says that there are several buzzwords to take note of.
“Firstly, empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of others (which is not sympathy) – opening up to our colleagues and co-workers and speaking up for them,” she says.
“Secondly, gratefulness at work will create room for appreciation and motivation.
“Thirdly, listening. This goes beyond getting the superficial I’m fine or I’m stressed”’ answer when one is asked ‘how are you?,” she says.
De Dieu says that instead of going head-on, co-workers and employers need to learn to ask questions in a more effective way.
“If you notice someone who’s having a hard time – for example, the person is always on time for work but they haven’t been over the course of the last month, then instead of asking them directly why they’re late, you can phrase it in a more powerful way,” she says.
“You can say, ‘Hey I’ve noticed... followed by a work related statement to open the discussion’. So it would be, ‘Hey Stephanie, I noticed you’ve been coming to work later than usual, when you’re usually on time. Is there something going on?” she adds.
“That is a very powerful statement when it comes to getting answers that will help resolve the situation.”
“On an organisational level, we need to build and maintain health by investing in sustainable medical programmes and making employee wellness a foundational pillar to organisational success,” says De Dieu.
“Fourthly, trust. The bedrock of trust is care and when we really care for the people in the organisation, we build trust,” she says.
“Organisations need to create an inclusive space, a sense of acceptance, belonging and empowerment, a safe space that allows employees, especially women, to be themselves without negative repercussions,” she concludes.