Back-to-back Zoom calls. Lunchtime meetings. An avalanche of pressing emails. Sound familiar?

Workers may prefer hybrid work arrangements, following disruptions and adjustments because of the pandemic, but data from a recent study suggests that burnouts are happening at an alarming rate.

Employees struggle to achieve work-life balance, especially when the “office” is just a laptop power button away.

More than four in five (85 per cent) Singapore-based employees said they feel at risk of burning out this year, according to consultancy firm Mercer’s 2022 Global Talent Trends Study published in May this year. The study was based on insights from nearly 11,000 C-suite executives, human resources (HR) leaders and employees globally.

“Even when a company does not promote a culture of working late, many employees still find that they have a lot of unfinished work at the end of the day,” observes Mr Vikas Verma, head of Strategic HR, UOB.

The bank noticed the trend of remote workers putting in longer hours than they did pre-pandemic. But why was this happening?

One possible reason could be the rise of virtual meetings. Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index found that the average user on Teams – the tech giant’s business communication platform – saw a 252 per cent increase in weekly time spent in meetings from March 2020 to February 2022. The number of meetings also grew by 153 per cent over the same period.

The survey polled over 31,000 full-time workers across 31 countries, including Singapore.

It found that work days are getting longer too. The average Teams user is spending 28 per cent more time responding to chats or in meetings after working hours, and 14 per cent more time working on weekends.

“Many of us spend most of our working hours in meetings during the day and can only start the 'actual work' after 6pm,” says Mr Verma, 49.

“This, we believe, is the root cause of the increasing loss of work-life balance due to the hybrid work arrangement.”

Microsoft’s researchers followed up with tips on limiting digital fatigue. This includes implementing “meeting-free” days or time blocks, sharing an agenda ahead of meetings and assigning a person to each part, and setting expectations on responding to emails and chats outside of working hours.

To help employees improve productivity, UOB launched a set of five simple guidelines on meeting etiquettes: Limiting the number of participants in a meeting to no more than seven or eight, informing the attendees of the agenda ahead of time, avoiding meal-time meetings, ensuring that meetings don’t overrun, and to only call for a meeting when a decision is required.

These were crafted based on feedback from employees. “They may be simple guidelines, but they will effectively free up the time and mental bandwidth of employees to focus on work during office hours,” Mr Verma shares.


By the numbers

  • 85%
    …of employees in Singapore say they feel at risk of burnout, reveals Mercer’s 2022 study
  • 1 in 2
    Singaporeans say the future of work is about balance – fitting work around life instead of life around work, reveals the same Mercer study
  • 252%
    The increase in weekly time spent in meetings for the average user on Microsoft’s business communication platform Teams, from 2020 to 2022


Focusing on total well-being

More than half (58 per cent) of the employees in Singapore struggled more with their mental health at work in 2021 compared with the year before, according to a survey by software firm Oracle.

Conducted in 2021, the study reflects insights from 1,000 respondents from sectors including manufacturing, business and logistics. It found that about 77 per cent of employees feel that their companies are more concerned about their mental health now than before the pandemic.

Organisations are also starting to recognise that employee well-being extends beyond merely focusing on mental health. Mercer's 2022 study found that about 38 per cent of companies globally plan to provide employees with information and support for financial, physical, social and mental well-being this year.

Recognising the toll on mental health and well-being brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic on its employees, UOB launched its wellness programme in 2020. Close to 1,000 staff participated in the inaugural programme, comprising a series of online activities to help them cope with working from home.

“Together with other existing wellness-related programmes such as flexible work arrangement and monthly family time-off, the UOB wellness programme aims to support our employees in crafting a better-balanced and healthier life for themselves,” says Mr Ronnie Yam, head of Group Rewards, Group Human Resource, UOB.

The programme takes a holistic approach towards wellness, says Mr Yam, 54. “In addition to mental wellness webinars on how to manage burnout and understanding mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, we also rolled out activities that focus on building wellness in areas like finance and physical health.”

Some examples include financial wellness webinars on how to manage personal cash flow and be retirement-ready, and virtual fitness sessions such as yoga, pilates, and zumba.

The bank also encourages its employees to explore new experiences and pick up new hobbies by organising workshops where they can learn how to build a terrarium, blend essential oils and paint tote bags.

To date, more than 7,800 UOB employees have participated in the programme, says Mr Yam. “We received overwhelmingly positive feedback through the surveys conducted at the end of each activity.”

In 2021, the bank transformed one of the historical shophouses along Boat Quay into a clubhouse for their employees to recharge and connect with each other.

Dubbed “28BQ”, it has general lounge areas for relaxing and remote working, zones where they can unwind over a game of table tennis or table football (also known as foosball), rooms available for gatherings and employee training. It also has a dedicated wellness zone for activities like yoga, complete with lockers and shower facilities.

“UOB is constantly looking for ways to create a better workplace and better work life for our employees,” says Mr Yam. “28BQ was designed with this in mind, to create experiences that cater to the diverse needs of our workforce in the new normal.”


Developing leaders sustainably

The bank’s philosophy on enabling balanced ways of working extends to its Leadership Acceleration Programme (LAP). The talent development initiative is open to existing employees in UOB.

They’re selected not only based on their performance and potential, but also on displaying “the right behaviours that are aligned with our values,” says Mr Bryan Lim, 51, head of Talent and Development at UOB.

In addition to leadership development courses and opportunities for career mobility, those who are placed on the programme get paired with a mentor who provides them with guidance on their career journey, customised mapping on their 10-year career plan, and exposure to strategic projects. This includes the bank’s Gig+U initiative, which was launched to provide flexible work opportunities for retirees.

LAP participant Sarah Tan, vice-president of UOB’s TMRW Digital Group Engagement and Innovation team, shares that one aspect of the programme she appreciates is the opportunity for participants to move at their own pace.

“It takes commitment to stretch and disrupt yourself for personal and professional growth as part of the LAP, but UOB readily supports us on that journey, while recognising that priorities may change at different points in our lives.”

“The bank empowers us to accelerate our career development and supports us when our personal priorities come in, which has been helpful in enabling us to thrive in both our career and life,” says Ms Tan, 33, who is married. She pivoted her career from human resources to digital banking in January this year.

When it comes to achieving balanced ways of working, the bank believes that “it’s the small things that matter”, says Mr Lim.

“No two employees are the same, and at UOB, we appreciate their unique capabilities and potential.

“Be it our employment philosophy or our leadership development programme, the bank wants to really zoom in on what will make a difference for (our employees), and help them grow a more purposeful career while achieving work-life balance,” he adds.


The Future of Finance series explores how digital solutions and insights can empower individuals and businesses in a rapidly changing world, to create a more sustainable future.

This article was originally published on The Straits Times, and was written by Kareyst Lin, Content STudio.


Source: The Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction