Burnout, poor work-life balance, low productivity: The vicious cycle hitting Malaysia & Singapore employees

“Please acknowledge more of me, my productivity, and my work ethics, instead of just pushing me to do more,” said one employee cited in a new report. 

Since the onset of COVID-19, employees in Singapore and Malaysia are placing their careers lower on their priority list —with 49% and 50% of those surveyed recently, respectively, saying so. 

In particular, while employees now see improving awareness around workplace culture and employee experience, many could still be questioning the role that work plays in their lives, new research by Employment Hero has found. Employees could either be looking to move industries, seek a remote role, or try a different working model, it was noted.

The research, published in the Employee Wellness Report in end-April, involved employees in Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, and the UK, with over 1,000 respondents each in Singapore and Malaysia. The survey was conducted between 28 February and 7 March 2022, on the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, how financial stress impacts employees’ workday, how personally fulfilled they are by their work, and more.

Highlights of the findings in Singapore and Malaysia, which employers and HR leaders can note, are shared below.


There is a “vicious cycle” of burnout, poor work-life balance & low productivity

According to the research, as many as 45% of employees in Singapore said that the pandemic has negatively impacted their career progression. Moreover, 68% said they are stressed about their finances, and 65% said their stress levels were severely impacted by the effects of COVID-19 on the workplace.

Importantly, burnout was found to affect the majority of respondents — with 62% agreeing they felt burnt out from their work in the past three months prior to the survey; 22% were unsure if they had experienced burnout, and 17% disagreed about experiencing it. Among age groups, the young group appeared to be more at risk, with 18 to 24-year-olds 24% more likely to feel burnt out and 25 to 29-year-olds 20% more likely. 

Delving deeper into the data, a “vicious cycle” was spotted – employees who stated that they had poor work-life balance over the last three months were 52% more likely to also have felt burnt out. At the same time, those who felt burnt out were 42% more likely to feel that their productivity was low. And finally, employees with poor productivity were 282% more likely to feel a poor sense of work-life balance.

But employers are making an impact with mental health support

Despite the above, mental health support appears to be an area in which Singapore employers have managed to make impactful changes, with 47% of employees agreeing that their company is very supportive of employees’ mental health. However, it was also found that 53% of employees are uncomfortable discussing mental health issues in the workplace, and 49% of employees are concerned that reporting mental health issues would lead to repercussions in the workplace.

While these may seem like tough challenges to tackle, there are valuable rewards to be gained by businesses that choose to focus on employee wellness, with employees who rated their employer’s commitment to wellness as “good” stating they were 45% more likely to say they were loyal to a business.

In their own words: What employees say they need to improve their wellness in the next six months

Respondents were asked: “If your organisation could do one thing to help improve your wellness in the next six months, what should it be? Some responses included:

  • “Give me more time off to rest. Hire more staff to lighten my work or shift schedules. Have me on permanent work shifts rather than irregular shifts.”
  • “Improve the efficiency of the IT system, especially [when] working from home which requires remote access to the company’s data.”
  • “Provide more support for upskilling and long-term career progression.”
  • “Be more appreciative and trusting in my work.”
  • “Assist me in developing higher skills to do my work better.”

Commenting on the findings, Ben Thompson, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, Employment Hero, said it is clear from the findings that employees are seeking mental health support, balance, and education, and employers must step up and offer the right resources to create a happy and productive workforce.

“By taking small steps in the right direction such as increasing mental health support budgets, prioritising financial education, and implementing remote working practices that enable a greater work-life balance, employers can quickly pivot towards the kind of people-first approach that employees will truly be able to appreciate

“Ultimately, workers will stay with companies that support them, and leave the ones that don’t, so in order to retain top-tier talent and foster a successful workforce, it’s critical for employers to take these demands to take action where it’s most needed,” Thompson added.






Overall, the research cited four quick tips for employers looking to improve their employees’ career health:

→ Create a flexible development and coaching strategy, for instance by using tools such as learning management systems, one-on-one meetings, mentorship programmes, career pathways, and external learning opportunities.

→ Strongly articulating your company’s mission and values. Without a mission, employees won’t know what they’re ultimately working towards, making it harder to find meaning in the everyday. Values set a tone for the company’s culture and give guidance when making decisions.

→ Reward and recognise your team for great work. Teams need to feel appreciated for the work they do, and the best way to make sure this happens is to create structured programs for both top-down and peer-to-peer recognition.

→ Set clear and achievable goals. It is so much easier to stay motivated when you’re moving towards a clear objective. Goals should be ambitious, but clear and achievable. 

Lead image: Employee Wellness Report

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