Leaders from McDonald's, AstraZeneca, Nomura, and Dell advocate mental wellbeing & empathy at the workplace

walking the talk in encouraging a mentally-healthy workforce.

In July this year, the fourth WorkWell Leaders CEO Dialogue, hosted by IHH Healthcare Singapore, saw a gathering of leaders to discuss how they can create an inclusive and empathetic work environment, one that takes into account the mental wellbeing of their employees.

These leaders also signed a pledge - one that formed

a collective commitment that underpins the community of practice amongst these leaders, in their responsibility to mental wellbeing.

In light of this, HRO reached out to some of the leaders - from McDonald's, AstraZeneca, Nomura, and Dell to find out the challenges they've faced reaching out to their stakeholders, how they are facilitating safe spaces for open discussions, as well as how they are prioritising their own mental wellbeing.

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Read their responses to each question below.


Q As a leader, what challenges have you faced in approaching the topic of mental health and wellbeing with your stakeholders? How are you overcoming these challenges?

Benjamin Boh, General Manager of McDonald’s Singapore:

There have been several challenges in approaching this topic. 

The first is the perception that the leader must always be the strongest amongst the organisation. Leaders think they must have a strong front to motivate employees.
Employees think leaders are so strong so he or she wouldn’t understand their struggles. That perception must change. The better we as leaders are able to lower our guards and share our struggles, the more willing our organisation will be to open up about theirs.
As a leader, I am making a conscious effort to share what’s bugging me and being better at listening to my employees too. It’s human to not be OK at times, and we are all human.

The second is providing certainty in a highly uncertain world. The crisis has truly brought us into a world of uncertainty and just when the situation seemed to be improving, second or third waves brought the world back to chaos again. Uncertainty is very unsettling and the constant ups and downs have been taxing for the mental wellbeing of everyone. We recognised that very early on, so we made it a point to be clear about what we will be certain of and assure our employees through consistent communication. Things like job and pay security, clear focus on what we will work on (and what we will not)… those gave our employees a sense of stability so they could focus on managing what is uncertain. I believe that has helped our employees significantly.

The third is the lack of face-to-face interaction. We are social creatures and at McDonald’s, we enjoy our face-to- face meets with the restaurant and office teams because that’s how we build relationships and trust. Restrictions in people movement and working from home as a default has taken that away so we have had to find creative ways to still instill fun and levity in things that we do.
Things like virtual celebrations and chit-chats have helped. But we still can’t wait to meet people like we used to.

Tian Beng Ng, Senior Vice President and General Manager - Channels, Asia Pacific Japan, Dell Technologies:

Starting the conversation about mental health is one of the greatest hurdles to overcome, considering the stigma surrounding mental health. Mental health is a highly personal topic, and that is why at Dell Technologies, we are committed to creating a safe environment for these conversations to take place. We recently ran our fourth annual “Balance Campaign” globally. As part of the campaign, team leaders are provided with training and strategies on how they can approach such conversations with their team members.

Additionally, team members around the globe get to participate in weekly, 20-minute Empowerment Calls hosted by our incredible team of Global Wellness Champions – participating in activities like meditation and mindfulness to strengthen their emotional wellbeing.

Confidentiality and privacy is a top priority as well, and it is emphasised across the entire process – from kickstarting conversations to connecting employees with resources that are fully private, confidential and free.

Kelvin Ho, CEO of Nomura Singapore:

Culturally, mental health is a topic that still has a lot of stigma attached to it and we find that employees are often hesitant to share information or seek support around mental health issues. As a leader, I try to encourage an open culture that seeks to eliminate bias against discussing mental health.

Vinod Narayanan, Country President at AstraZeneca Singapore:

The explosion of remote working, erosion of separation between work and home life, and frequent changes to working arrangement due to the pandemic have affected how we approach mental wellness at the workplace.

To tackle this, we have launched various initiatives and put together resources that are easily accessible online:

  • Initiatives: 
    'Fuel up' days – meeting free days once a quarter for employees to recharge and focus on their wellbeing
    Recovery time – an initiative to encourage employees to refrain from meetings and work calls after 7pm
    AxerciseZ – an initiative where employees can exercise and earn points that can be converted to shopping vouchers.   
  • Platforms:
    Conducted quarterly mental wellness workshops and bi-weekly town halls to talk about early signs of mental health-related issues and give handles on how to address them.
  • Resources:
    COVID-19 Employee ToolKit provided tips on resilience and positivity, along with Lifeworks, our very own employee assistance programme whereby employees can seek professional help to manage mental health issues.     
  • Others:
    Flexible working options were provided to ensure that employees made work arrangements that took childcare and eldercare responsibilities into account as well as underlying health conditions or the use of public transportation.
    Manager training was deployed to emphasise the important role managers play in supporting their own mental health and that of their teams during and beyond the pandemic.

Q How are you creating a safe space for you/your leadership team and your employees to openly discuss mental health and wellbeing at the workplace?

Benjamin Boh:

We have started balancing our meetings and 1:1s with some fun and casual chit-chats rather than focusing 100% of work.

We have started doing department-level chit-chats with the intent to provide updates on the situation and business but more importantly, provide an avenue for our employees to share their thoughts and ask questions, all in a safe and cozy setting

We have also started talking about mental wellbeing and raising awareness of it through our communication channels.

While we have put in more focus on mental wellbeing, we are just starting out on this journey and we will do much more moving forward.

Tian Beng Ng:

When it comes to normalising discussions about mental health and wellbeing at the workplace, leaders need to take the lead. Earlier this year, we held a panel session where several senior executives of our Singapore Site came forward to share their personal challenges and how they were coping during the pandemic. The session was very well received by our team members. Providing a platform for sharing experiences is an incredibly effective way to get conversations started about mental health in the workplace and also reiterates that team members are not alone in their struggles. It is a powerful tool to bring people together in times like these.

As a leader, I make it a point to address mental wellness and initiate conversations by sharing my personal experiences. At our recent company town hall, I shared pictures of my family vacation in Singapore to encourage team members to take time off and do the same – to recharge, spend time with family and look after their mental health.

We even polled team members for vacation ideas in Singapore to spur them into action to take time off, and will be running a contest in our next Singapore town hall to showcase the most fun vacations by team members.

At Dell Technologies, our people are the most critical component of our long-term success and their health and well-being is the number one priority for us. All team members have access to the Dell Wellness Hub – a personalised, digital health and wellness platform that provides engaging tools and resources to support team members on their wellness journey. Our Dell Wellness team organises regular virtual sessions that provide team members with strategies to manage their mental wellbeing such as meditation and stretching, tips on achieving a work- life balance, and strategies on leadership and how to manage team burnout.

Additionally, our Employee Resource Groups and Social Clubs run a myriad of virtual events to keep team members engaged physically and mentally through virtual run/walk challenges, healthy cooking sessions, virtual workout sessions with our adopted charity MINDS and more. We want our team members to thrive in life, so helping them find balance with work and life in key. We are also launching a new Employee Resource Group called “Family Balance” in Singapore will be focused on mental health and wellness. I am also the APJ regional executive sponsor for this ERG which is present in several countries in the region.

Kelvin Ho:

Our focus to date has been to support and raise awareness about health, wellness, and work-life balance. We have done this by sponsoring sports, fitness, wellness and family- oriented initiatives. For example, in October, to observe World Mental Health Day, we organised a “Mental Wellness Week” to educate employees on mental health and its importance in the workplace.

Our employees and their immediate family members also have access to an employee assistance programme which provides 24/7 support for confidential discussions and counselling, and a variety of tools that help towards a healthier, happier life.

In June this year we launched a new employee-led Mental Health Network in Asia ex-Japan to build a healthier workplace. Through this network, we aim to bring employees together by sharing common struggles and challenges.

The network also aims to increase employee engagement in promoting positive attitudes and behaviours towards mental wellbeing, and ensure appropriate support and resources are accessible to staff.

Vinod Narayanan:

This is done through:

  • SAFE SPACE – a dedicated internal workplace group to create mental health awareness.
  • Building a culture of connection through regular quarterly 1-1 employee check-ins.
  • Kickstarting more directed small group lunches/open townhall sessions to encourage conversations around driving mental wellness at the workplace.

Q How have you personally prioritised your mental health and wellbeing, especially through tough times the past year?

Benjamin Boh:

As the crisis unfolded, I knew I had to have mental balance and clarity in order to lead effectively and make the best decisions for our people and business. I asked myself what always gave me that balance and it was being physically fit and active. So I got back to running as that gave me my 100% me-time. No distractions, no phones, WhatsApp or email. Just pure time with myself to think (or not think at all).

Tian Beng Ng:

The past year has proven extremely challenging for all of us, and the truth is that we all need to take some time to take care of our mental and emotional health – I am no exception myself. I’ve made an intentional effort to spend time with my family to have meals together, take vacation time and visit many attractions/ parks in Singapore. I also try to have some “me time” by working out regularly with resistance and cardio training. I also enjoy playing golf and have been working to improve my game, and recently I joined Dell’s virtual run as well, that pushes me out of the door to clock in my miles.

And finally, sleep - I ensure that I have on average seven hours of sleep every day. Sleep, vacation time and exercise are critical for all of us and I return to work feeling refreshed and ready to take on the challenges that come my way.

Kelvin Ho:

A regular exercise regime after work allows me to relax and release any negative thoughts.

I also picked up a new hobby – playing the violin – which helps reduce stress, provides a sense of achievement and improves my emotional wellbeing.

Vinod Narayanan:

I am doing so by:

  • Prioritising self-care through regular exercises and seven hours of sleep daily .
  • Setting boundaries by building in breaks during weekends to spend time with families and friends, both physically and virtually.
  • Incorporating weekly quiet time as a family to meditate.

Q By signing this Pledge for Mental Wellbeing, what is one key message you want to convey to your employees?

Benjamin Boh:

Mental wellbeing is not a trend, but it is a necessity for all of us to live our life to the best that we can (whether it’s at work or play). We spend more than half our waking hours at work so I am fully committed work on making those waking hours happier and more rewarding for all my employees.

Tian Beng Ng:

I wish for everyone to thrive in all that they do. And to thrive in life, you must find that balance with work and play. Make yourself a priority as you owe this to yourself!

Kelvin Ho:

We would like to convey to our employees that mental wellbeing is a leadership priority at Nomura and that we are committed to supporting anyone who seeks help.

Vinod Narayanan:

We are committed to ensure our workforce has the resources not only to deal with, but to thrive in challenging circumstances.

Mental wellness is a priority and is in line with AZ’s values and sustainability commitment.