By Jen Garcia, VP Human Resources & Corporate Communications

Technology like smartphones, laptops and smartwatches have blurred the lines between work and personal time even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit us almost two years ago. I remember a time when my evening jogs or weekend bike rides were refreshing bursts of me-time without the distraction of work. Family vacations were also once considered sacred. But many of us, myself included, now feel guilty for not bringing our work laptops with us on vacations. Perhaps, because I think I am expected to stay on top of my work or at the very least, stay connected even while I rest and recuperate. We compose our out-of-office notification messages in a manner that grants others permission to reach us through various channels.

When the smartwatch, which I’ve grown too dependent on, vibrates every time I receive a text message, an email or Teams chat, I can’t bring myself to ignore it. I feel bad when I can’t respond immediately.

We have generally made a smooth transition from a face-to-face work environment to virtual and work-from-home arrangements because of the pandemic. This new normal has largely not had any adverse effect on employee productivity and may have even improved the output of work.

Unfortunately, our productivity gains have inadvertently led to significant losses in terms of mental health, family time, and personal relationships. It is an issue that many companies are aware of, and HR teams have responded to this by providing initiatives in an attempt to relieve the pressures of work and make employees feel better. Relaxation packs, wellness speakers, guided mindful activities are just some of the laudable and well-intended activities that I’ve come across. However, these are solutions that temporarily alleviate some symptoms but do not address the root cause of these stressors.

At Zuellig Pharma, we encourage employees to be mindful of keeping a healthy work life balance. While there is no one-size-fits-all formula for this, leaders are encouraged to carefully prioritize work and ensure effective resource allocation to prevent frustration and burnout. Healthy interpersonal relationships are likewise encouraged as next to family and friend, colleagues at work are probably are closest support systems.

When these fail, employees are provided the option to seek professional help to manage life and work stressors before these cause a negative impact on their lives. In the Philippines, health benefits cover reimbursement for therapy and counselling sessions, while in Hong Kong and Singapore, we provide hotlines for people to call when they feel the need to speak with someone about work and personal issues. In the future, we will also explore having our Zuellig Pharma managers trained in psychological first aid to better support our employees on a day-to-day basis.

To commemorate World Mental Health Day on 10 October, I would like to offer three simple steps to manage stressors and ensure a good work-life balance:

  1. Ask for help

    When experiencing difficulties because of excessive workload, tight deadlines, a lack of resources to get the job done or even domestic concerns hindering you from doing your best at work, ask for help. Sometimes, simply talking about something can point the way towards a solution. Remember that you are not alone!
  2. Plan your day to incorporate rest time

    Taking the time to rest does not mean you are being unproductive or slacking off. It is probably unrealistic to dream about a grand two-week vacation completely detached from work. But turning your computer off by a certain time is certainly doable. Silencing your phone for a family dinner will most likely not lead to a significant business loss. As for me, I will leave my smartwatch behind the next time I go on my evening jog or weekend bike ride to enjoy the scenery.
  3. Commit to check-in on each other

    We should not be too caught up in our lives to not notice when our workmates or our friends are having a difficult time. If we hear frustration in their voices, see sadness and worry in their eyes, notice exhaustion in their posture and their gait – let us take the initiative to check in on them. But when we ask “How are you?”, let’s not settle with hearing the usual “I’m okay”. Be prepared to stop, look our colleagues or friends in the eye and ask, “No really, – how are you?” with a sincere intention to listen and to care. Whether it is the three handles above or other ways that help us to keep our minds healthy, I hope these efforts of self-care and care for others go towards making mental health care a reality for our generation and future ones.