Challenges of the Middle Management Crunch

We talk to one of our leading speakers, Zoe Fortune, on the middle management crunch and mental health stigma in the workplace ahead of her workshop on Resilience at Work on at our Wellbeing @ Work Summit in Singapore on 16 September.

Q1. We’re thrilled that you’ll be speaking at our Wellbeing @ Work Summit for Singapore. Our first and most important question is, how are you doing today?

I’m good thank you. I have been feeling a lot of the challenges recently that many of us have been facing, including working from home with young children, home schooling, concerns about family and generally juggling, but I’m grateful for flexible working and that I have good team and family support.


Q2. As CEO of City Mental Health Alliance Hong Kong (CMHA HK), what are the main challenges your membership/the Asian region face when it comes to staff wellbeing at work?

There are many pressures in the region that can be detrimental to our mental health. These include long and pressured working hours, living in an expensive city, working across multiple time zones as well as ensuring that we can get access to the relevant help and support that we need. Our recent survey has highlighted some of these areas including stigma, presenteeism and what we are calling the ‘middle management crunch’.

Stigma has been shown to be a barrier in talking to people talking about mental health issues in the workplace and our survey found that 32% of respondents in Hong Kong had either personally experienced stigma due to mental health issues or knew of someone who had within the past 12 months. However, this is down from 55% (2018 data) showing clear trends towards change. We also found that 76% of our survey respondents who stated that they had experienced mental health problems whilst being employed (17% of overall survey respondents) reported at least 1-2 days of presenteeism at work every month related to mental health challenges. The reasons most commonly cited were a ‘sense of duty and work ethic’, ‘too much work’ and ‘fear of negative review’. This is concerning as it means that companies may not be aware that staff are in need of support and staff are missing out on relevant help, support and reasonable adjustment that workplaces can provide.


Q3. What strategies have you seen developing in the region over the past 6-12 months to address mental health in the workplace?

In response to COVID-19 and the ongoing socio-political events in Hong Kong, we have seen many employers introducing policies and resources to give priority to employee wellbeing and mental health. Flexible work arrangements, company-wide response updates and the suspension of business travel have been the top three measures that employees found useful across all groups. However, it’s important to stress that not one size fits all and companies vary greatly in what is the ‘new normal’.


Q4. What are you most looking forward to about our virtual event in September?

It’s an inspiring line up of diverse speakers and some really interesting and relevant topics so I’m looking forward to the whole event.


Q5. Tell us, what’s your vision for the workplace of the future, in terms of employee engagement, mental health and wellbeing?

I share my personal vision with CMHA HK – to create mentally healthy workplaces and inspire health creation in businesses.


Q6. Covid-19 has undoubtedly had an effect on all areas of employees personal and professional lives. What are the key learnings from this period and what are your tips for supporting each other through uncertainty?

There are several things that have stood out for me personally and that I have heard from others. These are:

  • Connecting with others – those around you, your colleagues, and friends and family wherever they are in the world. The personal touch, a quick ‘hi’ on the phone or chat room can be more powerful than a scheduled online meeting
  • Routine and structure
  • Exercise is my go-to and really needed in times when we are all working from home. Likewise, good nutrition
  • Taking tips from the resilience literature – things like the importance of gratitude
  • I’d also say just being aware of those around you – be flexible, and be kind. They may be dealing with a whole host of things you are not aware of
  • Reaching out and sharing with others is a powerful way for us to collectively face challenges and learn from each other


Hear more from Zoe Fortune at the virtual Wellbeing @ Work Summit for Singapore on 16 September.

Zoe Fortune

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