Year 2023
November 2023

Gen Zen: Your work is affecting your mental health. Here's why talking to colleagues, maybe even your boss, might help

30 November 2023

EMCC Senior Counsellor, Ms Sapna Mathews, was interviewed for this article. Read her insights into how Gen Zs can approach mental health in the workplace.

Journalist: Deborah Lau
Publication name: TODAY
Published November 20, 2023
Updated November 21, 2023

Increasingly, people are becoming aware of the importance of mental health and well-being in our lives. In our weekly Gen Zen series, TODAY looks at ways that we can feel better while coping with the mental stresses of modern life.

SINGAPORE — A study conducted in 2022 found that Singapore was the most overworked country in the Asia Pacific region, with the average worker clocking in 45-hour work weeks, the Singapore Business Review reported in June last year.

The same study also found that this culture of overworking had left 73 per cent of Singaporean employees unhappy, and 62 per cent feeling burnt out.

In September, a separate study jointly released by global professional services firm Aon and health technology service provider Telus Health found that more than half (52 per cent) of workers surveyed in Singapore felt more sensitive to stress in 2022 compared to 2021.

The survey also found that about two-thirds (64 per cent) of respondents were concerned that their career would be affected if their bosses knew of their mental health issues.

These findings point to a burgeoning work-induced mental health crisis plaguing the workforce — and yet a stigma continues to cloud honest conversations about it.

To combat this, it is increasingly crucial to encourage and foster open conversations about mental health at the workplace, say experts.

“One would take care of physical health issues like diabetes or cholesterol by seeing a professional, explaining their symptoms, and making lifestyle changes,” said Ms Sapna Mathews, a senior counsellor at Eagles Mediation and Counselling Centre.

“We should do the same for our mental health, with open conversations to help us along in our mental health journey.”

She noted that employees are sometimes hesitant to speak openly about their mental health out of fear that they would be discriminated, miss out on advancement opportunities, or be stigmatised by their co-workers.

To this end, having such honest conversations could thus help with creating a safe environment for employees, while also breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health, said Mr Sam Roberts, the founder and director of Olive Branch Psychology and Counselling Services.

“When employees feel that their mental health is valued and supported, they are more likely to be engaged and committed to their work, which in turn can contribute to higher levels of employee retention,” he said.


While experts generally believe there isn’t a right or wrong time for such discussions, they agree it would be easier to broach the topic after a level of mutual trust or relationship has been built.

Beyond this, the extent of one’s disclosure should also be guided by the company and team’s culture, as well as the level at which one feels comfortable with sharing.

“Nurture relationships so you know your colleagues better… and consider whether they are in a position to support you, and how,” said Dr Cecilia Chu, a specialist in clinical psychology and consultant at Raffles Counselling Centre.

This could include better understanding colleagues’ work styles and attitudes, their philosophies towards life, their levels of emotional attunement, and their ability to keep information shared private, she added.

Ms Sapna said: “Before spontaneous conversations about mental health can happen at the workplace, it’s also important to establish a work culture that’s accepting and aware.”

Companies can consider implementing a mental wellness day, or inviting a speaker to share about burnout and other topics related to stress and mental health, she added.

In addition, leaders can help to nurture a psychologically safe team culture, where “struggles and failures are taken in stride, and where what is shared among the team remains private”, said Dr Chu.

Once this has been established, some ways to initiate the conversations could include asking to discuss something personal, in a private area away from the usual work space.

Individuals should also consider ways in which they would like to be helped, so they can clearly communicate their requests for the support they need, said experts.

As a general rule of thumb for healthy communication, one could keep in mind the “TAP approach: Right Time, Right Approach and Right Place”, said Mr Roberts.

One should find a suitable time – and a quiet and private space – to have an uninterrupted conversation, he added.

Other practical tips that could be helpful to consider in establishing the “right approach” include:

  • Don’t disclose more than what one is comfortable with sharing
  • Start off by sharing small, general thoughts or experiences before delving into more personal details
  • Avoid using “you” statements and instead reframe the conversation using “I” statements. This could help with expressing one’s feelings and experiences, without sounding accusatory. For example, one could say “I’ve been feeling stressed out lately and wanted to talk about it”, instead of saying “You are stressing me out”
  • Instead of focusing solely on challenges faced, consider also framing the conversation in “a positive light, with a desire to improve and a commitment to working together”
  • Invite the listener to share their thoughts or concerns. This could create a dialogue, rather than a one-sided conversation, which would help build overall understanding and empathy

In general, one should ensure the conversations are “constructive and helpful for all involved”, and avoid turning such sharings into a “download session” – which might be more appropriate in the context of conversations with personal friends or a therapist, said Dr Chu.

A “download session” could look like sharing at a level of personal detail that would compromise one’s own privacy, an unregulated display of emotions, and raising problems while expecting one’s colleagues to help problem-solve without having clarity on how they can help, she added.


Conversations about one’s mental health struggles are all the more important when stressors are work-related, said experts, and addressing these would be critical for one’s well-being and job satisfaction.

“Peers might be helpful in terms of sharing your workload (and reciprocity would be appreciated from them, too), and bosses might be in a position to adjust your workload or help iron out rough spots between team members,” said Dr Chu.

Ms Sapna added: “A good employer would be keen to know how they can make accommodations to your work structure to better support you, so come prepared with this information (on how you would like to be helped) when you wish to talk.”

On tips to broach the topic of work-related mental health stressors, Mr Roberts said:

  • Identify specific work-related stressors and have clarity on how they are impacting one’s mental health
  • Share specific examples of situations or aspects of the job that contribute to one’s stress, so it brings clarity to the listener
  • Communicate one’s boundaries and limitations if one is consistently working long hours or dealing with excessive demands, and express the need for a healthier work-life balance
  • Reassure bosses and colleagues on one’s commitment to maintaining a high standard of work, and express a desire to find solutions collaboratively
  • Be open to suggestions and discuss potential accommodations that could alleviate stress without compromising on work quality. This could include adjustments to deadlines and workload, or task delegations

Regardless, experts advised that it is important to still be mindful of boundaries when sharing such personal information in a workplace setting. 

This is unlike sharing information with a mental health professional, who is trained to help with the therapeutic process, while also keeping information private and confidential.

It is also important not to burden others with information that may be too personal or which may make them uncomfortable and hence impact one’s colleagues or even team dynamics, said Mr Roberts.

Ultimately, working within the rules of what’s appropriate at the workplace would help to maintain professionalism between colleagues, which is crucial as interpersonal relationships are important for work to take place, said Dr Chu.

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