The Right Programs to Retain Healthy Workers: Q&A with Dr Jeremy Ting, President and Co-Founder of Naluri

March 10, 20201:30 pm2547 views
The Right Programs to Retain Healthy Workers: Q&A with Dr Jeremy Ting, President and Co-Founder of Naluri
The Right Programs to Retain Healthy Workers: Q&A with Dr Jeremy Ting, President and Co-Founder of Naluri

The National Health Morbidity cited that mental health conditions are increasingly more prevalent in 2020. Mental health conditions are slated to become the second biggest illness, after heart disease, owing to the fact that mental health is often ignored by both employers and employees. However, it should not be the case if employers’ aim is to build more productive and healthier employees. The success of a nation depends on the health of its people, meanwhile, the success of a company lies on its asset – the employees.

Hence, there should be a greater clarion call for employers to better address mental health issues in the workplace, more so than just handing out wellness perks such as corporate gym memberships. We sit in a candid interview with Dr Jeremy Ting to gain insights on how well employers should provide healthcare programs to retain healthy employees. 

A mental health advocate estimates that mental health issues among employees cost the country roughly RM14.46 billion or 1 percent of Malaysia’s GDP in 2018, but a majority of companies do not know how to deal with employees facing mental health issues. What employers should do to help assist and support employees with mental health problems?

This has to be a multi-pronged approach. Firstly, from the top, we need to talk about the problem, recognise the issue and clearly state that the company will support those in need as they would someone with a physical ailment. Secondly, there should be a visible and whole-company wide communications campaign that addresses the issues of mental health. Thirdly, interventions and support need to be put in place in a programmatic way, not just a pilot, but an ongoing multi-year program that addresses not only those that are suffering from mental health issues but also supporting and upskilling other colleagues to recognise and support others that have mental health risks.

Employees are often struggling with mental health problems as a result of stress in the workplace. What do you think is the best way for employers to help their employees handle stress and pressure at work?

Going digital as it allows us to scale our support in a faster, more comprehensive and cost-effective way. It has also proven to be a great way of overcoming traditional taboos. Employees feel safe when communicating with a convenient and secure third-party service. However, the key is to work with solutions that focus on transparent and quantifiable outcomes so that you can calculate a return on investment from these initiatives. Focus on digital programs that are evidence-based and teams that will work together with you in co-creating solutions that best fit your company’s culture, objectives, and ambition.

Do you find traditional employee assistance programmes (EAP) such as on-site crisis management, crisis hotline and face-to-face therapy effective? Why or why not?

It’s not as effective as we would want it to be. Many employees are not willing to reach out to seek help when they feel overwhelmed, partly from the stigma of being seen to require mental health support, and partly lack of awareness for what they are experiencing or that the support is available.

Between 30 percent to 50 percent of Malaysian employees are struggling with elevated levels of Depression, Anxiety and Stress; Yet, less than 4 percent of employees are utilizing EAP services in companies that provide this support – clearly there’s a disconnect or a gap that the traditional EAPs are not addressing.

When it comes to establishing a wellness programme, what do employers usually get wrong? And what is your advice for HR to complete or supplement the program in order to promote better health and well-being among employees?

It’s not wrong but more as to the current wellness programme not able to find a more holistic solution to the problem. Most programs do not (a) focus on actual health outcomes that can translate to business value creation, (b) only address a small population of their employee base, and (c) do not have an equal focus on both physical and mental health needs.

We need to bring together mental and physical health together in a more holistic way and have a way to engage and support all employees in a much more programmatic way while realising how this brings value to the business in the long run.

Why and how is digital intervention like Naluri more cost-effective and sustainable when it comes to retaining healthy employees?

At Naluri, we’re transforming the traditional Employee Assistance Program (EAP) model by using digital tools to proactively screen employees with potential risk factors, build on-going engagement with a team of professional multi-disciplinary coaches using instant messaging, and then using machine learning to help detect potential dips in emotion and reach out to the employees proactively. At the core, we have a team of qualified professional health experts to help improve employee well-being. Digital technology allows these professional services to be scaled much more conveniently, more affordably and also helps to reduce the stigma barriers for getting mental health support. 

With our integrated and holistic health approach that combines mental health and physical health, led by a behavioural psychologist as a health coach, we are able to deliver quantifiable improvements that are clinically-significant. Traditional EAPs only measure take-up rate but do not link to quantifiable improvements that can be linked to productivity gains, reduction in medical claims and sick leave, and ultimately, provide a basis for better managing health insurance premiums. 

Do you have advice for leaders when handling employees who take long-term absences due to severe workplace stress?

This is a clear issue and I think we still suffer from under-recognising and under-reporting. If companies truly want to take this seriously, they need to establish a performance management system that tracks this systematically and regularly. Unfortunately, this is missing from most corporations in the region.

As mentioned, this should be a multifaceted approach. Organisations should demonstrate clear support of those in need and ensure that they are in a safe space while creating a system for the organisations to follow up with them. Employers could look into reasonable ways to alleviate workplace stress through proper training and tools which need to be addressed by professionals. At Naluri, we ensure that our entire team is staffed with experienced health and clinical psychologists, and we have a continuous learning program for them throughout the year.

Read also: How to Stop Workplace Fear and Racism against Asians as COVID-19 Cases Spiral (Q&A with Chee Tung Leong, the CEO of EngageRocket)

From the left: Dr Hariyati, Dr Jeremy Ting, Azran Osman-Rani, Founders of Naluri

About Dr Jeremy Ting: 

Dr Jeremy Ting is a Medical Doctor who graduated from the University of Oxford with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery and BA in Medical Science with a focus in Neuroscience. He has over 15 years of extensive healthcare industry experience as a medical doctor, consultant and investor. He has advised insurance companies and healthcare providers across Asia, UK, and the US on topics such as innovative models of care and digital transformations amongst others. 

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