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Middle management in Hong Kong endure highest levels of mental stress

Hong Kong,09 Nov 2020

Middle management in Hong Kong endure
highest levels of mental stress, Bupa survey finds

Corporate support is necessary to meet the
growing wellness needs of employees


  • Half of all employees in Hong Kong have experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression amid the coronavirus outbreak

  • Middle management are more likely to experience anxiety or depression symptoms (58%; 57%) than general employees (48%; 47%)

  • Poor mental health among middle management is attributed to the multiple responsibilities they juggle at work and home

  • Despite 90% of middle management acknowledging that stress was deteriorating their mental health, only 1 in 10 have sought professional counselling

  • While the majority (73%) of middle management expect action from employers, only 55% say their companies provide mental health support

The global coronavirus pandemic has presented an unprecedented challenge to work and personal life. With social distancing measures and more people working from home in Hong Kong and around the world, the effect on physical and mental wellbeing has been significant. Bupa Hong Kong, the leading health insurance specialist, released research today as part of the 'Feel Better' Mental Health Campaign 2020 on the state of mental health among employees in Hong Kong.

The research was conducted online between 17 and 28 September 2020 with over 1,200 working people in Hong Kong aged 18 – 54 to better understand evolving mental health needs and expectations at the workplace. The survey revealed that, amidst a growing demand for mental health support, a workplace “sandwich class” is emerging, where middle management with people management responsibilities face stress both at work and at home. Bupa calls for employers to step up efforts to provide their employees with necessary resources and support to care for their mental wellbeing.

Symptoms of poor mental health are prevalent across middle management and employees
Almost half of the general employees surveyed said they had experienced symptoms of anxiety (48%) or depression (47%) over the past year. These numbers rise to 58% and 57% respectively among middle management. The most prominent symptoms experienced by both groups are “having trouble relaxing” (Middle management: 69%; General employees: 61%) and “feeling tired or having little energy” (Middle management: 65%; General employees: 59%).

Alarmingly, around one in five middle management executives admitted to having suicidal thoughts. In general, 80% of respondents agreed that the symptoms of depression they experienced have caused difficulties in their daily life.

Mental wellbeing of middle management is poorer as they struggle with heavy responsibilities at work and home
For general employees, the major work concerns they are occupied with are the fear of being laid off or being forced to take a pay cut due to poor business performance. On a more personal level, money remains a key concern for them, with many worried about lower investment returns because of the poor economy.

Middle management, in particular, bear a heavier burden compared to general employees, likely due to the broad range of responsibilities they have both at work and in their personal lives. Their work concerns range from “colleagues or subordinates losing momentum”, “pressure from senior management” to “failing to fulfil client expectations due to a lack in manpower”. At home, they also worry about “their child’s academic results being affected by online classes”, “longer working hours cutting into family time” and “caring for children while working from home”.

These findings indicate that the multiple roles played by middle management - as the team lead, client-facing manager and supervisor at work, and parent and breadwinner at home, have intensified the level of concern they experience compared to other employees.

Mental health support sought from inner circle over professional counsellors
More than three quarters of middle management agree that stress has a serious impact on mental health (88%) more than physical health (75%). However, only 9% currently seek professional counselling. Instead, most rely on themselves as well as family or friends to help improve their mental wellbeing.

Companies fail to meet middle management’s expectations for mental health support
The survey reveals existing gaps between employee expectations and mental health support delivered by companies. Although the majority of middle management surveyed (73%) said they expected mental health support from their companies, only a little more than half (55%) said their companies provided them with support.

In general, outdoor activities, guidelines to help identify mental health conditions and online health activities were amongst the most popular forms of expected mental health support. Most middle management (70%) said that a mobile app that could help them care for their mental health would be best suited to their busy schedule, with 30% giving the reason that it can be accessed anytime and anywhere.

“Our Hong Kong employee mental health survey serves as a good reminder for all of us, whether general public or corporate management, that mental wellbeing must be prioritised both at the workplace and at home,” says Andrew Merrilees, General Manager at Bupa Hong Kong. “The unprecedented challenges of 2020 have put Hong Kong employees, in particular middle management, under great strain. The responsibility now lies with employers to help improve health and wellbeing by supporting their employees’ mental health needs. As a trusted healthcare partner to so many in Hong Kong, Bupa is committed to ensuring both employees and employers have access to the resources and services they need to live longer, healthier, happier lives.”

Bupa has a Supporting Healthier Minds Programme, as part of its workplace health solutions, that provides employers with the right tools to promote mental health and wellness in the workplace. The programme features a wide selection of workshops and activities for both management and general staff. In addition, Bupa has launched several new initiatives in partnership with local organisations to empower Hong Kong people to take better care of their mental health. Together with the Mental Health Association of Hong Kong, Bupa is rolling out the MindCare Company Recognition Scheme for employers. The scheme will recognise and celebrate companies that have gone the extra mile to prioritise mental wellbeing for employees. Bupa has also joined hands with Social Ventures Hong Kong and KELY Support Group to develop the #Go4aBreak campaign to provide the community with simple tools and tips to improve their mental wellbeing and resilience.

In support of proactive mental health management, Bupa will gradually roll out an extension of mental health coverage to group policies and further to individual plans, ensuring that Bupa customers have peace of mind when seeking professional counselling and access to extensive support from Bupa’s leading mental health clinical network1.

A brand-new, all-inclusive wellness engagement platform Bupa4Life has just been launched in early November, offering a range of compelling in-app features to help individual and corporate customers identify health risks and encourage them to achieve their goals for overall wellbeing, with a reward scheme to attract higher engagement and sustainability.

1 Bupa members of selected insurance plans can enjoy services from Bupa’s leading mental health clinical network

Notes to editor

Bupa – A global healthcare specialist

Bupa began in the UK in 1947. We fund healthcare around the world and run clinics, hospitals, dental centres, care homes, and more. With no shareholders, we reinvest our profits to provide more and better healthcare for customers.  

Bupa is the UK’s largest health insurer.* In Hong Kong, we are known as the health insurance specialist. We have gained the trust of more than 400,000 individuals, and 3,200 companies. We have provided quality health insurance for Hong Kong’s civil servants for more than 20 years.

Bupa also provides primary care services through Quality HealthCare Medical Services (QHMS), one of Hong Kong’s largest private clinic networks.

Bupa Global is the international health insurance arm of Bupa, serving 2 million customers around the world. We provide products and services for globally minded and mobile people who want the most premium coverage and access to the healthcare they need anytime, anywhere in the world, whether at home or when studying, living, travelling or working abroad. 

* Source: Laing Buisson Health Cover UK Market Report 16th Edition, published June 2020, in terms of market share by premium income among private medical insurance providers


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