It's all in the mind

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Experts say not enough is being done to find long term solutions that address psychological needs of workers and business owners


Employees from Ho Chi Minh City and Dong Nai Province engaged in team building exercises in Bien Hoa Town, Dong Nai's capital. Experts say mental health is an emerging concern in the workplace.

Dang Thi Thanh Trang thinks in-service training and a friendlier working environment would significantly reduce work pressures and relieve the stress that she has labored under.

"I have quite a lot of pressure at work. I think a lot should be done to reduce such pressure," said the 37-year-old Human Resource Manager of a British relocation company in Ho Chi Minh City.

Trang said pressure at work has forced around 10 percent of the company's employees to quit their jobs so far this year.

"Around 40 percent quit due to conflicts with superiors and another 40 percent did so because they wanted to find another job that offers more opportunities," said the personnel manager. She added that headhunting has become challenging work for all companies because a diversified economy offered workers more options.

Not enough attention has been paid to reducing work pressures and this could affect the mental health of workers as well as the quality of work in the long run, experts said.

"There should be in-service training courses to improve personal skills, bosses should better understand employees' lives and offer timely support and [ensure] a friendly working environment where everyone and every division is always ready to help others," Trang told Thanh Nien Weekly.

Psychologist Nguyen Thi Tam, director of the Hon Viet (Vietnam Insight) Applied Psychology Company in HCMC, said the increase in work pressures over the last few years was significant, among both white and blue collar workers.

"Most office workers nowadays are required to satisfy a company's specific targets rather than working during office hours," Tam said. "Meanwhile, factory workers have to follow the company's ISO that heightens pressure on them. Employers no longer allow their workers a free minute."

"This could easily affect mental health and cause people to lose control over their emotions, causing conflicts at work and finally leading to ineffective operations of the company," she said.

The business director of an advertising company in HCMC said she is always suffering pressure from growth and profit targets. However, she said while these could be a challenge for self-improvement, another kind of pressure - between Vietnamese employees and foreign employers - should have been averted.

"Many foreigners have a different way of working. Thus, Vietnamese employees often react negatively to their requests or instructions," she said.

Phan Truong Minh Tuan, CEO of Thien Minh Technical Company in HCMC, said a modern working environment requires everyone to be busy every minute at work and pressure emerges in different ways.

"Employers always suffer pressure from personnel affairs, competition and business gains. And under such pressure, even if he shouts at only one worker, the pressure would surely spread to many others," he said.

Strees fractures

According to a survey conducted by the HCMC University of Economics, before 2007, 89 percent of respondents changed jobs to earn higher incomes. After 2007, up to 40 percent of people quit their jobs due to psychological demands.

At a conference held on October 16 by Hon Viet Company, attending psychologists remarked on the increasing demand for mental healthcare among business owners and workers.

"Most workers have a strong demand [for mental healthcare] to reduce pressure at work," said psychologist Tam, the company director. "If pressures at work are not solved, a good worker can face a psychological crisis, losing enthusiasm and creativity. This could get worse if the pressure spreads to others."

She cited a recent study by Dr. Nguyen Van Dung of the National Institute of Forensic Medicine which said that up to 14.9 percent of Vietnamese suffer common mental disorders. "The best way to prevent these disorders is to limit psychological trauma, predict risks and seek solutions," Tam said.

A report released in March by market research and accounting firm Grant Thornton found that Vietnamese business owners ranked among the world's most stressed leaders.

Up to 72 percent of Vietnamese business owners said their stress levels have increased over the last year, the same proportion as Turkey. China topped the list with 76 percent, followed by Mexico at 74 percent.

Nguyen Quoc Cuong, CEO of HCMC's Nam Thinh Automatic Electric Joint Stock Company, said pressure at work is common for both employers and employees nowadays.

"Recruiting good employees is difficult but having them working for a long time is even more challenging," he said. "Common corporate culture requires employees to complete heavy workloads and it's a paradox that employers end up stressing out in finding ways to reduce the pressure on their employees."

"We are quite aware that employees don't work just for money nowadays. They need a suitable and friendly environment for their own advance," Cuong said. He added that active company leaders should often organize internal and external exchange activities as well as training courses to improve both professional knowledge and social skills for their people.

Emerging concerns

Another recent survey jointly conducted by the HCMC Psychological Association and Hon Viet Applied Psychology Company found that many workers failed to share pressures at work with their employers touted as the easiest way to seek solutions.

Up to 79 percent of workers interviewed are not ready to share their problems with others, the survey found. Among the rest, only 6 percent shared their concerns with their direct managers while around 54 percent shared them with their colleagues, it added.

It also found that many business owners and workers are paying more attention to mental healthcare these days. About 25 percent of high-income workers have begun to dish out money on mental healthcare and more than 60 percent of Vietnamese business leaders are interested in treatment.

However, psychologist Nguyen Cong Vinh of the HCMC Psychological Association said that workers and business owners have failed to find long-term and effective solutions for the problem.

"Some employers have tried to raise salaries and encourage their workers but this is just an ad hoc measure," Vinh said. "Workers need more effective measures to ensure permanent good mental health and overcome work pressures in the long term."

Tam concurred that salary was no longer an effective measure to avoid brain drain in companies.

"They want to be paid for accomplishments and want to be treated as a precious resource rather than a controlled machine."

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