Coronavirus Updates
Zoe Chan headshot
Executive MBA student Zoe Chan

Current Executive MBA student and Hong Kong Jockey Club Scholarship recipient Zoe (Tsz Man) Chan is dedicated to getting high-quality health services to people struggling with mental illness. As the service supervisor for Hong Kong–based New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, she came to Booth to gain the skills and tools she needed to expand her reach and generate lasting social impact in Hong Kong. She discusses how we can enhance worker well-being, particularly in the net of the pandemic.

Improving mental well-being is a process and it may take small steps at the beginning to address. But now is the time to focus on mental wellness.

We believe COVID-19 truly affected the mental health of the general public. Research articles published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in May 2020 and the International Journal of Infectious Diseases in November 2020 both showed an increase in depression and anxiety for Hong Kong residents. The second study, which surveyed 1,500 respondents comparing their mental health state before and during COVID-19, showed that stress levels increased by 28 percent and anxiety rose by 42 percent. So Hong Kong residents saw significant increases in stress even as the city avoided lockdown measures—suggesting that in countries that imposed strict lockdowns, mental health strain could be worse.

“Everyone has to be aware of their mental well-being, especially in this harsh time.”

— Zoe Chan

At New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, we work with local corporations to employ people who have mental illness. We also offer services to people with mental illness who are looking for employment. So this shift due to COVID-19 was important for us to address.

We are working with companies to create new mental wellness routines for their staff—130 companies in Hong Kong have joined the effort. We launched a campaign across the country to call attention to the importance of taking care of mental well-being daily. Called dayday 330, the campaign encourages people to take microbreaks from work every day for three minutes and 30 seconds. We encourage member-companies to explain the program to their staff and set the daily microbreak at 3:30 p.m., to make it easy to remember.

We encourage people to partake in some small activities during those three minutes and 30 seconds. Have a cup of coffee, listen to a song start to finish, read a small chapter in a book. These breaks can give workers time to relax and get away from the workplace. We also encourage companies to create days focused on mental well-being, such as retreat days, or even a day to bring in special snacks as a way to emphasize that every day is a special day.

To help companies enrich the lives of their staff, we are also creating workshops—anything from woodworking to classes with a Chinese medicine practitioner who suggests foods and drinks to promote relaxation—fun activities that encourage destressing for employees. Companies can help with stress relief by offering places to blow off steam, such as exercise corners or rooms.

Making it work requires buy-in from top management so it can filter down to everyone. One way to start is by having an open and inclusive corporate culture to reduce the stigma of talking about mental illness. Everyone has a responsibility to foster mental well-being.

We encourage firms to have wellness teams composed of staff from across departments, which allows the team members to promote mental wellness throughout the firm and encourages interaction between employees who might not otherwise socialize.

Mental wellness incorporates physical, emotional, psychological, and social health. Our target is not just for individual or personal growth, but also for social growth between people. You have to bond with others, and then have some social culture, to build resilience and build a community. Everyone has to be aware of their mental well-being, especially in this harsh time. We should care not only about ourselves, but also others.

—As told to Debbie Carlson