AXA Asia partners with Columbia University WHO Center for Global Mental Health to help companies protect employees’ mental health during and post-COVID-19

AXA has today launched a free in-depth resource to guide companies in safeguarding their employees’ mental health as they return to work amid the easing of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region, co-authored with Columbia University WHO Center for Global Mental Health. Businesses and working practices have been reshaped by the recent crisis and the guide offers practical advice for workplace leaders and HR teams on how to ensure staff feel supported during this period and beyond. It also enables them to make the most of this unique opportunity to proactively address the longstanding issue of mental well-being in the workplace.

The pandemic has caused deep disruption to daily life and sparked fears for the health and safety of loved ones, not to mention a tragic loss of lives. Research has further shown that the social isolation caused by prolonged lockdowns in response to COVID-19 has resulted in symptoms including anxiety, anger, sleep disturbances, depression, and a sense of helplessness among those affected. This compounds existing concerns over work-life balance and the stigma around mental health issues in the workplace that prevent individuals getting the help they need. These affect millions of people around the world. In the US, Nearly 1 in 5 US adults aged 18 or older (18.3% or 44.7 million people) reported any mental illness in 2016[1], while in Hong Kong, research shows 37% of respondents have at some point in their lifetime experienced mental ill health while in employment[2].

AXA believes that companies play a crucial role in promoting well-being in the community, not just through products and services but also more broadly through their employee policies. This challenge is also a win-win for employers, as a workforce that is healthy, both physically and mentally, is a more productive one.

“While companies have focused on protecting employees’ physical health by minimising the risk of infection, we also see a clear need for practical support to safeguard mental well-being as we collectively process the impact of the recent pandemic,” said Gordon Watson, CEO of AXA Asia. “Times of crisis stoke anxiety, but companies that take proactive steps to recognize and protect employee well-being will ensure they have the strength to navigate the recovery.”

The signature guide is titled “Supporting Mental Health of Employees During and Beyond COVID-19″. It focuses on how to support mental health among employees, including expected concerns, likely stressors, the role of effective leadership in addressing mental health, and guidance for managers on how to talk to team members who may be experiencing mental stress.

“The path to recovery will not be a straight line,” said Kathleen M. Pike, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Capacity Building and Training in Global Mental Health at Columbia University, who co-authored the guide. “Helping managers and employees maintain good mental health during the back to work stage is critical, as a physical health emergency is also a mental health emergency. This guide is a comprehensive resource on how to help team members overcome any mental health challenges they face, to resume normal operations without fear of stigma.”

AXA has also produced a second free resource, “Return to Workplace Practical Guide During and Beyond COVID-19”, which provides a complementary overview spanning best practice. This includes workplace management, mental health advice, practical tips, answers to common questions, and exercises to maintain physical health at work, including those created specially by Liverpool Football Club, of which AXA is a named sponsor.

The two guides are now available for download in whole or in part at

The guides are launched against the backdrop of AXA’s global #HowAreYou campaign, which is aimed at destigmatizing mental health in the workplace. It does this by encouraging open and honest conversations, and supporting employees who need help by sharing details of local employee assistance programs. This is the latest in AXA Asia’s initiatives in this area, which include launching Hong Kong’s first dedicated employee mental health offering, expanding telehealth services covering physical and mental health across Asia, and its pledge to take concrete action on employee mental health in conjunction with Shared Value Project Hong Kong.

Gordon Watson, CEO of AXA Asia, said, “We ask How are you’ to other people so many times in a day. By turning this daily ritual into a moment of active listening and self-reflection, we help build our offices into places where colleagues can feel supported and encouraged to seek professional help when they need it. Such actions help in normalizing the topic and, over the long-run, contribute to breaking down the taboo of talking about mental wellness.” 

[1] Source: National Institute of Mental Health, Mental illness website, Accessed March 29, 2018.

[2] Source: “Mental Health in the Workplace: survey of Hong Kong employees in professional service firms”, published by The City Mental Health Alliance in Jan 2019

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