Companies get serious about counseling as corona blues set in
Korean companies are starting to offer workplace counseling and therapy sessions as concerns grow about employees' mental health due to the stress of working while observing social distancing measures during the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to a survey of 1,000 business workers conducted by the Medical College of Catholic University of Korea, 61.2 percent of respondents said “the level of stress caused by Covid-19 is very severe.”
“The recent employment trend is ‘lifecare,’” said Yoo Il-ho, head of the Labor and HR team at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Companies are introducing more mental health care programs because the happiness of employees is directly related to the company’s productivity and young workers are less reluctant to go to therapy sessions.”
Although going to therapy sessions or asking for help was once heavily stigmatized in Korean culture, the number of people visiting in-company counseling centers is on the rise.
According to SK Innovation, 1,200 employees participated in its mental health wellness programs via the company’s counseling center “Harmonia” during the Jan-June period, up 40 percent from a year ago.
Counseling sessions with employees in their 20s and 30s were mostly related to their emotions and willingness to understand who they are, SK Innovation said. People in their mid-30s and above mostly talked about their relationships with younger employees, communication problems and worried about taking leadership roles. Relationships with their children or spouse and future after retirement were other commonly discussed topics.
SK Innovation started a group counseling session for new employees this year, focusing on problems they might face. The program checks how the employees are doing mentally three months after joining the company and lets them talk with other new recruits to share their troubles.
Samsung Electronics operates 14 counseling centers and 10 mental health clinics at its offices nationwide. After the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the company introduced online therapy and counseling sessions to satisfy the demand for people who couldn't visit the centers in person.
“After Covid-19, topics frequently discussed during counseling sessions were related to the difficulty in raising children, loneliness and conflict between families due to people working and spending more time at home,” said an official working for the company’s counseling center. “There are a lot of people talking about not being able to sleep, suffering from panic disorders and seasonal depression and wanting to talk about their personality.”
Lotte Shopping operates counseling centers dubbed “Rejoice” in Lotte Department Store’s Centum City branch in Busan and in Dongtan, Gyeonggi and Lotte Mart’s Jamsil branch in southern Seoul. The center was started in 2017 specifically for employees, but the company opened the doors to all women this year.
“It was found that an increasing number of people experienced mental health problems such as corona blues over the past two years,” said Kim Hak-soo, a corporate social responsibility team lead at Lotte Shopping. “We plan to mentally support our employees so they can work and greet customers happily.”
Lee Dong-woo, a psychiatry professor at Inje University’s Sanggye Paik Hospital, says that the biggest causes of depression during the pandemic are the loss of sources of joy and not knowing when the pandemic will end. However, Lee said there is a bright side to the story.
“People had less social interactions during Covid-19, but they turned their attention to themselves as they spent more time focusing on themselves,” said Lee. “We could think of it as a gift, how we were given time to think about who we are as a person, how important family is to us and how even the smallest things can bring happiness."
BY LEE SO-AH, LEE TAE-HEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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