Mental illness is the leading cause of long-term sickness amongst Australian workers, with work-related mental illness costing $543 million in workers’ compensation claims per annum1. It is widely reported that one in five people in Australia are living with a mental health condition2.
However, the majority of mental illness seen in the workplace is treatable, and preventable, dependent on the health and wellbeing support available.
The 2021 Global Risks Report, published by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with Marsh McLennan, has identified ‘Deteriorating Mental health’ as the second highest risk to Australian workplaces.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an explosion of research being conducted across the psychological sciences. A meta-analysis of the research published to date has demonstrated that anxiety, depression, and distress increased dramatically in the early months of the pandemic. Meanwhile, suicide rates, life satisfaction, and loneliness remained largely stable throughout the first year1.
What we are seeing in the second year is some significant mental health trends impacting very specific cohorts of Australians – particularly, young people (aged 13-30 years) and our older generations (70 and over). Despite the significant mental health impacts to both of these generations, we cannot discount the flow on effect to the families of both young and older Australians. Many working age adults are having to navigate home schooling, keeping kids at home engaged, care for aging parents, juggling work responsibilities and remote working challenges, and navigating the changing pandemic landscape – with the constant flow of snap lockdowns and updates to restrictions.
Since the pandemic, we have acquired a new glossary of terms to describe the various states of workforce exhaustion:
While not all Australians are feeling levels of distress and discomfort that would warrant a mental health diagnosis, many are experiencing the effects of Pandemic Languishing. Some are calling Languishing the dominant emotion of 2021. “Languishing is the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being” psychologist Adam Grant wrote in the New York Times2.
Emotional exhaustion is this sense of overwhelm. Overwhelmed to the point where you feel like you don't have the capacity to deal with life anymore. It's physical tiredness. It's mental tiredness. It's difficulty concentrating. It's all the things that we experience when we’ve reached our limit or capacity.
Aloneliness is the opposite of loneliness. It's the dissatisfaction that comes from not spending enough time by yourself. During the pandemic, when home, school and office life has been combined in one space, this feeling is becoming more common.
How can businesses prevent mental health risks in the workplace?
The pandemic ‘experience’ is very unique for everyone and Australian workplaces need to provide solutions that meet these varied needs of their workforce. Organisations should take a human-centred design approach when developing a curated mental health and wellbeing framework that is data-led and research-informed.
Australian Workplaces are craving initiatives that provide benefits to employees that address mental health or emotional health issues; train managers to identify mental health issues and support with early help seeking activities, and provide access to digital or remote mental health services. Interestingly, there has also been an identified need for organisations to take a more coordinated and multi-year approach to mental health and wellbeing, with the implementation of an overarching strategy or framework – rather than a quick-fix or tokenistic approach to employee wellbeing.
Mercer Marsh Benefits have identified two primary initiatives that can assist in managing mental health risks at an employee level:
Mental Health Literacy Training – Elevating employees’ knowledge regarding mental health related terminology, the signs and how to identify these workplace hazards is a proven method to reduce the risk of exposure and strengthen workforce resiliency.
Mental Health Capability and Skills Based Training – Building employee competency through adoption of practical skills required to strengthen psychological immunity can be effective in mitigating employee mental health risks. These can include developing employee health and wellbeing tools around areas such as setting clear boundaries for ‘power down’ time, implementation of a peer support system at work, stress reduction activities like mindfulness or meditations, and more.
How can businesses implement such strategies?
Employers should think about benefits that support employees beyond the pandemic. As employees continue to demand flexibility about how, when and where they work, businesses should pay close attention, in particular to workforce exhaustion and mental health.
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This document is not intended to be taken as advice regarding any individual situation and should not be relied upon as such. The information contained herein is based on sources we believe reliable, but we make no representation or warranty as to its accuracy. Marsh shall have no obligation to update this publication and shall have no liability to you or any other party arising out of this publication or any matter contained herein. LCPA22/704
1 Mental Health During the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Review and Recommendations for Moving Forward - The Lancet’s COVID-19 Commission Mental Health Task Force. Lara B. Aknin, Jan Emmanuel De Neve, Elizabeth W. Dunn, et al.
2 There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing by Adam Grant, New York Times. Published 19 April 2021