Article originally published in Kochie's Business Builders, original article available here.
Mental health and wellbeing declined during the pandemic. While public health consequences of the COVID-19 crisis might be comparatively easy to quantify, we are beginning to assess the emotional fallout of the pandemic. And it is stark, writes James Boddam-Whetham, CEO, of Noggin.
In Australia, depression rates increased significantly, from a pre-COVID-19 baseline of around 10 per cent to nearly 30 per cent (27.6 per cent) in 2020. Anxiety was not far behind, rising from 13 to 21 percent over the same period, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Frontline workers reported disproportionately high rates of mental health concerns. A survey of 10,000 Australian healthcare workers found burnout and depression rates of 58 and 28 per cent respectively. Over three in every five healthcare workers experienced anxiety.
If those rates weren’t bad enough, a staggering number of respondents admitted to planning to completely leave their profession due to unaddressed mental health concerns.
Mental health and wellbeing concerns take a toll on productivity and engagement
Indeed, unaddressed employee mental health concerns erode wellbeing, engagement, and productivity. How so?
Well, employees with unresolved depression experience a staggering 35 per cent reduction in their productivity, according to the American Psychiatric Association. What that means in macroeconomic terms is a loss of USD 210.5 billion a year, due to increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, and higher medical costs.
A mentally healthy workforce isn’t just more productive and less expensive, it is safer. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has linked depression with increased risk of physical injury. Links have also been found between occupational injury and what are called psycho-social hazards, including job insecurity, imbalances in work and family life, and hostile work environment.
Mental health concerns tend to present earlier in a worker’s life. The longer left untreated, the longer they last.
Investments businesses can make to address the mental health and wellbeing crisis
Reviewing the data, business leaders, particularly those of cash-strapped small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), might think that the pandemic represents a statistical anomaly; mental health rates will simply return to normal with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
That assumption, though, ignores relatively high baseline rates of depression and anxiety before the pandemic, rates that cut across industry, type of profession, and socio-economic class.
What can small business leaders do?
The best way to address the mental health and wellbeing crisis that is most likely affecting your workers is
(1) to understand what specific concerns your workers are having in the first place, then
(2) implement the data-based initiatives to support their wellbeing
If that two-step process sounds too costly and belaboured, it doesn’t have to. Digital software can help SMEs understand the concerns of their workers, respond to mental health and wellbeing events, and continuously improve as best practices enter the field.
The question, however, is what functionality to look for? At Noggin, we recommend finding digital technology that fits within your environment health and safety (EHS) software solution.
Such a platform would give you more bang for your buck. With dedicated tools for all levels of the business, including executives, managers, and personnel, the solution will enable your organisation to:
- Gain better situational awareness of current events impacting personnel (via live weather, Twitter, and COVID-19 pandemic feeds), so you can respond in real time
- Broadcast timely communications to distributed personnel via email, SMS, or voice
- Conduct welfare checks at scale and quickly triage the responses
- Push surveys to personnel to understand how they are coping before, during, and after traumatic events
- Easily launch mental health and wellbeing initiatives with best-practice templates that take the heavy lifting out of creation and implementation
- Then, customise those initiatives to your unique organisational requirements and/or as things come up
- Schedule periodic work-from-home ergonomic assessments
- Enable personnel to request mental health and wellbeing support
- Direct personnel to support programs and best-practice content
- Securely store personnel information in a single solution or easily import that information from your existing HR solution
The mental health and wellbeing crisis is profound, and small business leaders can’t afford to assume it will end.
Instead, they should invest in flexible, mental health and wellbeing technology that helps fortify their personnel through this tumultuous new normal. By better understanding how workers are coping with recent events, leaders can quickly roll out solutions to incentivise personal and professional growth.
That’s not all. Workers growing in their roles reward their employers with higher productivity, engagement, and job satisfaction. Add on reduced likelihood of injury, illness, and absenteeism, and you have a recipe for delivering on all major organisational targets.