Robert L. Quigley, MD, DPhil, is the Senior Vice President and Global Medical Director, Corporate Health Solutions at International SOS & MedAire. After 25 years working in surgery, critical care, and immunology, he’s using his expertise to advise on crisis management, infectious disease, and health care. Here, he shares his thoughts on how—and why—employers must support employee mental health.
For many, the Omicron COVID-19 variant has reactivated feelings of stress, anxiety, and helplessness associated with earlier phases of the pandemic. Only this time, we’re two full years in. Enter: feelings of frustration and anger.
The emotional toll of COVID-19 means mental health concerns are top of mind in many industries where they previously were not considered much. Organizations are being faced with the challenge of having to address and accommodate the mental health issues of employees.
Research confirms employers will need to step up. A new Risk Outlook survey conducted by Ipsos and International SOS, the world’s largest medical and security assistance company, anticipates that second to COVID-19, mental health issues will represent the biggest employee productivity disruptor of 2022. It’s the first time that mental health challenges have entered the top three expected causes for employee productivity disruption in six years.
The Risk Outlook survey polled nearly 1,000 risk professionals across 75 countries.
As a result, organizations in every sector will need to recalibrate their “duty of care” agendas to clearly focus on their obligation to protect the wellbeing of employees. Now that mental illness is considered a predicted risk of the pandemic, every organization has an obligation to develop policies and procedures to protect against mental illness.
What Is Duty of Care?
Duty of care refers to the requirement that is imposed on an individual or group to adhere to a standard of reasonable care while performing an act that could cause risk to others.
Employees Demand Greater Flexibility
It has been recognized for almost a decade that companies that build a culture of health—inclusive of emotional health—yield greater value for their employees and stockholders. Today, employees are looking for and expecting their organizations to offer multiple services to support their emotional health. Employees are now dictating to employers what works for them.
Where Are Employees Willing to Work?
And employers are responding. The Risk Outlook report revealed that 77% of organizations have adopted a hybrid working approach, most commonly two days per week working from home and three days per week working at a site or office.
However, there is a very fine line between what employees are willing to do versus what they are not willing to do. The survey shows that 73% of employees are more willing to travel domestically for business than to regularly go into an office for work.
Are Employers Doing Enough?
While many employers say they are focusing more on protecting employee wellbeing and restructuring the traditional workplace model, these are just steps in the right direction. Employees are still leaving their jobs in droves because of lack of support.
Support Offered By Business Type
This unprecedented exodus, deemed the Great Resignation, has left organizations wondering how they will retain their employees. Staff retention in the coming years will require managers and team leaders to create and institute best practices to reduce, among other things, stress, anxiety and depression. Such best practices will include, but are not limited to:
- Open dialogue with employees
- Opportunities for the employees to participate in decisions that impact their jobs
- Avoiding unrealistic deadlines
- Clarification of expectations
- Rewards and incentives
- Reduced business travel
The pandemic has brought emotional wellness to the forefront. In the spirit of duty of care, organizations need to acknowledge the emotional fragility of their employees and ensure they are meeting the emotional needs of the entire workforce.