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Australian employees’ uncertainty about return-to-workplace plans contributing to declining mental health

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Corporate / Mental Health / Australia

Australian employees’ uncertainty about return-to-workplace plans contributing to declining mental health

LifeWorks Mental Health Index™ shows strong correlation between vaccination status and mental outlook

MELBOURNE, July 21, 2021 – LifeWorks, a leading provider of technology-enabled total wellbeing solutions, today released its monthly Mental Health Index™ report, revealing a negative mental-health score among Australians for the 15th consecutive month. The Mental Health Index™ score for June is -12.6 compared to the pre-pandemic benchmark.

In June, the research found that while many organisations have begun preparing return-to-workplace strategies, a significant portion of Australians require clearer communication on office reopening plans. About one in six (17 per cent) of Australians are unclear of their employer’s plan for work going forward, while another 12 per cent do not believe that their employer has a plan. These groups also reported the lowest mental health scores (-19.4 and -21.1, respectively) when compared to employees stating their employer’s plan is clear. When reviewing employees’ expectations about the return to the workplace:

  • More than one-third (38 per cent) expect that their employer will want all employees working in their pre-pandemic environment;
  • Fifteen per cent believe that their employer will allow remote work to continue;
  • Eleven per cent expect to work onsite at their office at least part of the time; and
  • Only six per cent expect to have the flexibility to choose their work location.

“Extended lockdowns and slow vaccination rates have significantly contributed to the severe mental strain among Australians over the past month,” said Jamie MacLennan, senior vice president and managing director, Australia and Asia-Pacific. “The recent lockdown restrictions in larger cities are a cause for uncertainty among employees who were preparing to return to their workplace. As employees cope with sporadic disruption driven by the pandemic, employers need to clearly communicate the availability of mental-health resources and ensure that employees have the knowledge and support needed in a constantly changing environment.”

Vaccination status impacting Australians’ mental wellbeing
In April 2021, more than one-third (38 per cent) of Australians reported that vaccination against COVID-19 or reaching herd immunity would most improve their outlook for the future. In June 2021, the research found that those who report being partially vaccinated against COVID-19 have the most favourable mental health score (-10.4).

“Australians have been disproportionately impacted by the uncertainty around a return to normalcy,” said Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president, research and total wellbeing. “Extended lockdowns and uneven recovery can make it more difficult to return to pre-pandemic levels of mental wellbeing. Family, friends and employers have an important role in collectively supporting Australians to get ahead of the long-term consequences of this. It is crucial that we encourage conversations around mental health in personal and professional setups.”

The full Australian Mental Health Index™ report can be found here. This month, the report includes additional insights on the mental strain faced by post-secondary students, how children have been impacted by the pandemic, and more.

About the Mental Health Index
The monthly survey by LifeWorks was conducted through an online survey from May 28 to June 4, 2021, with 1,000 respondents in Australia. All respondents reside in Australia and were employed within the last six months. The data has been statistically weighted to ensure the regional and gender composition of the sample reflect this population. The Mental Health Index™ is published monthly, beginning April 2020, and compares against benchmark data collected in 2017, 2018, 2019.

About LifeWorks
LifeWorks is a global leader in delivering technology-enabled solutions that help clients support the total wellbeing of their people and build organizational resiliency. By improving lives, we improve business. Our solutions span employee and family assistance, health and wellness, recognition, pension and benefits administration, retirement and financial consulting, actuarial and investment services. LifeWorks employs more than 7,000 employees who work with more than 24,000 client organizations that use our services in more than 160 countries. For more information, visit


Heather MacDonald

Angela Pinzon
Kaiser & Partners