COVID-19 and heightened attention to racism affect Australian workers’ mental health and relationships
Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index™ remains steady in July at 12 points below the pre-pandemic benchmark of 75
MELBOURNE, August 5, 2020 - Morneau Shepell, a leading provider of total wellbeing, mental health and digital mental health services, today released its monthly Mental Health Index™ report, making July the fourth consecutive month of a negative mental health score for Australian workers. While mental stress has increased for one-in-four Australians (24 per cent) in July, eight per cent reported experiencing less stress in July compared to the previous month.
The greatest increase in stress month over month was experienced by respondents living in Victoria and New South Wales, although all regions experienced additional mental stress in July.
The Mental Health Index™ score for July is -12, which measures a decline in mental health from the pre-2020 benchmark of 75, and is unchanged from the previous month. The Mental Health Index™ also tracks sub-scores against the benchmark, measuring anxiety (-14.7), optimism (-13.2), work productivity (-12.9), depression (-12.6) and isolation (-11.2). The sub-scores still remain low, with work productivity, depression and isolation improving slightly compared to last month, and with depression improving the most.
“As Australia seeks to find the right balance between re-opening the economy and protecting public safety, The Mental Health Index™ demonstrates the ongoing negative impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on Australian workers’ mental health and quality of life,” said Jamie MacLennan, managing director, Australia and APAC. “Even the most optimistic employees have concerns about transmission rates and the potential length and impact of a second mass shutdown. This is reflected in the regional variances for Victoria and New South Wales, and is expected to be further impacted by the announcement of the stage-four restrictions for Victoria.”
Employer size also plays a key role in mental health levels
July’s report reflects a strong correlation between an individual’s Mental Health Index™ scores and the size of the company where they are employed. Australians who indicate working at companies with 51-100 employees have the lowest average mental health scores (-15.4), while those working at employers with 5,000 – 10,000 employees have the highest mental health scores (-6.5).
“While small businesses continue to be disproportionally impacted by the pandemic over large companies, once an organization reaches more than 50 workers, that close-knit familial sentiment felt by employees begins to strain, as managers need to supervise more workers and have less time to do so,” said Paula Allen, senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation. “The fact that employees at larger organizations scored better than average suggests that the benefits and programs that many larger organizations offer are having a positive effect. It’s critical for employers of all sizes to seek ways to support their people’s health and wellbeing, now more than ever. Employee assistance programs are much more cost effective than many small- to mid-size organizations realize and they offer support that can be life changing.”
Australians divided about systemic racism in society and the workplace
Overall, 61 per cent of individuals believe that racism is a problem in Australia, though only 17 per cent believe that racism is a problem in their workplace. When considering the results by race, 73 per cent of Australians identifying as South Asian and 73 per cent of individuals identifying as East Asian strongly agree or agree that racism is a problem in Australia. Comparatively, 60 per cent of individuals identifying as White strongly agree or agree that racism is a problem in the country. In addition, 36 per cent of individuals identifying as East Asian strongly agree or agree that racism is a problem in their workplace. Comparatively, only 10 per cent of individuals identifying as White strongly agree or agree that racism is a problem in their workplace.
One of the major issues facing Australian society – systemic racism – has received heightened awareness as a result from the many protests held worldwide in response to a number of recent killings of Black Americans, in addition to the negative experiences of racialized residents in Australia. As more Australians begin to give meaningful thought to this issue, their outlook varies. Twenty-nine (29) per cent of respondents feel that systemic racism is likely to decrease in Australia, while 35 per cent are unsure and 36 per cent feel that systemic racism is unlikely to decrease. When it comes to their workplace, 19 per cent feel that it is likely systemic racism will decrease, 36 per cent are unsure and 45 per cent feel that systemic racism is likely to decrease.
The full Australian report includes more insight on changes to mental stress and variations of the Mental Health Index™ score by demographics, industries and regions. The full Australian report can be found at: https://www.morneaushepell.com/permafiles/92899/mental-health-index-report-australia-july-2020.pdf.
About the Mental Health Index™
The monthly survey by Morneau Shepell was conducted through an online survey in English from June 22 to June 30, 2020, 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 margins of error for the survey are +/- 3.2 per cent, valid 19 times out of 20. The Mental Health Index™ is published monthly, beginning April 2020, and compares against benchmark data collected in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
The Mental Health Index™ is owned by Morneau Shepell – the wellbeing company that acquired LifeWorks in 2018.
About Morneau Shepell
Morneau Shepell is a leading provider of technology-enabled HR services that deliver an integrated approach to employee wellbeing through our cloud-based platform. Our focus is providing world-class solutions to our clients to support the mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing of their people. By improving lives, we improve business. Our approach spans services in employee and family assistance, health and wellness, recognition, pension and benefits administration, retirement consulting, actuarial and investment services. Morneau Shepell employs approximately 6,000 employees who work with some 24,000 client organizations that use our services in 162 countries. For more information, visit morneaushepell.com.