More than one third of Australian employees are less motivated at work than before the pandemic
Morneau Shepell's Mental Health Index™ rises slightly in September
MELBOURNE, October 14, 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 September the sixth consecutive month of negative mental health scores. The Mental Health Index™ for September is -13.2, which measures a decline in mental health from the pre-2020 benchmark of 75, and a slight improvement from -14.3 in August. Compared to the previous month, the only decline of any sub-score is in work productivity with a decline of 0.7 points, while depression, anxiety, optimism, isolation, psychological health and financial risk all improved slightly.
The decline in Australian employees’ productivity aligns with other data in the latest Index that shows respondents struggling with motivation issues. More than one third of employees (38 per cent) indicate that they find it more difficult to concentrate on work than before the pandemic, 41 per cent feel more mentally and/or physically exhausted at the end of the work day, and 41 per cent say they find it more difficult to feel motivated to do work than before the outbreak six months ago.
Throughout Australia, all regions experienced improvements or stability in mental health scores this month compared to July and August. The latest report continues to show that parents, younger individuals, those with lower household incomes and those who identify as female or other have lower mental health scores.
The Mental Health Index™ also tracks sub-scores against the benchmark, measuring depression (-15.8), anxiety (-15.1), work productivity (-15.0), optimism (-14.6), isolation (-12.3), general psychological health (-5.1) and financial risk (1.5). All sub-score areas experienced small improvements, with the exception of work productivity, which declined slightly from -14.3 last month.
“While the Mental Health Index™ for Australians increased slightly in September, the fact remains that September marks the sixth consecutive month of strained mental health among Australian employees, due in large part to the pandemic,” said Jamie MacLennan, managing director, Australia and APAC. “Work productivity can be hampered by poor mental health and we’re starting to see that take place among Australian employees. Employers should be aware of the connection between mental health and work productivity and look for ways to support employee mental health over the long term.”
Delaying self care could have long-term effects
While the need to manage general physical health to minimize the virus’ impact continues to be a priority, nearly one third (29 per cent) of respondents indicate that the pandemic has made them less likely to participate in health care for physical needs (e.g., annual physicals, regular dental exams, routine blood checks) compared to six months ago. Also, even with the rising mental health needs, more than one quarter (26 per cent) say that they are less willing to partake in mental health care than before the pandemic.
Financial risk also ranked as a top concern of Australian employees, and they have been increasing their emergency savings since the start of the pandemic. A consistent and substantial difference in mental health exists between those with emergency savings (-9.0) when compared to those without (-24.2), with the latter faring significantly worse.
Considerations for employers
One of the constant themes throughout the Mental Health Index™ reports continues to be the strong role that employers play in supporting their employees’ mental health, particularly during times of uncertainty and disruption. Employees who indicate that their employers support mental health well have better mental health scores than those who say that their employers poorly or inconsistently support their mental health needs.
“As the pandemic continues, people are experiencing mental strains that no one anticipated six months ago. The impact of this strain cannot be ignored. We are seeing everything from an increase in suicidal thoughts, reduced motivation at work, to reluctance to seek health care. All of this has long-term implications,” said Paula Allen, senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation. “The good news is that we have seen that the support provided by employers makes a big difference in managing these risks, and employees value that support.”
As organizations focus on managing through the pandemic, managers and leaders should consider taking some of the following actions to better help their employees:
- Talk frequently about mental health – Communicate about mental health often and recognize that the pandemic has increased the level of mental health risk for all people.
- Promote mental health resources – These resources include employee assistance programs, and digital resources such as internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy, which helps build the skills necessary for coping with challenging times when anxiety is high.
- Train managers to identify early warning signs – Train or educate managers on the need for increased recognition during difficult times; the need for reasonable flexibility with respect to how work is done; and how to recognize and respond to signs of burnout.
- Invest in employee financial wellbeing – Provide financial wellbeing resources that provide education and encourage emergency savings, given its strong impact on mental health.
- Pay special attention to those most at risk – Focus additional attention on groups that are most at risk, including parents, younger employees, lower income employees, non-White employees and those who identify as female or other.
- Be consistent – Ensure that your organization is consistent in your efforts to support mental health among employees as inconsistent action erodes the benefits you may have realized prior to or early on in the pandemic.
The full Australian report includes more insights on what employers can do to help support their employees, data 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/93052/mental-health-index-report-australia-september-2020.pdf.
About the Mental Health Index™
The monthly survey by Morneau Shepell was conducted through an online survey in English from August 21 to August 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 percent, 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 IndexTM 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.