Firms fear mental health cost of pandemic as they look to 2022

There are growing concerns from organisations worldwide they are facing a looming mental health crisis in the year ahead.

Firms are concerned that as they seek to support staff through the physical threat posed by the ongoing pandemic the mental toll on staff will continue to increase.

Today medical and security services consultancy, International SOS published its Risk Outlook 2022 which found firms across the globe are set to increase investment in employee health.

The survey of nearly 1,000 risk professionals across 75 countries, coupled with insight from the Workforce Resilience Council and International SOS proprietary data concluded that both mental and physical health support will see increased investment. In fact, over half (56%) of organisations intend to increase spending on both.

It warned organisations are facing a dual challenge on the health front. Along with the physical aspects of COVID-19 safety, the pandemic has significantly contributed to a mental health crisis. Over a third of respondents (36%) expect mental health to cause a significant decrease in productivity in 2022.

“The need for increased investment comes as organisations expect to face increased risks in 2022,” the report stated. “Over two thirds (68%) of organisations anticipate risks to increase or stay the same next year. In particular, decision makers responsible for business travel (69%) and international assignees (67%) expect risk levels to increase or stay the same in 2022.”

Business leaders were asked to rank their biggest expected causes of employee productivity decreases in for 2022.

COVID-19, was the top risk followed by mental health issues. These were followed by natural disasters including extreme weather, transport concerns, and security threats and civil unrest.

Dr Neil Nerwich, group medical director at International SOS said: “In 2022 we are facing a layered threat environment. Entering the third year of the pandemic, while COVID-19 and the fallout from lockdowns continue to be major disruptors, other risks are coming back to the fore as travel resumes. With many experts predicting 2022 will be the year of the ‘great resignation’ organisations must act to ensure they provide the necessary support for employees. Investing in both emotional health and physical wellness support will be essential for employee retention. This will also help to avoid a vicious cycle of productivity issues. With many governments and healthcare systems under increased strain, proactive organisations can lead the way. Those that can best help employees navigate changing working environments, will be rewarded with increased employee resilience, loyalty and productivity.”

With concern growing over climate change, the report said 21% of respondents predicted that natural disasters including extreme weather would be disruptive in 2022. This was closely followed by transport concerns – for local, domestic and international travel – (19%) and security threats and civil unrest (16%).

Mick Sharp, group director Security Services at International SOS, added: “In 2022 organisations must be aware that perennial security concerns such as crime, civil unrest, terrorism or other geopolitical issues have not gone away due to the pandemic. In many cases the risks from these concerns have actually grown. Tensions around pandemic lockdowns, vaccine rollouts, and perceived infringements on civil liberties have fuelled civil unrest and violence in some locations. With the increased use of vaccine mandates or restrictions on unvaccinated individuals around the world we can expect to see tensions heighten throughout 2022. Aside from the COVID-19 related triggers, natural disasters, geo-politics, domestic conflict and crime will continue to impact organisations globally. This impact will further increase in 2022 with a growing return to travel and an increased focus on the Duty of Care requirements of an in-country workforce.

In response, organisations must identify internal and external crisis management blind spots and act now to make effective decisions and strengthen their resilience. They must keep travelling staff, as well as domestic workforces, reliably informed with objective, forward-leaning location specific health and security information. Staying on top of regulatory changes will also be critical, making sure that they have the right processes in place to fulfil Duty of Care obligations.”

“The need for increased investment comes as organisations expect to face increased risks in 2022,” the report stated. “Over two thirds (68%) of organisations anticipate risks to increase or stay the same next year. In particular, decision makers responsible for business travel (69%) and international assignees (67%) expect risk levels to increase or stay the same in 2022.”

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