Mental health in the time of Covid-19: The impact on workers as they navigate work, home life and continued uncertainty.

Last updated on September 16, 2021
As the global pandemic continues to evolve and put pressure on organisations and individuals, Australian workplaces are presented with different challenges in managing employees’ mental health and subsequent psychological injuries.

As a leading workers' compensation insurance provider, Allianz has seen firsthand the emotional and financial effects that poor mental health can have for both employees and the organisations they work for. In an effort to make a positive and meaningful contribution, Allianz is committed to the wellbeing of our employees, as it’s a pivotal step towards building future thriving workplaces. As part of our ongoing commitment, we proudly partner with our clients, fellow employers and the wider industry to develop resources and provide tangible solutions. We have recently commissioned consumer research, sampling Australian employees and senior managers across industries to better understand the evolving challenges of creating mentally healthy workplaces.

One of the most prominent effects Covid-19 has brought about is a fundamental change to how and when we work. Mostly notably, for those of us who are now working remotely to a greater extent, it’s a change that’s had concerning impacts on people’s overall mental health. In a pre-Covid-19 world, people viewed their work and home as two distinct places. But importantly, as people transitioned from one to the other, they used to afford themselves time to mentally ‘shift gears’. With that ‘shift’ becoming less tangible, the concept of the ‘The Third Space™’ can play an important role for organisations.

According to Dr Adam Fraser, author of “The Third Space”, the ‘First Space’ is what you’re doing now. The ‘Second Space’ is what you’re about to do, and the ‘Third Space’ is the gap in the middle. Creating a workplace that fosters the Third Space and allows for smooth, yet distinct movement, between work (the ‘now’), and home (the ‘about to do’), should be a priority for any organisation wishing to create wellbeing in their work environment.

With the conflation of work and home boundaries, allowing time for the important transition between being at work, and being at home, is happening less frequently, if at all, so the separation between the two is becoming increasingly blurred. The findings from Allianz’s latest commissioned research shows this is having a negative impact on people’s perceived quality of life. When surveyed, employees in Australia reported:

  • 31 per cent are experiencing increased pressure/workloads.
  • 21 per cent state their workplace has a negative culture that does not respect work–life balance.
  • Australians are working overtime on average 1.6 days a week to complete set tasks with more than three quarters (77 per cent) working some form of overtime to complete set tasks.
  • There are various factors affecting employee mental health, including: 

    • 62 per cent of employees have had a negative experience that has impacted their mental health at work.
    • 43 per cent of employees find themselves feeling increasingly stressed about work outside of business hours since the start of the pandemic.
    • 18 per cent of employees are not comfortable with their current work-life balance.

But as tough as the challenges are for employees who are trying to navigate an increasingly uncertain future, for employers the restrictions and impositions are no less significant. The new research reveals Australian managers are facing challenges also:

  • 68 per cent state they’re facing challenges with working remotely.
  • 23 per cent say a negative culture that does not respect work-life balance is among the biggest impacts on their workplace and employees’ mental health.
  • 28 per cent say when they are working remotely, they are having problems with the completion of tasks and meeting deadlines.

Clearly everyone’s finding this new and unexpected way of working difficult to navigate. And while an ad hoc approach was needed in 2020 as everyone scrambled to adapt, the continued absence of properly considered and structured mental health policies and practices is now of increasing concern.

But perhaps more alarming is the disparity between how employees and employers are viewing this gap. For example, while the majority (83 per cent) of managers feel they have been supportive of employees' mental health over the last 12 months, 53 per cent have not had a discussion with their direct reports about their mental health. Yet 69 per cent of employees surveyed state they’ve not spoken to their employer at all about their mental health since the start of the pandemic. And 61 per cent of employees surveyed do not have or are unsure if their workplace even has a mental health policy in place.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Encouragingly, both employees and employers also see this new way of working as something that would be preferred, if it were improved and better supported. The research found that both employees and employers are optimistic about the future:

  • Nearly 3 out of 4 (74 per cent) employees feel it is possible to attain a work/life balance that they’re comfortable with, overall.
  • 7 in ten (70 per cent) employees would like their employer to implement new initiatives to ensure their wellbeing and mental health feels nourished and supported, including:

    • Regular mental health programs and mandatory leave days for mental health (32 per cent).
    • Decide their own working structure and have flexibility around the working hours (31 per cent).
    • More open conversations from senior leadership on the importance of mental health and reducing stigma (27 per cent).
  • Nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of managers say they’re likely to engage with sources to better understand which future mental health initiatives their organisation should implement.
  • Australian managers surveyed say encouraging more empathy and emotional intelligence (39 per cent), empowering employee workplace flexibility (37 per cent) and creating a space that fosters safe and collaborative environments (35 per cent) are the measures needed to ensure the future success of the organization.

As Australia continues to grapple with the challenges that Covid-19 presents, it’s clear that the time has come for employers to properly consider how they better support the mental health of their employees in the long-term.

Allianz is committed to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of both its employees and all Australian employees and employers. Our research is designed to assist employees and employers by highlighting areas of concern and formulating effective and practical strategies to better support mental health in the long term.

Visit the Allianz Workplace Mental Health Hub for resources to learn how you can facilitate balance in your work environment.

About the research The research was commissioned by Allianz and conducted by YouGov Plc. The survey was conducted online with a nationally representative sample of 1,049 Australian employees (middle managers and below designations) and a nationally representative sample of 524 Australian senior managers (senior managers and above designations) and was carried out between 26 July and 6 August 2021. All data was post-weighted by age, gender and region to reflect the latest population estimates.

This article has been prepared by Allianz Australia Insurance Limited ABN 15 000 122 850 AFSL234708 (“Allianz”). In some cases, information has been provided to us by third parties and while that information is believed to be accurate and reliable, its accuracy is not guaranteed in any way.

Any opinions expressed constitute our views at the time of issue and are subject to change. Neither Allianz, nor its employees or directors give any warranty of accuracy or accept responsibility for any loss or liability incurred by you in respect of any error, omission or misrepresentation in this article.

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