Mental health: With ‘end in sight’ for the pandemic, what do employers need to know?

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Juliet Masiga, Digital Editor, World Economic Forum


  • Most employers are urging workers to head back to the office for a few days a week, at least.
  • With the World Health Organization announcing that the ‘end is in sight’ for the pandemic the season of full-time, home-based work is likely coming to an end for some.
  • Employers need to take steps to protect workers’ mental health and wellbeing as they return to offices.

The sun is setting on the work-from-home golden hour. The World Health Organization just announced that the ‘end is in sight’ for the pandemic, but employers around the world have been luring employees back to work for months. And now, some employers in the US are officially calling time on the home-based work season.

The Wall Street Journal reports that starting this month, “attendance [will be] expected and office resisters will be put on notice” at several large corporations in the US.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

One in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

Mental ill-health is the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people aged 10–24 years, contributing up to 45% of the overall burden of disease in this age-group. Yet globally, young people have the worst access to youth mental health care within the lifespan and across all the stages of illness (particularly during the early stages).

In response, the Forum has launched a global dialogue series to discuss the ideas, tools and architecture in which public and private stakeholders can build an ecosystem for health promotion and disease management on mental health.

One of the current key priorities is to support global efforts toward mental health outcomes – promoting key recommendations toward achieving the global targets on mental health, such as the WHO Knowledge-Action-Portal and the Countdown Global Mental Health

Read more about the work of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, and contact us to get involved.

Some employers are opening new office spaces hoping and expecting that workers will use them. Others are trying to balance all preferences, by giving employees the flexibility to choose where they work and for which hours.

At the same time, many tech companies are allowing employees to work full time from home, from the office, or a combination of the two. Some are even allowing employees to choose which country they work from.

PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2022 finds that workers who can’t work remotely are also far less likely than others to say they find their job fulfilling, believe that their team cares about their wellbeing, feel that they’re fairly rewarded financially or feel they can be creative in their work.

This group represented 45% of the respondents in the survey and reported less satisfaction with their job than those working in hybrid or fully remote work settings (50% versus 63%).

Insights from Deloitte suggest that empowering employees to work from a suitable and convenient location rather than requiring them to work from a particular office has the potential to promote a better work/life balance as well as being a more equitable approach.

In the end, hybrid work is probably the sweet spot, with employees able to enjoy some autonomy over their work lives and employers having the comfort of seeing their workers back at their desks at least two or three days a week.

The widescale introduction of hybrid working gives us the opportunity to take the best from home working and office-based work and provide a more balanced and healthier solution for all staff – mentally and physically.—Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace, Allianz Partners

Reclaiming time

Taking all things together, and considering outcomes like the ‘great resignation’ and the freshly coined ‘quiet quitting’ phenomenon, it becomes clear that work is a definitive factor in the balancing of the human psyche. Selling labour also puts a figure on employees’ sense of self-worth.

The COVID-19 restrictions, which compelled employers to modify the traditional ‘clock-in and clock out’ employment terms, allowed employees to reclaim their time and redress an often lopsided work/life balance.

The future of work has raised some of the most intense debates because work impacts quality of life. At the heart of that is wellbeing: mental, physical and emotional. Employees now expect work to work for them, not just those working in their own countries, but those working abroad, and even those considering foreign placements.

Therefore, as employers roll out return-to-work programmes, they need to design systems to enable workers to have meaningful and healthy return-to-work experiences by providing individual, manager and organizational interventions.

Protecting mental health

Organizations like the Wellcome Trust are placing mental health firmly on the agenda for the workplace. The Trust has found that more and more employers are looking for ways to support the mental health of their staff. As a result, the global corporate wellness market is predicted to grow to $66 billion by 2022.

There are many reasons why employers choose to invest in workplace mental health, including research showing that anxiety and depression are costing the global economy approximately $1 trillion every year in lost productivity.

Employers and employees can often have strained relationships but the latest research from Edelman shows that 78% of employees trust their employer and 69% believe the people they work with are a significant source of community in their life. Staggering statistics, indeed. But if the majority of the 7000 global respondents are to be believed, then it begs the question, what more can employers do to support the mental wellbeing of their employees?

Allianz Partners suggests that mental health support needs to be:

  • Visible – regular awareness building is preferable to a ‘one and done’ approach.
  • Accessible – provide support via physical and digital means as some employees have accessibility issues.
  • Varied and multi-pronged – no single support system will address everyone’s needs.

Centering wellbeing in the workplace

Employers now need to seize the opportunity to add real value to their employees’ lives and contribute to a society where mental health and wellbeing are not discussed in the shadows but addressed and supported in the light of day.

One review of workplace intervention studies has found that relaxation techniques, taking time to recover from the physical and psychological effects of work, promotion of physical activity and stress management are central to person-directed interventions.

Employers need to take a participatory approach to institute organizational support systems that help workers reduce stress and become more productive. This would require that managers are trained to respond quickly and adequately to employees in distress and create an environment that allows them to seek help without shame.

Workers themselves need to be trained in mental health literacy and awareness to improve their knowledge on the subject and encourage a non-stigmatizing approach to mental health issues. Employers can also provide opportunities for employees to acquire a variety of stress-management skills including skills like mindfulness, self-reflection and problem solving as well as physical exercise and activity.

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