As New Zealand emerges from the global pandemic, it’s time to reflect on the immense impact that COVID-19 has had on our collective mental health and wellbeing.
Workers are more stressed now than before the pandemic. And no wonder. After more than two years of uncertainty, lockdowns, working from home, staff shortages, supply chain issues, and the cost of living crisis, it should come as no surprise that stress levels are high.
A 2022 workplace wellbeing survey from EMA (Employers and Manufacturer’s Association) and health insurance provider nib, showed that understaffing had the biggest impact on New Zealand’s workplace wellbeing, with nearly two thirds of employee respondents’ wellbeing affected by the tightest labour market in more than 30 years.
As a result of work, in the three months prior to the survey, almost all (91%) employees had experienced negative physical effects including fatigue, sleeping problems and headaches, and a similar percentage (87%) experienced negative emotional impacts including irritability, anxiety, and excessive worrying.
Mental Health Awareness Week is a good opportunity for organisations to examine their workplace wellness and employee support initiatives, and consider whether they are fit for purpose. Too often, we put our own wellbeing at the bottom of a very long list. And it shouldn’t be that way. Mental stress can lead to a raft of health issues including hypertension, high blood pressure, weakened immune systems, and an increased risk of heart attack. In the US, the risk of heart attack has skyrocketed over the past two years, particularly among the under 40s.
Organisations that are healthy fare better in times of uncertainty. Teams function better when there is a sense of wellbeing. Leaders can model good habits, and set an example for their teams.
Organisations can support mental health and wellbeing with empathy, flexibility, and support. There should be good support systems, such as EAP, that employees can tap into, and the workplace should be psychologically safe, creating an environment that welcomes mental health conversations.
It’s not only the right thing to do, it makes good business sense. Workers are looking for it too, with the EMA/nib survey drawing links between a proactive approach to wellbeing and employee retention. Organisations that are healthy fare better in times of uncertainty. Teams function better when there is a sense of wellbeing. Leaders can model good habits, and set an example for their teams. Only by taking care of their needs first, do leaders create the space to help and support others.
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is “reconnecting with people and places that lift you up”. In the workplace we can take time out for fun, and not make it all about business, as well as asking our colleagues “how are you, really?”, and making sure that everyone knows that support is available.
Shaun Robinson from the Mental Health Foundation says our mental health is a special taonga, and that with the right tautoko (support), many people can and do recover. He goes on to say: “Wellbeing isn’t just for people who have not experienced mental illness – it’s for everyone.”