The number of adults suffering from depression has doubled, increasing from 1 in 10 to 1 in 5 since March 2020 (Office of National Statistics)

200% increase in the number of potential suicide risk assessed cases during the lockdown period, according to occupational health data (Duradiamond)

40% increase in working days lost (17.9 million) due to work-related stress in 2019/20 (Health & Safety Executive)

Even before COVID-19, the WHO predicted that depression would become the leading cause of the global burden of disease by 2030

Health: a Strategic Priority

“Witnessing the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic on people, businesses and entire countries, it’s hard to believe we won’t come out the other side looking at the world differently. At its core, COVID-19 is an issue of people, health and risk – and from a business perspective, the impact of health has never been in sharper focus. Through COVID-19, business leaders are seeing first-hand how health impacts work. I expect this will create far greater awareness amongst business leaders to be better prepared and take action on preventable ill-health.” Charles Alberts, Head of Health Management, Aon

Health & wellbeing should be strategic priorities for every business, but this shift requires significant investment

COVID-19 has accelerated employers’ recognition of the importance of employee health and wellbeing to the future success and resilience of their businesses.

In the midst of a pandemic, with employees under increasing stress, job insecurity and anxiety, mental health has forced its way to the top of the boardroom agenda.

Aon engaged Geoff McDonald, former Unilever Global VP of Human Resources and globally recognised mental health campaigner. Geoff says COVID-19 is likely to impact colleagues’ mental health in the short term, and leaders should prepare for this.

“COVID-19 has democratised this (mental health) around the world. It has done more to generate this conversation than I have in the past 6 or 7 years.” Geoff McDonald, former Unilever Global VP of Human Resources

Health is a multiplier for performance

When organisations are recruiting, they look for competence, knowledge, and experience, but also attitude, passion and energy, which come from being healthy. However, if health is zero, then performance is zero (and success is zero).

Despite this recognition, wellbeing programmes in many organisations are still not hitting the mark. McDonald argues they tend to focus on one week of the year, with few superficial changes such as fruit bowls in meetings, while continuing in the same vein for the other 51.

Performance =
Knowledge + Skill + Behaviour + Experience x Health

He proposes four further reasons:

Health & Wellbeing is not a strategic priority in most businesses

There is no organisational accountability to keep people healthy in the same way as there is to keep them safe

There is no individual accountability to maintain health. People understand their responsibility to stay safe

There is no change programme behind it

How do you prioritise workforce health?

McDonald recommends organisations conduct audits to discover pain points, which could lead to changes in policies, processes and procedures. He advocates including a behaviour around self-care or compassion in the leadership competency model, adding that all organisations have to address the stigma of mental ill-health.

When considering individual accountability, McDonald says individuals need a development plan that doesn’t only relate to knowledge, skill, behaviour and experience, but also enhances energy. He recommends training for employees of all levels, ensuring everyone has a collective understanding of mental health, regardless of role level.

The power of purpose

COVID-19 presents employers with an opportunity to enhance employees’ wellbeing and provide purpose at a time when our lives are in sore need of fulfilment.

As businesses strive to align their benefits to the ‘new better’, communication will play a key role. Leaders must invest in their strategy; know the start, middle and endpoints, and have data sets that can be measured to prove their health and wellbeing approach is making a difference as they reshape for a challenging and resilient future.

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Health: a Strategic Priority

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