Infection, Invasion, Inflation

6 min read

Infection, Invasion and Inflation: Compounding issues and the cumulative effect on your people and organisations and individual impacts

On 4 May 2022, we hosted our Australian and New Zealand Customer Community Collaboration event focused on the impact of natural disasters, long COVID, global conflict, elections, and interest rate rises. We explored the leading points of view on the cumulative impact these events have on stress and anxiety levels already present due to two years of the pandemic.

In addition, we discussed the impacts of impending inflation and interest rate rises. We reviewed opportunities to support your people, including initiatives to help your employees and your company through these times.

As most countries worldwide emerge from lockdowns and ease Covid-19 restrictions, we are faced with increasing demands on our time, money, and capacity to process the changing environment; therefore, raising complex
questions for employers and organisations about best supporting their people through their challenges.

Before COVID, many issues already challenged the day-to-day wellbeing of our workforces that needed our collective support. The compounding impact of COVID, the geopolitical issues playing out in the world today, the future economic outlook, and particularly its direction and uncertainty have only compounded this. As a collective and through partnership, we can help each other grow through the current challenges.

Compounding issues and cumulative effects on people and organisations

The cumulative effect of the events over the last three years continues to impact employees and organisations, regardless of how directly these impacts have happened. How people feel carries over to the workplace and can affect our individual and enterprise performance.

Recent research from New Zealand showed that 34% of New Zealand workers considered themselves burnt out, compared to a reported 10% before the pandemic. 1

The ongoing impacts of compounding issues and implications for mental health and wellbeing include:

  • Experiencing fear and anxiety, even if we are not directly impacted,
  • Loss of control over our own lives and plans and becoming hypervigilant about the future.
  • Worry about the safety of strangers, loved ones, work colleagues and ourselves.
  • Re-living memories of past trauma.
  • Potential long-term impacts of the aftermath of stress increasing the risk of anxiety and depression.
  • Feeling flat and “over it” leads to low energy levels and a lack of motivation or excitement about what is ahead.
  • Lives and careers are being put on hold, and some are fearful and cautious of what the future brings.
  • Concerns about one’s health and the health of loved ones impact the willingness to return to the office.


What can organisations do to help?

We have seen employers investing and focusing more on wellbeing and supporting people throughout the last two years. Employers are also considering flexible or hybrid working arrangements, which were strategies for minority employers before the pandemic.

In addition, the importance of training and awareness for everything from mental health, resilience and now, more recently, financial matters can support employees in making good choices and enabling them to care for themselves.

Managers and leaders need to understand that each employee is on a different journey, and the support will need to be tailored to individual needs. We must listen to needs and concerns and try to work proactively and collaboratively to address these.

Inflation - what lies ahead?

In the past year, Australia has experienced an inflation increase of 5.1 per cent; in New Zealand, the increase is 6.9 per cent. Rising interest rates compound the impact of these changes in an environment where wage growth does not
reflect the increased living costs.

With the spike in inflation this year and the potential challenges for personal income, it is understandable that many people feel worried and, for many, hypervigilant about what’s to come. Unfortunately, this adds significant
uncertainty and fear, and may impact younger employees and people early in their careers.

Research suggests that money worries are, in fact, the primary source of stress in Australia. Studies have demonstrated a clear link between financial worries and mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and substance misuse. Financial distress disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable part of our population.

All the uncertainty around these areas will impact employees’ financial wellbeing, which we know is related to mental health. As winter kicks in, this could further exacerbate the situation with increased electricity and gas bills, paying higher prices for fuel, particularly with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

People’s situations will differ, and some employees may find it too expensive to work at home due to increased energy costs. Others may view that working from home will minimise their spending on commuting costs. Housing
prices are tipped to drop, which will add risk to those with large mortgages, coupled with rising food prices.

While money concerns are common, talking about money can still feel uncomfortable, making it even more difficult for people to share what they’re going through and seek support.

Impacts of financial distress on mental and physical health include:

  • Arguing with the people closest to you about money.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Feeling angry or fearful.
  • Withdrawing from others.
  • Resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drinking, drug-taking, and gambling.

While these can be normal reactions to stress, they can affect an individual’s mental health if they continue for a more prolonged period. Individuals could be at risk of other conditions like anxiety or depression. In the worst
circumstances, financial stress can tragically lead to thoughts of, and result in, self-harm or suicide.

Money worries and financial stress affect everybody. And sometimes, it can be beneficial to validate that and normalise that, so people perhaps don’t feel so alone in those worries.

What can employers do to support?

Employers can support employees with their financial concerns by running awareness and training sessions that
normalise and validate the worries employees may have, reassuring people that they are not alone. Early intervention is always the best approach; this is where the MyCoach for Money program can come into play.

How to support employees with their finances:

  • Benestar resources (our June newsletter focuses on financial wellbeing).
  • Financial awareness programs.
  • Financial counselling through an EAP provider.

Proactively considering the needs of employees when faced with returning to the workplace and juggling the demands of family life versus the benefits of social interaction at work can be difficult. Developing a framework to help guide your leaders to have these conversations with their people to enable the essential one-on-one connection and understanding of potential vulnerabilities in the dichotomy of organisational and personal goals can help.

How can Benestar support your organisation and your employees?

The forum discussed the areas to focus on to best support your organisation and employees. A critical call-out is the new work-life integration, or ‘work-life smash’, our new reality, where the ability to switch off and have a part of our life that does not work is challenged.

Reinforcement, encouragement, permission for staff to manage their wellbeing, setting clear boundaries, and providing explicit consent to switch the computer off at five o’clock are key components of this new work-life

We need to encourage, train, and expect our people leaders to be even more able to provide pastoral care, to be able to have empathic conversations and to have staff wellbeing right at the centre.

In addition, the mental health conversation must be kept alive in the workplace, and leaders should be actively role-modelling self-care to reduce the stigma about mental illness.

Thinking about the best way to support staff can be difficult to navigate as it can take time to understand individual differences. Approaches must be adapted for each individual, and as a leader, you must also protect your mental health. Showing some vulnerability can help remind staff that people leaders are also human, doing the best they can and maybe struggling just as much as everybody else.

We discussed emerging areas of interest, such as:

  • Wellness leave in addition to, or instead of sick-leave.
  • Focusing on training our leaders to develop high EQ practices and skills is more important than ever.

The bedrock for moving forward must be an inclusive approach to your people and the multiple working environments they are operating in, encouraging employees to support one another, and promoting healthy work-life
balance tips, such as taking regular breaks and reminding them of the importance of self-care.

Lead by example, model great self-care and work-life balance behaviours, and remember that whatever initiatives you are already doing or considering for the future, be creative.

Finally, have fun and encourage feedback because there may be many great ideas within the teams you’re working with.