Addressing employee mental health with an EAP

'The mental health condition of working Australians is in an extremely precarious state'

Addressing employee mental health with an EAP

Australia has a mental health score almost as low as it was during the pandemic, according to recent figures from Telus Health.

Employees in Australia achieved a score of 63.2 in the September 2023 Telus Mental Health Index. While this was an improvement from the 62.8 score in April 2023, Telus still described it as a “pandemic-era low”.

The Index is on a scale of 0 – 100, where higher scores equate to better mental health and reduced mental health risk. In addition, 0 – 49 means ‘distressed’; 50 – 79 means ‘strained’ and 80 – 100 is ‘optimal’.

“The 63.2 score is consistent with the early days of the pandemic at the height of lockdowns, and that puts us into a severely strained category in terms of mental health,” Jamie MacLennan, Telus Health’s senior vice president and managing director, Asia Pacific.

“That should be a stark warning for governments and businesses that the mental health condition of working Australians is in an extremely precarious state and needs to be looked at and managed.”

Mental and financial wellbeing

Amid the high cost-of-living pressures, one of the key elements the report looked at was financial wellbeing. It highlighted the areas Australian employees are struggling with:

  • 74% don’t know or are unsure of how much they need in retirement savings
  • 26% are concerned they won’t be able to retire
  • 19% are not putting any money into saving.

MacLennan highlighted that businesses shouldn’t see mental and financial elements of wellbeing as two separate issues. Rather, they should look at a broader definition of wellbeing to support workers.

“There’s a lot of research that shows the interaction between the mental, physical and financial elements,” MacLennan said.

“There are a lot of elements to financial management that people are not educated on, and so when people don’t feel that they can cover savings, abnormal expenses or cost of living pressures, that’s what weighs on their mental wellbeing.”

How HR can help

One of the key steps HR teams should take to help emplpoyees in this regard, is to have a wellbeing strategy, Telus suggested. And within that strategy should be an employee assistance program (EAP) to offer employees counselling and help on various aspects of wellbeing.

While employers shouldn’t rely solely on an EAP, it’s still a critical resource, MacLennan added.

“It’s really positioned to deal with those daily stressors before they deteriorate into something much bigger, and to offer tools and techniques to help people get back on track.

“If you don’t deal with them, they won’t improve. You’ll reach the point where someone needs to be off for a very long period of time and doesn’t have the ability to perform at work,” he said.

Find out more about Telus Health’s EAP here.

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