Wellbeing | How multinationals can tackle work-related stress and burnout in a hybrid working world

How multinationals can tackle work-related stress and burnout in a hybrid working world

Daniela Masters, Head of Global Health and Wellbeing Programmes at Generali Employee Benefits (GEB) interviews Jason van Schie - Psychologist and Co-Founder of People Diagnostix, the company behind FlourishDx

The case for applying a risk management approach to employee mental health gets ever stronger as employers worldwide struggle with new features of the pandemic economy, in particular staff burnout and the war for talent. But ensuring a consistent and effective roll-out of a risk management approach, across multinational organisations in particular, is no mean feat.

This is not only due to local differences in public healthcare provision and insurance coverage, but also the fact that the relevant departments within large organisations – HR, Risk and/or Work Health & Safety – are often siloed.

We spoke with FlourishDx’s Jason van Schie recently as part of a podcast in partnership with Generali UK, to gain his views on the latest trends, challenges and solutions.*

Why is mental health getting strategic?

But first, some background. GEB’s partnership with FlourishDx came about early last year in response to the fact that GEB’s healthcare dashboard data was showing a potential increase for co-morbidities between physical and mental health back in 2020. This, combined with the fact that the pandemic helped elevate wellbeing on to leadership agendas, indicated a need for multinational employers to address health and wellbeing strategically and holistically.

Underpinning this is the fact that coverage for mental health treatment varies around the world with many policies explicitly excluding mental health treatment. This is not because the local insurers cannot administer these services, but rather that the public healthcare systems are deemed responsible for mental health treatment. Either that, or local market practice does not include these benefits in Private Medical Insurance.

Additionally though, we also noticed a growing need for organisations to look at the actual work environment, with a view to mitigating and managing stress, as opposed to only putting in place benefits and services.

In the last two years the agenda for a strategic approach to mental health in the workplace has been pushed forward by several years. Individuals and organisation have all been affected by the drastic changes the pandemic brought to our working and private life. And while some are gaining mental health and wellbeing benefits from new ways of working, it’s telling that levels of work-related stress and burnout seem to be rising.

Global burnout growth

Burnout is defined as an occupational phenomenon by the World Health Organisation (WHO), resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.1

Global data from McKinsey last year showed that almost half (49%) of all employees reported being at least somewhat burned out.2

This is largely driven by the fact that “leaders don’t understand what the global phenomenon really is” says the Stress Management Society, who add that burnout represents a significant contributor to absence and was also the reason given by 40% of people for leaving their job in 2021.3

Jason van Schie told us during the podcast* that burnout might even become a marker of how well organisations are managing psychological health and safety in future. Here’s a taster of that discussion.

Daniela: FlourishDx helps employers take a risk management mindset to tackling workplace stress and burnout. In other words, it helps organisations identify their underlying psychosocial hazards, assess their severity, frequency and duration – with employees rating the impact – thereby informing the adjustment of work design factors accordingly. Have you noticed a shift towards this kind of mindset where multinationals are concerned?

Jason: We’ve definitely noticed a shift. There were already record levels of stress, anxiety and depression pre-pandemic. The last two years has really shone a light on what workplaces can do to support the mental wellbeing of their workers.

We’ve had to embrace hybrid / remote work and people realise they can vote with their feet if their employer isn’t giving them workplace conditions that support their wellbeing. Employers are getting this. They’re starting to think beyond benefits to also the kind of working conditions that support employee wellbeing. I’d like to say it shouldn’t take a pandemic for employers to change how they think about the importance of employee mental health, but that might be one of the silver linings to come out of this.

Daniela: At GEB, we’ve noticed that the approach to cover for mental health treatment is slowly changing. Some countries that have been less mature in their approach to mental health seem to be catching up. Do you think there should be any difference between a global take on the ISO45003 psychological health and safety standards, introduced last year, and a local action plan?

Jason: I think the beauty of the ISO45003 standard is that it not only talks about what a risk assessment approach looks like, but it’s also a truly global standard. Around 70 countries were involved in its development to ensure that it was truly taking into account the perspective and needs of as many countries as possible. So, it’s perfectly designed for multinationals as opposed to Health & Safety Executive’s Management Standards, which are more suited for UK organisations.

It is possible that there’ll be some markets are more mature with regards to psychological health and safety and therefore more ready to adopt it, so it might make sense to roll it out first in those countries. But what the ISO standard does is to give us a really good framework across all countries in which a multinational might operate.

Daniela: Are you noticing any trends with regards to days lost through work related stress during hybrid working? Do you think there’s a difference between what’s on paper and what’s actually happening?

Jason: I think there may be some under-reporting of work-related stress.

But we know that the factors that affect work-related stress have changed with remote and hybrid working. For example, if there were poor interpersonal issues, bullying or harassment in the workplace, those that are remote or hybrid working are not necessarily exposed to that now, which will be less stressful.

On the other hand, if you’re working from home permanently now and you’re an extrovert and get a lot of energy from being around colleagues, isolated work can actually be a big stressor.

So, I think we will see a trend of less people reporting work-related stress, anxiety or depression and time off.

All that said, if the stressor is due to workload, that will still have the same negative impact whether you’re in the office or at home.

Daniela: So, what’s the one thing that multinationals can do now that will make a tangible difference in the complex world in which we’re all living and working?

Jason: Well, complexity and change represent the new normal. So, we have to start thinking about mental health strategically now. And the one thing that would probably make the biggest difference is to start working towards the ISO45003 standard. It gives you a really solid framework to think strategically.

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*To listen to the full 45-min Generali UK / GEB Wellbeing360 podcast interview with Jason van Schie, which includes tips on how HR can better support their Line Managers to help keep the workplace psychological hazard free, please click here.

Also, to access a range of free resources from GEB and FlourishDx to help you get started on aligning with the ISO45003 guidelines, go to https://geb.mentalhealthaudit.com. All of Generali UK’s group income protection clients are also offered a free one-to-one workshop via GEB and FlourishDx, ideally with their cross-functional colleagues; HR, Health & Safety, Reward & Benefits.

1 https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases 

2 https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/coronavirus-leading-through-the-crisis/charting-the-path-to-the-next-normal/employee-burnout-is-ubiquitous-alarming-and-still-underreported

3 https://www.stress.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/THE-IMPACT-OF-WORKPLACE-STRESS-2022.pdf


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