Managing mental wellbeing of your remote workforce

Mental health has become an increasingly important workplace issue, and this was prior to COVID-19. Now, mental health is expected to be the most significant issue any employer will have to manage in their workforce.

The fact is, around 45% of Australians aged between 16 and 85 will experience a mental illness at some point in their life, while one in five Australian adults will experience a mental illness in any given year. Add to this the increased pressure of social isolation and being fearful of keeping a job, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

While a mental illness may develop external to a workplace, it is important to note, an ‘unhealthy’ work environment or a workplace incident can cause considerable stress and exacerbate, or contribute to, the development of mental illness.

DHS reports a total of 3.2 days per employee are lost each year through workplace stress, and stress-related employees’ compensation claims have doubled in recent years, costing over $10 billion each year. Around 25% of employees take time off each year for stress-related reasons, and work pressure accounts for around half of all compensation claims, and harassment and bullying for around a quarter of claims.

As you can see, mental illness can cost an organisation a lot of money, and the cost of ignoring the problem is far greater than the cost of developing and implementing strategies to create a safe and healthy workplace.

Research shows that every dollar spent on identifying, supporting and case-managing employees with mental health issues yields close to a 500% return in improved productivity through increased work output and reduced absenteeism.

Absenteeism vs presenteeism

Two ways mental health issues manifest within an organisation are absenteeism and presenteeism, and both have impacts on a business.

Absenteeism is self explanatory, and involves multiple short-term, or long-term absences by a struggling employee who chooses not to attend work.

Presenteeism is different, but just as damaging. It involves employees still attending work with a mental health issue. This affects productivity, because they are not actually effective, and also extends the duration of an issue. This can further affect the mental health of the people around the employee, and have a knock-on effect across an organisation.

Both presenteeism and absenteeism due to mental health issues are on the rise. In fact, the World Economic Forum is predicting a significant rise in burnout and stress related absence in the second half of 2020, due to COVID-19.


Workforce resilience is a hot topic, and underpins the psychological wellbeing of a workforce. By increasing workplace resilience you can help employees better respond to both personal and professional challenges, and potentially reduce mental illness incidents and duration of absences.

A resilient individual tends to be flexible, adaptive, copes, learns from experience, and is optimistic. A resilient team is one based on mutual trust, participation and social networks as well as resources to adapt positively to change.

Resilience can be learned, and there are a number of ways for employers to boost resilience within their organisations. This may include increased support and communication from colleagues and management, or appropriate services, or workplace adjustments such as family leave or counselling.

According to Robertson Cooper, there are four key aspects of personality that are important in resilience: Confidence, Adaptability, Purposefulness, and Social Support.

As you can see, these aspects are highly related to the workplace, therefore if an employer assists employees in developing these traits, resilience can be boosted and overall wellbeing enhanced. This is particularly important as the workforce navigates extended periods of isolation and fear.

To help build the resilience of a remote workforce at this time, an organisation might consider:

  • Ensuring regular leadership communications with employees, including video chats where appropriate
  • Reassurance about job security and KPIs
  • Facilitation of ongoing workplace relationships through special formal and informal remote meetings and events
  • Providing support and listening with empathy
  • Providing further resources and support services where necessary
  • Recognising achievements
  • Encouraging work/life balance

Robertson Cooper reports four in ten 10 UK adults said their wellbeing was affected by COVID-19, so now is not the time to let employee mental health slip. Managing your remote workforce effectively during this time will help increase resilience in the workforce, improving mental health and wellbeing.

To find out more about why mastering absenteeism is critical to strengthen your business, download our free guide. Complete with factsheets, checklists and quick tips, this guide is critical for any organisation serious about managing absenteeism now, and for the future.

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