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Australian managers experiencing greater levels of mental distress due to pandemic

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Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index™ shows that declining depression and optimism continue to put the mental health of Australians at risk

MELBOURNE, Australia–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Morneau Shepell, a leading provider of total wellbeing, mental health and digital mental health services, today released its monthly Mental Health Index™ report, revealing a negative mental health score among Australians for the twelfth consecutive month. The Mental Health Index™ score for March is -11.1. Negative scores indicate a lower level of mental health compared to the pre-2020 benchmark.

The March score is relatively consistent with levels in February (-10.8) and January (-10.7). The majority of the Mental Health Index™ sub-scores slightly declined this month. In March, this trend was led by worsening scores for depression (-12.5), optimism (-11.5) and work productivity (-11.1).

Australia currently has very low risk of transmission and reached a new milestone with the opening of the ‘travel bubble’ with New Zealand. Despite this progress, empirical evidence suggests that Australians continue to struggle with finding optimism,” said Jamie MacLennan, managing director, Australia and APAC. “This unfortunate reality demonstrates that the long-term effects of the pandemic have the potential to be much more harmful to Australians’ wellbeing than the concerns they have dealt with over the last year. Strategies that address and de-stigmatise mental health, training and communication to support managers, as well as encouragement to use mental health resources are essential to the health of the workforce.”

Australian managers hardest hit by pandemic

Australian managers are experiencing greater levels of mental distress than non-managers as a result of the extraordinary changes implemented in the workplace throughout the pandemic. In March, the research found that managers have lower mental health scores (-10.7) when compared to non-managers (-10.5), with the group more than 40 per cent more likely than non-managers to report a negative impact of the pandemic to their mental health. Managers were, however, more than twice as likely to report improved peer relationships when compared to non-managers.

Managers have been faced with significant pressure throughout the past year, dealing with the same pressures as everyone, plus the increased demands of leaders during the pandemic,” said Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president, research and total wellbeing. “This responsibility for the wellbeing of others, combined with increasing workplace obligations in managerial roles, suggest the clear need to focus on this group. In addition to specific support programs for managers, it is also critical to ensure they are well equipped to deal with the impact of change and uncertainly among their staff. Manager training on workplace mental health has never been more critical, and is as important to the stress level of managers who want to know what to do, as it is to the employees they support.”

Employees need increased flexibility in post-pandemic workplace

The return to the physical office in the post-pandemic landscape is uncertain, with increased focus on whether flexibility in the workplace is here to stay or what flexibility will mean in practice. While nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of employees want flexibility to work from home once the pandemic is over, more than one-quarter (27 per cent) of employees reported that they do not believe their employer will support remote work. This group also reported the lowest mental health score (-16.5) when compared to individuals who expect a flexible work structure (-9.5), indicating heightened importance for employers to listen to employees and adjust policies to meet their needs.

About the Mental Health Index™

The monthly survey by Morneau Shepell was conducted through an online survey from February 17 to March 1, 2021, with 1,000 respondents in Australia. All respondents reside in Australia and were employed within the last six months. The data has been statistically weighted to ensure the regional and gender composition of the sample reflect this population. The Mental Health Index™ is published monthly, beginning April 2020, and compares against benchmark data collected in 2017, 2018, 2019. Click here to read the Australian Mental Health Index™ report.

The Mental Health Index™ is owned by Morneau Shepell – the wellbeing company that acquired LifeWorks in 2018.

About Morneau Shepell

Morneau Shepell is a leading provider of technology-enabled HR services that deliver an integrated approach to employee wellbeing through our cloud-based platform. Our focus is providing world-class solutions to our clients to support the mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing of their people. By improving lives, we improve business. Our approach spans services in employee and family assistance, health and wellness, recognition, pension and benefits administration, retirement consulting, actuarial and investment services. Morneau Shepell employs approximately 6,000 employees who work with some 24,000 client organizations that use our services in more than 160 countries. For more information, visit


Heather MacDonald

Morneau Shepell

Angela Pinzon

Kaiser & Partners