Before joining the Business Continuity industry, I developed a bit of a background in Psychology and Counseling. As an educator, I taught Psychology for three years and before my career change, I was only a few credits away from earning my Masters in School Counseling. Since then, I may have changed paths, but my interest in the topic of mental wellness has remained, which is why an article on the 2019 BCI Horizon Scan Report caught my eye. Based on this report it turns out that health and safety related incidents have a much higher impact on businesses than expected. Since this category includes several types of issues and physical and mental health are among them it seems appropriate to bring them up as a topic for discussion. Additionally, the fact that we are in the middle of a global pandemic, the holiday season is upon us, and we are entering the winter months, the relevance of this topic could not be more significant on both a personal and professional level. With this in mind, I have a personal desire to bring this topic to the forefront for planners.
For professionals who are responsible for the well-being and resilience of their company it is worth knowing that the 2019 BCI Horizon Scan Report found Health and Safety Incidents to be the 2nd most disruptive to businesses, had the 2nd highest risk score at 12.88, and ranked 1st as the costliest disruption. Yet, despite these statistics, health and safety incidents appear to be the most underrated. Keep in mind that this was all before COVID-19 became a widespread issue causing physical health and safety to take priority in most people’ minds. It is important that we do not ignore the ripple effect this pandemic is having on our society and our workforce aside from the virus itself.
This past year, as COVID rapidly spread throughout the US, we experienced a great deal of significant changes to our day to day lives at a very rapid pace. We all have had to switch to a quarantined lifestyle while working from home, and those with children have had to learn to balance all of this with becoming a part time teacher. This culture shift has led to changes in behaviors and declines in both physical and mental health that need to be taken into account when planning for your company’s resilience. Many have become less physically active, diets have changed, alcohol consumption has skyrocketed and many, either by choice or circumstances, have stopped engaging with their healthcare providers. Aside from the more direct negative effects these things can have on physical health, we can expect less direct, but just as troubling, impacts on mental health as well. All of these factors could, and likely have, resulted in a decline in mental wellness among our population to those with both new and existing issues.
In an effort to further highlight the significance of all of this to us as both human beings and working professionals, it is important to expand on the impacts these issues can have on behaviors and work performance. As physical wellness declines the result could be very similar to Depressive Disorders. There is likely going to be a dip in energy levels and motivation to do work. These can then lead to decreased morale, which can easily spread to fellow colleagues. Anxiety Disorders can cause employees to be distracted, tense, and irritable. All of these are especially relevant at this time of year, as we head into the winter months and the holiday season, which tends to be a common trigger for individuals already.
With all of these symptoms in mind, as planners it is important now to look at how this could impact businesses. Lack of motivation can lead to low productivity and increased absenteeism. Lowered morale in the workforce can cause conflict and distrust, and employees could become disengaged. People who are functioning in a constant state of panic tend to be distracted and can forget important tasks or miss crucial details. Irritable people can be impulsive and can cause conflicts internally and externally, creating a hostile work environment. These things can lead to damaged relationships with customers, vendors, partners, etc. Either way, decreased wellness has the potential to have a significantly negative impact on performance.
As planners you likely are not moonlighting as medical doctors and therapists, so the expectation cannot be for you to treat each individual. What you can do is find ways to gather information on the overall wellness of your workforce so you can have concrete data, which will allow you to identify real risks and address them with your leadership team, who hopefully understand by now that their people are their most valuable resource. From there it may require thinking outside the box to develop alternative ways to help mitigate these risks, like increased encouragement of healthy behaviors and additional resources for those in need of assistance. In many ways your options may be dependent on what you have available to you. Regardless of what you are working with, whatever ways you can provide a knowledge of resources available, and emphasize physical health in your company, will be a good start towards maintaining a happy, healthy and productive workforce as we get through this pandemic together.