The last two years have taken their toll on many of us, and it’s no surprise that events such as bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic have affected the mental wellbeing of Australians.  Along with shifting norms in workplaces, and remote and hybrid working, businesses need to make sure their employees have the resilience to face challenges.

Driven research shows the impact the pandemic has had on mental wellbeing. In June 2021, while much of Australia was in lockdown, national resilience was at its lowest level since the start of the pandemic.

Even as lockdowns lift and restrictions ease, Australians report finding it harder to regulate and control their emotions and stress levels.

The fallout of the mental health impact of the pandemic may remain for years to come. But the skills needed to face adversity, to regulate emotions and feel less stressed and more happy are skills that can be learned.

Driven’s national resilience report: National Resilience Index, Australia 2021 found that nine out of 10 Australians have a resilience level below the protective level of 85%. That’s using the Predictive 6 Factor Resilience Scale (or PR6) which is now used worldwide by organisations to define staff wellbeing.

That score means that 90% of Australians could benefit from resilience training that protects them against depression and anxiety. 

The National Resilience Index found these key findings:

  1. Resilience is highly protective against depression and anxiety. People with a PR6 score of 85% or above have a fivefold reduction in the risk of depression and anxiety. The research found that only 9.2% of Australians have a score above 85%.
  2. Australia’s national resilience average in September 2021 was 65.4%. It had reached its lowest of 62.8 in June 2021. Composure (emotional regulation) fell the most.
  3. Boosting the resilience of a quarter of employees could increase the percentage of people in this 85%+ protective range from 9.2% to over 60%.

But how can something like resilience be defined? It consists of these six key domains which interact to build an individual’s resilience.

  1. Vision: A sense of purpose and goals, alongside a feeling of congruence that actions are moving towards something meaningful
  2. Composure: An internal awareness, ability to regulate emotions and manage stress
  3. Reasoning: Problem-solving skills, being resourceful and anticipating challenges
  4. Health: Good nutrition, sleep and regular exercise
  5. Tenacity: Being persistent, having realistic optimism, and bouncing back to regain motivation
  6. Collaboration: Building strong support networks, communication skills, and making meaningful connections

How resilience varies across industries

Some industries have fared worse over the past two years. Resilience levels are well below the protective level of 85% among workers in some industries. A resilience score of 85% is five times as protective against mental illness compared to low resilience.

We analysed the PR6 scores of 7,136 Australian workers, and found those levels are:  

  • 66% for emergency services and healthcare workers in 2021
  • 57% for teachers during remote learning in 2020
  • 62% for financial services workers

Of those three industries, the financial services industry started with the highest levels of resilience in the third quarter of 2019, and ended at the lowest point of all three industries in July 2021.

In the second quarter of 2021, emergency services and healthcare industries were below the resilience benchmark of 70%, meaning they were more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. While the education sector experienced a significant drop in 2020 – in the midst of remote learning – it’s the only profession that showed an increasing level of resilience over the period.

Why business leaders have a role to play

Leaders have seen the impact of the pandemic on their staff, with 65% seeing a decline in employee mental health.

Businesses have a key role to play in helping employees boost their resilience and protecting employees’ mental health by understanding their workforce and training staff.

Data shows that resilience training for the 13 million employees in Australia, and an increase in resilience of 25%, could save $6.4 billion each year.

The 2018 KPMG and Mental Health Australia report Investing to save: The economic benefits for Australia of investment in mental health reform estimated the costs of mental ill-health in the workplace to be an average of $3,200 per employee with mental illness. That estimate rises to up to $5,600 for each employee with severe mental illness.

Psychological injury has also become an increasing proportion of workplace incident claims, rising from 14% in 2016 to 21% in 2021.

Using that data, along with the rates of mental illness for the low and below average groups, modelling shows that resilience training for 25% of Australia’s 13 million employed people can save approximately $6.4 billion each year. That’s an average of $2,005 saved per person trained in resilience.

How businesses can build employee resilience

Boosting resilience among Australian workers will benefit individuals, teams and businesses. Proactive mental health programs in workplaces would boost the mental health of employees and employers, improving workplace culture and engagement, and increasing productivity.

Three ways businesses can improve workplace resilience are:

  • Assessing staff: We found that only one in five (20.5%) workplaces currently assess staff wellbeing. Regular assessment can give valuable insights into what employees need and show whether programs are helping.
  • Boosting resilience: Resilience training and preventing mental illness will improve workplace culture, collaboration and connection between staff.
  • Embedding resilience: Individuals can’t do this alone. It’s up to organisations to create an environment that supports the mental health and wellbeing of all staff. Managers need to lead by example, so resilience becomes embedded at a cultural level.

Business leaders have a key role to play in protecting the mental health of their staff. Every workplace is different, with different mental health risks, and it’s up to organisations to identify the workplace and environmental factors that affect mental wellbeing.

Research shows that 76% of leaders in Australian workplaces believe that protecting the mental health of their workers is a high or very high priority. Leaders were also asked whether they feel their organisations are doing enough to be proactive about mental health. Of those leaders, 41% agree or strongly agree that their organisation is doing enough, and 41% that disagree or strongly disagree.

We can all learn the skills to face challenges with confidence 

The good news is that resilience can be learnt. With the right support, we can all build the skills needed to face challenges and advance despite adversity. Resilience training gives us the capacity to grow and become stronger through every challenge.

As many of us go back to workplaces, it’s more important than ever to invest in resilience training and to build resilient people and workplaces.

A National Resilience Index would monitor Australia’s mental health and wellbeing. Resilience training in workplaces and resilience first aid are important elements of our mental health recovery. A goal of a 25% improvement in national resilience by 2025 would prevent more mental ill-health.

As 2021 comes to a close, many of us are left exhausted, stressed and wondering what the next year will bring. But there’s plenty to be optimistic about – and practical ways of moving forward through adversity.

Building resilience starts with understanding our emotions, identifying what we do well and then building a plan to move forward and achieve our individual goals. Just like regular exercise, consistent mental health training keeps us mentally fit and able to manage future challenges. 

Resilience training is a practical way to help us recover from the trauma and stress of the pandemic, and reduce further psychological impacts. Building our mental resilience gives us all the capacity to lead more functional, intentional and happier lives. The skills we can all gain through resilience training will help us day to day and into the future.