In 2022 - and in fact this trend already began this year - health risks will be the number one disruptor of employee productivity, according to the latest risk outlook report from International SOS. Between COVID-19, long COVID, and mental health challenges from two years of heightened stress, disruption, and isolation, the researchers predict that absenteeism will go up and business continuity will be more difficult to preserve.
Mental health in particular stands out. While COVID-19 itself remains the number one risk with 67% of respondents citing it, mental health issues are number two at 36% - the first time it has entered the top three risks since 2016, when global risks increased and even the World Economic Forum began flagging out major negative global trends. Natural disasters - linked to climate risk - come third at 21%.
The findings bear out last year's predictions, when International SOS researchers found that mental health is likely to be one of the top challenges to productivity and that COVID-19 is becoming the lens through which most risks are viewed. They also underscore the 2020 finding that the risk level to the global workforce had hit a five-year high.
Companies are spending more to buffer the risk
Unsurprisingly, many companies are already ahead of the curve, and making plans to fend off the projected productivity loss. The research found that 44% of organisations across Asia intend to increase spending on both physical and mental health, with 35% specifically concerned about the impact of mental health issues on productivity.
At the same time, though, organisations in Asia face much greater operational challenges, especially in mitigating physical health risks, than most of the rest of the world. 47% of respondents from Asia said that having adequate resources to deal with the virus was a top challenge for 2022, significantly higher than the global average of 33%,
The researchers do predict some light at the end of the tunnel, though. According to the report, organisations should be able to stably manage the pandemic's impact on their operations by 2023, if they successfully utilise health and security risk management as a competitive advantage to support employee retention and willingness to return to work activities - including business travel.