More than three quarters of business leaders (78%) have experienced poor mental health during the pandemic and experts are warning that tighter COVID restrictions could spur a new wave, exacerbated by pressures on business, the economy and reduced personal freedoms.
This is according to Bupa Global’s Executive Wellbeing Index, the first to chart the impact of the pandemic on business leaders and wealth creators across Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia. The report, undertaken by the premium health insurer, reflects a watershed in attitudes towards mental health and wellbeing, work-life balance, the future of business and the economy.
The mental health toll and economic concerns
The toll of the pandemic on mental health in the UK has been high with at least half a million more people in the UK likely to experience mental ill health as a result1. This is true among board executives in Bupa Global’s Wellbeing Index, with many experiencing symptoms of mental ill-health for the first time and one in ten (10%) reporting burnout.
The economy is the biggest concern weighing on leaders’ minds with less than half (44%) feeling optimistic about the nation’s recovery – and latest restrictions could exacerbate this. Confidence levels are some of the lowest in the study, falling behind France, UAE, Egypt and China, but ahead of the USA and Hong Kong.
Reduced personal freedoms during the UK’s first lockdown have also been a big factor on poor mental health (40%) – and the biggest globally – leading to reports of high rates of fatigue, lack of energy and lower motivation, as well as anger, impatience, disturbed sleep and mood swings3 – many higher than their French or American counterparts2.
But worryingly a third (32%) of executives have delayed seeking help, with a similar number saying they find it hard to talk about their mental health (31%).
With tighter restrictions returning, Bupa Global is urging business leaders to continue taking steps to protect the mental health of themselves, their family and colleagues, and to seek professional support early.
Bupa Global Medical Director Dr Luke James said: “Whatever the outlook, one thing is certain — when the economy is struggling, we’re also more likely to struggle with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. And with the threat of a second lockdown approaching, we may see an exacerbation in mental-ill health too. Acknowledging this, taking steps to support your emotional wellbeing and addressing any issues as quickly as possible are the keys to coping with these challenges because when it comes to mental health, early diagnosis and treatment can have a positive impact on prognosis.”
Protecting mental health and wellbeing going forward
Globally UK executives have been the most proactive since the outbreak, taking control of their physical health; losing weight and taking up exercise in order to prevent mental ill-health in the future4.
Protecting mental health and wellbeing is now one of the biggest concerns for UK executives; that of their own and their colleagues and family (31%) – and is the highest globally joint with the UAE (see Table 1). One in four (25%) has also already committing to providing more or better mental health support within their organisation (vs. 23% in France and 20% in USA).
Sheldon Kenton, Managing Director of Bupa Global, offered: “The future is still uncertain, and with the threat of the pandemic entering a second wave, leaders will need to brace themselves for even greater challenges ahead. Many businesses are suffering and need their leaders and people to be in good health. The need for preventative care and mental health support has never been greater.
“It’s good business to protect people – after all they’re the most important resource in any successful business. As a premium health insurer, our role is to find a way to provide a holistic approach to protecting our customers’ health. The Bupa Global Executive Wellbeing Index helps us identify critical concern areas, so we can personalise these solutions.”
Positive attitudes to healthcare
Over half (52%) of executives shared that their attitudes towards public and private healthcare systems have improved during the COVID-19 pandemic. Six in 10 are planning to purchase private medical insurance in the next 12 months, expecting greater emphasis on preventative care (including maintenance of good mental health) as well as supporting mental ill-health.
Kenton continued: “Bupa Global is committed to providing the best medical services to its customers around the world. That’s why we’ve invested in our mental health expertise and offering, in order to provide extensive mental health cover for individuals and their families, as well as our Global Virtual Care service which gives people access to international doctors wherever they are in the world. We also provide a range of preventive health and wellbeing services and annual health checks, designed to help customers manage their health holistically.”
The Bupa Global Wellbeing Index also explores shifting trends in work-life balance and business practices, reflecting the way business will be conducted in future.