Ground-Breaking Global Study Unveils the Mental Health Minefield of the Remote Rotational Workforce

By: Philippine Resources June 30, 2021


Whether on or offshore, the work and lifestyle of a remote rotational worker is unique. While lucrative for some, it has long been associated with a high impact on mental health and wellbeing. A groundbreaking global report from the International SOS Foundation and Affinity Health at Work, ‘Mental Health and the Remote Rotational Workforce’, provides in depth insight into the psychological impacts of this unique mode of working. The new study highlights evidence of the high level of suicidal thoughts, clinical depression, impacts on physical health (such as diet) and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this workforce.

Dr Rodrigo Rodriguez-Fernandez, Medical Director Wellness and Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) International SOS, commented, “There is an urgent need for increased focus, understanding and strategies to mitigate mental ill health and promote better mental health of the remote rotational workforce. This is highlighted in our survey, which uncovers significantly high levels of critical mental ill health issues, including suicidal thoughts and depression. The COVID-19 environment has also added increased stress on this already pressured working arrangement.”

Key study findings:

  • 40% of all respondents experienced suicidal thoughts on rotation some or all the time (compared to average of 4-9%). 1 in 5 are feeling suicidal all or most of the time.
  • 29% met the benchmark for clinical depression whilst on-rotation.
  • 52% reported a decline in mood, and their mental health suffered whilst on rotation.
  • 62% had worse mental health than would be the norm in a population. While off rotation, this remains at a high of 31% experiencing lower mental health than the general population.

Burn Out

The study also exposed that almost a quarter (23%) of the remote rotational workers surveyed experienced emotional exhaustion on a weekly basis. 46% experienced higher stress levels while on rotation and over half (57%) were not engaged in their work. 23% reported that they received no psychological support from their employers.

Dr Rachel Lewis commented, “We would expect burn out to be between 2-13% in the general population, so the almost quarter that we see from the survey is particularly high. Burn out can have a serious impact both personally and professionally, on the ability of an individual to carry out their role. Remote rotational work may come with the perks of higher pay, but with its propensity to be isolating at the best of times. On and offshore, working pressures and varying shift patterns also add their weight. And this is not to mention the impact of the current pandemic, which has seen may remote workers unexpectedly away from family and friend networks for longer than anticipated.”

Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic

  • 65% experienced increased job demands.
  • 56% increased working hours stress, anxiety
  • 49% concerned for personal safety (before pandemic?)
  • 1/3 became increasingly lonely
  • 23% had more negative physical symptoms (such as headaches and stomach issues)

The Tip of the Iceberg

Dr Rodriguez-Fernandez continues, “Mental and physical health are intrinsically linked. Organizations and individuals with a Duty of Care to their remote rotational workers should have visibility and a plan of support for their workforce encompassing both.”

  • Over a third exercised less (35%)
  • 38% experienced worse-quality sleep (38%)
  • Over a quarter (28%) were less able to eat a nutritious diet whilst working

On the flipside, the majority of respondents felt that their health and safety was prioritized. They report a strong sense of community and support among co-workers and from managers. Many also felt that they could share their mental health concerns with colleagues.

Closer to Home

In the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) has reported an increase of calls on mental health and suicide through the National Center of Mental Health (NCMH) hotline, with over 3,000 individuals supported during the first quarter of 2021. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)’s supplemental guidelines on workplace prevention and control of COVID-19 issued last year has mandated establishments to implement all necessary safety and health programs at no cost to employees.

Dr. Carrianne Ewe, Medical Director at International SOS Philippines shares, “Mental health has been an area of concern for organizations as we continue to navigate through this crisis. We have been supporting our clients with rotational workers by incorporating mental health support into their health and wellness programmes.

This has become essential to support employees who are experiencing mental stress and pandemic fatigue. It is important to message that they are not alone in their journey and support is within reach through the Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) which can help them with sessions on mindfulness and tips on improving one’s mental wellbeing. This approach helps organizations build the resilience of their employees, ensuring that they are healthy and productive during these challenging times.”

The full report, including practical recommendations on mitigation measures for companies is now available here.

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