Press release: Global study unveils the mental health minefield of the remote rotational workforce

There is an urgent need for understanding and strategies to mitigate mental ill health

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 ground-breaking 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 study1 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 NCD’s, International SOS, said, “There is an urgent need for increased focus, understanding and strategies to mitigate mental ill health and promote better metal 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 percent of all respondents experienced suicidal thoughts on rotation some or all the time (compared to average of 4-9 precent). 1 in 5 are feeling suicidal all or most of the time.
• 29 percent met the benchmark for clinical depression whilst on-rotation.
• 52 percent reported a decline in mood, and their mental health suffered whilst on rotation.
• 62 percent had worse mental health than would be the norm in a population. While off rotation, this remains at a high of 31 percent experiencing lower mental health than the general population.

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

Dr Rachel Lewis said, “We would expect burn out to be between 2-13 percent 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 percent experienced increased job demands.
• 56 percent increased working hours stress, anxiety
• 49 percent concerned for personal safety (before pandemic?)
• 1/3 became increasingly lonely
• 23 percent had more negative physical symptoms (such as headaches and stomach issues)

The Tip of the Iceberg
Dr Rodriguez-Fernandez added, “Mental and physical health are intrinsically linked. Organisations 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 percent)
• 38 percent experienced worse-quality sleep (38 percent)
• Over a quarter (28 percent) were less able to eat a nutritious diet whilst working

On the flipside, the majority of respondents felt that their health and safety was prioritised. 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.