Beware of the 'infodemic'

International SOS reveals global risk trends and operational challenges for businesses in 2021 and beyond.

International SOS says Covid-19 had deflected attention from other risks faced by organisations.
International SOS says Covid-19 had deflected attention from other risks faced by organisations.

A leading medical director has forecast that Covid-related mental health problems will overtake the pandemic as the cause of a decrease in employee productivity in 2021.

Dr Irene Lai, global medical director International SOS, said mental health issues would be faced not just by Covid-19 survivors but by many people who had not been affected by the virus.

International SOS Business Resilience Trends Survey — a survey of over 1,400 risk professionals across 99 countries — found that almost one third of those canvassed believed mental health issues would be a primary productivity disruptor in 2021 and beyond.

“Just as 9/11 changed the way that employers saw their Duty of Care with respect to security issues, so the pandemic is destined to have a lasting change to employer approach to employee health threats,” said Dr Neil Nerwich, group medical director at SOS.

He advised the pandemic has triggered board level decision-making on health issues, the increasing need for real-time expert medical guidance and organisational responsibility for employee well-being, including those working from home.

Dr Lai said it was important that crisis management teams adopted workforce communication strategies that empathised with those affected by mental health issues as that would help to destigmatise the condition.

James Bird, security director, intelligence and operations, International SOS, said an ‘infodemic’ — an overload of information — had exacerbated a tripartite of crises — public health, geopolitical and economic — impacting the workforce on a global scale.

He said there had been a loss of trust from formerly trusted sources like local governments and health bodies, and there was a strong need for expert information that was not influenced by politics.

He felt, too, that Covid-19 had deflected attention from other risks faced by organisations, such as extreme weather caused by climate change, cyber-crime and geopolitical risks.

“The survey uncovered where organisations may struggle operationally to provide the necessary health and security protections to all employees,” he added.

Top five operational challenges for organisations in ensuring the health and security of all employees

  1. Having adequate resources to deal with Covid-19 (54%)
  2. Access to accurate and timely information on health and security threats (40%)
  3. Educating employees about risks (35%)
  4. Dealing with mental health issues (33%)
  5. Communicating during a crisis (33%) 

Top five risk outlook 2021 predictions

  1. Ecopolitical turbulence will exacerbate tensions, civil unrest and crime
  2. Pandemic borne crisis management teams will redefine Duty of Care practices
  3. The growing infodemic will increase demand for trusted sources of health and security information and advice
  4. Mental health issues will be a primary productivity disruptor
  5. Singular focus on Covid-19 will create risk blind spots