Whether on or offshore, the work and lifestyle of a remote rotational worker are unique. While lucrative for some, it has long been associated with a high impact on mental health and wellbeing. A groundbreaking report from the International SOS Foundation and Affinity Health at Work termed ‘Mental Health and the Remote Rotational Workforce’ showed the psychological impacts of the unique mode of working. The new study substantiated high levels of suicidal thoughts, clinical depression, implications on physical health such as diet, and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the remote rotational workforce globally across numerous industries, comprising offshore oil & gas maritime and mining.
“There is an urgent need for increased focus, understanding and strategies to identify and mitigate prevailing mental health issues to promote the better mental health of the remote rotational workforce. It 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,” said Dr Rahul Kalia, Medical Director, India, International SOS.
40% of all respondents experienced suicidal thoughts on rotation
The study’s key findings revealed that 40% of all respondents experienced suicidal thoughts on rotation some or all the time (compared to an average of 4-9%). This meant that one in five suffered from suicidal thoughts all or most of the time. At the same time, 29% of participants met the benchmark for clinical depression at the time of on-rotation. Another 52% reported a decline in mood with enduring mental health. The more concerning fact is that 62% of respondents at work had worse mental health than would be the norm in a population. Whereas 31% of workers off-rotation expressed sustaining lower mental health than the general population.
Remote rotational workers are emotional exhaustion
According to the report, 23% of the remote rotational workers suffered emotional exhaustion weekly. 46% sustained higher stress levels while on-rotation and more than half or 57% were not engaged in their work. 23 % reported that they didn’t receive psychological support from their employers.
“We would expect to burn out to be between 2-13% in the general population, so the almost quarter that we see from the survey is particularly high. Burnout 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 many remote workers unexpectedly away from family and friend networks for longer than anticipated,” commented Dr Rachel Lewis, psychologist and the director of Affinity Health at Work.
Working during the coronavirus pandemic hit remote rotational workers as 65% experienced increased job demands, and 56% witnessed an increase in working hours that led to stress and anxiety. While 49% of workers were also concerned for their safety and a third of respondents stated they felt increasingly lonely. Further, 23% discovered negative physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach problems.
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.”
On the other side, the majority of respondents believed that their health and safety were prioritised. They experienced a strong sense of community and support among co-workers and managers. Many also felt that they could share their mental health concerns with their colleagues.