Festivities, mental stress and Omicron

Last Updated on Friday, 14 January, 2022 at 11:25 am by Andre Camilleri

George M. Mangion is a partner at PKFMalta, an audit and business advisory firm.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about both mental and physical health-related issues – and although Malta fared comparatively well and didn’t procrastinate with too many lockdowns, many people last Christmas chose to stay at home in a bid to reduce the chances of contracting the virus or out of fear of spreading the virus. In view of this, many employees worked from home while many of those who lived alone were deprived of interacting with others.

It is logical to note how the Chamber of Commerce believes that the effect of the pandemic on vulnerable persons cannot be ignored and reports from employers on emergency response show that the situation can still be better managed. The Chamber called for community-based mental healthcare for early intervention as well as increased investment in emergency services and short-term improvement in certain areas of Mount Carmel Hospital. A working document emphasises the importance of appropriate care in the sensitive initial stages of a crisis. It goes without saying that as an island state, resilience and preparedness are key, even though no one could have ever imagined Covid will result in such disruption on a global scale. The pandemic, however, gave well-being an added dimension. We have moved on from just the physical aspect to encouraging firms to harnessing a responsibility for a working environment that is more holistic including caring for the physical, emotional, mental, financial, social and purpose of the employees.

Remote working and flexibility, coupled with technological advances, make us more contactable and accessible (such as Zoom, Teams and Skype), yet these have brought on new stresses on the mental well-being of employees. Add to this, the distinction between home and office, which has become clouded causing mental fatigue at times. Covid-19 has further heightened the need for businesses to move away from a strict hierarchical formation to function more like a democracy. In the new scenario, employees are empowered to take tough decisions, sometimes away from the comfort of a formal office environment. There are new challenges and disruptions brought about by the pandemic, but equally so by the digital, green economies. It is a well known fact that most people with mental health problems once diagnosed and treated by their GP will fully recover. On the mend, they continue to work productively. Reality shows how the number of Covid-19 cases has spiked again. Even youth has taken the toll of the pandemic. The banning of music festivals, rave parties and other forms of public entertainment has added to the range of restrictive measures.

Note, how the never-ending construction spree has left its toll on our quality of life. Who would want to live on an island where we have been placated by a major developer and expect another 100 years of such ecological and building madness? It comes as no surprise that the EY Generate Youth Survey found that nearly 60% of young people in Malta would rather live and work in another country. This is partly due to heightened stress factors and perceived lack of good governance in the public administration. Even the newly recruited CEO at MFSA walked out of an interview with Times of Malta when he was asked about the incidence of revolving doors. A scientific barometer of stress was recently launched by Novargo research group (most probably a direct order of the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations). This study found that almost three-quarters of the Maltese workforce is satisfied with life, though around half report some symptoms of depression and one in four may need professional help. The study reveals inter alia how while two in every three experience high job satisfaction, more than 40% show signs of stress and anxiety. When it comes to job satisfaction, two out of five employees experience high job satisfaction 42%, while 37% experience “medium job satisfaction”. A cool 21% said they experience low job satisfaction.

In conclusion, it is helpful if employers create an environment where staff feel able to talk openly about mental health. A good way is to start an open dialogue treating mental and physical health as equally important and making sure employees have regular dialogues with their managers and HR unit. Increasing awareness at work about maintaining positive mental health can be assisted by arranging professional mental health awareness training in selected workshops.


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