Supporting workers who are experiencing cost-of-living pressures

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With interest rates continuing to rise, Australia’s cost-of-living pressures show no signs of abating. Workers are making impossible financial compromises to the detriment of their overall health and wellbeing, which is further lifting the lid on a workforce in physical and psychological distress. For example, the latest census statistics reveal more than eight million Australians have a long-term health condition, with mental health issues surpassing every other chronic illness.

Official government statistics make for confronting reading and further expose the economic fragility of Australian workers. Fuel, food and energy prices continue to soar, as families struggle to make ends meet.

Financial insecurity and worker ill health

The link between mental, financial, and physical wellbeing is well documented. A recent Australian study found that COVID-19 – and its disruption to our social world and financial stability – was a primary cause of mental health distress. This was backed up by an earlier study published by the British Psychological Society which found that money worries had a potential impact on worker health due to “increased work-family conflict and stress associated with financial insecurity.”

Dr Jamie Phillips, Sonder’s Medical Director and a practising physician in emergency medicine and remote medicine is acutely aware of the difficult compromises that employees are making to the detriment of their overall health.

“People are having to make difficult health-purchasing decisions and are prioritising their basic human needs, such as paying their rent or mortgage over paying for prescriptions or seeking medical care.

Too many Australians are not getting the help they need, and this has been exacerbated by the recent cost-of-living stress on household budgets.”

—Dr Jamie Phillips
Medical Director, Sonder

In addition to the mental health effects of financial insecurity are the physical health implications of workers missing vital medical appointments or not filling their prescriptions due to out-of-pocket costs.

Dr Phillips cautions that financial insecurity has broad implications for individuals, their families, their employers, their communities, and the wider society.

“Left untreated, problems escalate, which means higher treatment costs for individuals, plus increased absenteeism and lost productivity at work.”

—Dr Jamie Phillips
Medical Director, Sonder

Wellbeing survey results

A Sonder-commissioned Australian survey confirmed that employee concerns about mental wellbeing are affecting workplace attendance rates. But, skipping work (to rest and ‘get well’) can in turn exacerbate financial insecurity and mental wellbeing concerns.

We partnered with McGregor Tan to survey 1,025 people working a minimum of 20 hours per week and found that 42 per cent of workers reported taking time off work in a 12-month period due to concerns about their mental wellbeing. Another quarter (26 per cent) of respondents reported taking time off work in the same period due to concerns about the mental wellbeing of their friends or family.

Sonder - McGregor Tan wellbeing survey - 2B Sonder - McGregor Tan wellbeing survey - 3B

The survey also highlighted gaps in wellbeing support for employees who worked casually or part-time. Respondents who worked part-time or casually were more likely to feel uncomfortable talking to their manager about mental wellbeing (43 per cent), compared with 31 per cent of respondents who worked full-time.

Employer duty of care

The release last year of ISO 45003, and the subsequent spotlight on workplace psychological health and safety, was a timely reminder that organisations need to take joint responsibility for the mental health of their employees. This is especially true in the new world of remote and hybrid work, where the lines between work life and home life are blurred, and employees expect more from their employers.

The new international standard makes it even clearer that psychological wellbeing, safety, and health are best managed holistically. ISO 45003 describes workplace wellbeing as “fulfilling the physical, mental, social, and cognitive needs and expectations of workers”. According to the standard, these needs and expectations can include financial security.

Barriers to accessing support

A complex healthcare system

According to Dr. Phillips, the current system is complex and people aren’t getting the help they need.

“The pandemic, and the cost-of-living pressures, have exposed the frailty of the healthcare system in terms of access and further exposed gaps between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. The rising cost of living has added to the inability for patients and communities to see clinicians when they want to, where they want to, and how they want to see them.”

—Dr Jamie Phillips
Medical Director, Sonder

Citing the latest government report on Australia’s mental health services, Dr Phillips argues that there is a pressing need to invest in more personalised, holistic, and preventative care.

“The report highlights a lack of capability among both generalist and specialist healthcare staff to deal with complex comorbidities. A holistic approach that considers a person’s cognitive, emotional, social, physical, financial, and spiritual wellbeing at all times is clearly needed,” he said.

Overcoming barriers to workplace wellbeing

Significant gaps in traditional approaches to employee wellbeing support can also mean that workers aren’t getting the help they need.

Our survey shows that just 18 per cent of employees (who are aware of their workplace’s mental wellbeing programs) understand all of the programs available.

Low employee uptake of workplace mental health support has largely been accepted with minimal inquiry. But an increasing number of forward-thinking organisations are asking why their employee support programs have as low as a five per cent uptake, as well as how they can enact their duty of care to meet contemporary employee demands.

Our joint report with PwC Australia, Rethinking workplace mental health and wellbeing, found that low uptake of traditional workplace mental health support programs is often due to three reasons:

  1. It’s not built into the culture
    • Due to lack of awareness, accessibility issues, stigma, and/or discrimination;
  2. Solutions are not the right fit
    • Prevention and early intervention are the key, along with ‘anytime/anywhere’ support when help is needed; and
  3. Poor past experiences
    • Due to quality concerns, privacy concerns, and/or delays in care.


Money worries can be hard to talk about and there is often a stigma that prevents people from seeking support. As an employer, here are some steps you can take to help your team members get the support they need when experiencing cost-of-living pressures:


  • Embrace your responsibility for the health and safety of your people
  • Consider holistic approaches to employee wellbeing support that focus on mental health, personal and workplace safety, medical assistance, and financial support pathways
  • Foster open, regular, and meaningful discussions about wellbeing
  • Combine digital self-help with 24/7 human support to encourage help-seeking behaviour
  • Practice empathy – be real, be genuine, and care

Looking for an EAP alternative?

Here’s why you might choose Sonder for your workplace safety, medical, and mental health support.

About Sonder

Sonder is a leading Australian wellbeing and safety company accredited by the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards (ACHS). Our solution is a technology-driven platform supported by 24/7 safety, medical, and mental health experts. This is backed up by a physical responder network that can be onsite quickly for complex scenarios, plus a capability to deliver unique and timely data insights which drive meaningful business decisions.

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