“Australians have been impacted by fear, anxiety and panic about COVID-19. Following on from the bushfire disasters over the summer, the community has been in a heightened state of anxiety and struggle in order to manage the uncertainty surrounding the possible spread and impact of the pandemic. During an immediate pandemic, many people will experience high levels of anxiety and worry, however, for most, anxiety will decline over time as the virus is contained. Common consequences include anxiety, panic, depression, anger, confusion, uncertainty and financial stress amidst 25% to 33% of the community”
Black Dog Institute Report:
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world of work drastically – organisations have had to pivot their working environment and staff have had to keep up with the profound personal and professional life changes amidst an underlying air of uncertainty and fear. Thus, it is not surprising that there has been a rise in mental health concerns, including increased suicides and domestic violence cases.
Although the stats are alarming, there are strategies and mechanisms that can be put in place to ensure that your staff are mentally well and feel supported throughout these times.
Conducting a mental health risk assessment in your workplace can provide you with a great foundation from which to implement strategies and processes by which your staff feel supported and safe. According to WorkSafe Victoria, this assessment should consider all the risks to psychological health in your workplace and those that can arise from a sudden change to work circumstances (such as working from home or not in an office). The pandemic has introduced a period of work that has meshed home and professional life, a drastic change to the office environment.
Some psychosocial hazards in the workplace that have arisen in the COVID-19 are as follows: increased work demand, exposure to violence, aggression, traumatic events and discrimination, increased work-related violence (aggression and incivility from customers), serious illness or death of colleagues or clients and self-isolation.
Consult your staff and communicate with them the desire to support them, often workers know exactly what the issues they have are and have ideas about how to manage them.
Safetrac has introduced a series of helpful online training courses that can educate your staff to transition to a safe remote work environment.
Communication and Support
Empathetic and supportive communication from managers and people leaders are crucial. It is imperative that you think about how you can support your employees during these uncertain times.
Beyond Blue, recommends the following tips to help maintain a mentally healthy workplace:
- Maintain regular communication with employees.
- Keep staff up to date about your business response to the coronavirus outbreak.
- Make sure that your staff is aware of the support that is available to them (for example, if you have an EAP program in place, make sure that staff can easily access the program).
- If you are concerned about a work colleague, make sure to check-in, have a conversation with them and encourage them to get the support that they need.
- Be aware that individual circumstances vary and consider options to support each team member’s needs.
- Provide strong IT support and guidelines for remote working so employees can be fully productive.
- Be mindful of the disruption that potential school closures may cause to families.
- Agree on working hours that employees know they are not expected to work beyond.
- Touch base with each team member daily and have regular one-to-one meetings.
- Remind employees to work in ways that are kind to their mind and body.
- Maintain regular virtual team meetings.
Also, remember that being a manager does not make you immune to the same stresses as your employees, you need to take care of yourself too.
Education and Awareness
Managers and People Leaders should endeavour to educate themselves on the impact of mental health in the workplace, and measures that can be implemented to support the workforce. A mentally healthier workplace leads to a productive and healthy workforce. These measures are especially important as we collectively endeavour to keep afloat during the pandemic.
Keeping aware of signs of struggle can be an eye-opener as to how to promote a mentally healthier workplace. According to the Black Dog Institute, when it comes to assessing how employees are coping, keep an eye out for changes in demeanour. Although body language may be hard to see as we work remotely, it can be a fairly reliable indicator of mood, as can the underlying tone of emails and phone calls, and the speed at which employee’s response.
Further to this, changes in a staff members attitude towards work and productivity may also be an indicator, however caution must be exercised as it is likely that this may be as a result of significant workplace changes. Either way – be aware of any signs of struggle and check in with your staff (with non-judgement and compassion) and offer any assistance to reduce any pressure they may be feeling.
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