COVID-19: Caring for employee mental health

COVID-19 is creating anxiety and uncertainty in our community, while social distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus may leave people feeling isolated and disconnected.

It’s a challenging situation for employers, who have a duty of care to their staff. Some key strategies may help.

Communicate and connect

Regular, open communication is important to staff wellbeing. You may wish to:

Click on the image to access CCIWA’s Mental Health Toolkit.

  • hold regular meetings using remote conferencing platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams or FaceTime;
  • arrange one-on-one check-ins once a day or more or more for those who need it;
  • try not to micromanage. Try to focus on and manage outcomes instead of daily tasks.
  • remember to celebrate wins—employees may be working under extra pressure to deliver them;
  • consider holding end of week virtual gatherings or lunches for socialising;
  • create policy to limit the hours for sending and receiving emails; and
  • keep team check-ins upbeat and positive as a break from the circulation of negative information, and
    be kind.

More information: Access CCIWA’s Mental Health Toolkit

KPIs should reflect the current climate. You need to keep employees accountable and it is good to have an overall purpose to keep them focused. But your employees may develop unnecessary anxiety or concerns about their job security if they’re trying to meet previously-set goals while facing circumstances outside of their control. Consider whether those previous KPIs are still appropriate.

We might not be able to control external events, but we can control how we respond and adapt to them. Remind your staff that you are all learning and overcoming this together. Establishing a “new normal” for remote work might take some time – allow some leniency and be patient while providing clarity on your employee’s tasks and priorities.

For staff who need support

Feelings of anxiety and worry are completely valid during this period.

A major concern for employees will be job security and they should be provided advice and support on this issue sooner rather than later.

If you believe an employee is struggling with mental health issues, there are number of measures you can take to support them.

  • Modify employee tasks. Perhaps move them to a different project, allow them to try something new or offer them smaller tasks instead.
  • Encourage your employee to talk with you about what supports are available. Guide them to take stock of their financial situation and stay informed of government stimulus packages that may help.
  • Refer them to any support programs you may run such as an Employee Assistance Program. Guide staff who are needing extra help to talk to their GP or support services like Lifeline and Beyond Blue.

Headsup.org.au is a website for small business which is part of the national workplace initiative aimed at creating mentally-healthy workplaces for business and workers.

While you have a duty of care to your staff, you also need to remember to look after yourself. This is particularly the case if you have had to make difficult decisions about your business and employees. Make sure you have someone to talk to and take steps to maintain your own mental health.

If you need further assistance CCIWA’s Employee Relations Advice Centre is here to help and can be contacted on (08) 9365 7660 or via advice@cciwa.com.

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