The new COVID-19 environment of home-based working and social distancing has not only posed unprecedented challenges in productivity for many workplaces, but it could also be affecting employees’ mental health.
A leading workplace safety expert is urging organisations to prioritise the health and wellness of their employees during this challenging time, revealing the important benefits of doing so.
Rod Beath is a workplace safety specialist at SAI Global, which has audited and trained thousands of organisations seeking to meet international standards for workplace health and safety.
Rod says, “In a time of crisis, an organisation’s people are its most important asset. However, as many employees are feeling unsettled or uncertain during this time, employers must ensure everyone in their organisation feels safe, informed, and prepared.”
Related to mental health at work:
“Now more than ever, they need to offer their workers proper guidance, training, and open lines of communication to reduce anxiety and its potential effects on employee health.”
Where organisations have been able to implement remote working, Rod warns that employers still have a responsibility to provide a mentally healthy work environment under the health obligations of the WHS Act 2011, which also extends to psychological health.
“Whether it’s working in an office or at home, under the WHS Act, organisations must be committed to eliminating risks of injury and illness in the workplace – including mental health risks.
“The isolation that can be experienced with working remotely is a genuine health risk, and employers should be taking measures to address this.
“Considering and consulting employees about their working from home arrangements and staying connected through regular real-time phone or videoconferencing communications play a key part in providing a mentally healthy work environment.”
SAI Global reveals its eight tips for how employers can support the health and wellness of their at-home workplaces during the coronavirus pandemic.
1. Monitor any physical health risks to your employees.
To limit the spread of COVID-19, every employer should allow employees to work from home, where possible. This is one of their key obligations under the model WHS Act, which outlines employers should take as many steps as possible to eliminate physical health risks to their employees. If it is not possible for employees to work from home, it is vital that no one comes to work if they have a fever, cough, sore throat, or shortness of breath. The community transmission-risks of the virus is too severe.
2. Communicate with your employees regularly about the steps your business is taking to address COVID-19 on behalf of them.
Summarising and informing workers about company policies, such as attendance procedures, payroll continuation, entitlements, and disbursements for travel, mobile phone and other expenses, will create clarity for them in their home office environments. Providing a summary or review of your current pandemic preparedness plan will also prove to them that their organisation is supporting their health and wellbeing.
3. Be open and transparent with employees about their job security.
Recent figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that almost half of Australian businesses have either let go, stood down, or cut the hours of their employees. As a business owner or employer, if you are in a position to know that you are holding onto employees, it’s important to reassure them of their job security – as this is a source of much anxiety for workers, at present. A good idea is to hold a video town hall explaining that they are safe and what the company is doing to keep them.
4. Stay in contact.
Videoconferencing software has seen a surge in recent weeks – and for good reason. During this period of deep uncertainty, it’s essential to stay connected through regular real-time virtual collaboration. Whether it’s by web-based teleconferencing, phone, or other technology, these can help employees feel more personally connected, compared to text or email communication.
5. Prepare, and continually review, a work-from-home strategy.
When switching to remote working, consult with employees about their working from home arrangements, as well as how work will be conducted differently to enable social distancing and self-isolation. Making sure your employees have access to laptops, telecoms, or functional internet capabilities is vital to supporting a good home-office. Employers can also ask to see a photo of their employees’ home set-ups, to ensure that it meets WHS requirements.
6. Promote a positive, inclusive culture by setting up regular virtual coffee meetings.
For workers who have never worked from home, social isolation will probably be deeply felt. As a result, employers need to be proactive in organising social interactions with and among their staff to maintain positive relationships. As a manager, you might even continue to mark birthdays or other milestones via virtual coffee catch ups or after-work drinks.
7. Encourage a healthy work-life balance by setting time limits.
Work-life balance is an essential aspect of an employee’s ability to work safely and productively – whether that’s from the office or home. Employers need to agree on working hours that employees know they are not expected to work beyond. Reminding employees to work in ways that are kind to their mind and body will also help to prevent burnout during this challenging time – which is also in the employer’s best interests.
8. Educate staff of ways to stay mentally healthy while working from home.
As an employer or manager, providing consistent and clear communication about health risks, preventative measures, and available resources is the best way to keep employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Offering tutorials on mindfulness, webinars on resilience, or merely suggesting employees go for a walk is especially beneficial to their health and wellbeing. In turn, being open and transparent in your interactions with employees also lets them know they are not alone.
SAI Global is a provider of integrated risk management solutions, assurance and property services.