Tackling the Mental Health Impact of COVID-19
Drake WorkWise Team
Recently Drake WorkWise hosted a webinar around transitioning back to the office, with restrictions easing in some states. We also surveyed some of our clients about their experience in working from home and the impact on their wellbeing. While most reported a reasonably positive experience, for some roles and companies, it is not possible to maintain and many people are eager to get back to some normal routines. The world right now, however, is far from normal and the economic and mental health challenges will extend beyond the pandemic. Identifying the risks and showing support for your employees and colleagues will help alleviate some stress and anxiety around transitioning to the next stage.
What have we experienced?
Overall, most survey respondents stated they enjoyed working from home, were able maintain high levels of productivity and rated their wellbeing an average of 3.6 / 5. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that many people may feel uneasy about more change and uncertainty ahead, especially with new spikes in Melbourne. While most people reported being able to engage in exercise and physical activities, only half the respondents planned activities to support their mental health. The biggest concerns cited around returning to the office were safety, social distancing, commuting, and adjusting to new routines. Suggestions on how workplaces can support this transition period included allowing more flexibility, being more aware of staff that need further support and setting clear expectations.
What are the risks?
Working in a safe job is generally good for our mental health. A job provides identity, income, structure, contact with others and an opportunity to contribute and achieve. Many will feel lucky to still be employed. However, working over this challenging time may have resulted in a higher workload, working longer hours, taking fewer breaks, an inability to use annual leave, poor communication, feelings of isolation, job insecurity and financial worries. According to Mind, all of these are triggers for stress and mental health problems for employees.
A recent white paper from Wesley Mission and Suicide Prevention Australia, highlights frontline workers, unable to work from home, are increasingly at risk of developing poor mental health during the pandemic, due to the potential they may be exposed to the virus, or transmit the virus to loved ones, moral injury (e.g. ‘not doing enough’ narratives), being under resourced or working in high risk environments. The paper further reports that 45 per cent of adult Australians have been financially impacted by COVID-19 and compared to data from 2017-2018, almost twice as many Australians are experiencing anxiety during this time. Other identified emerging areas of risk include domestic violence, substance abuse, social isolation and homelessness.
Ensuring employees feel supported
We have seen these changes embraced and although there have been challenges, we have been pushed to demonstrate our resilience as a collective and individually. Acknowledging the challenges is important, but equally so is celebrating our achievements. Remember, we are all continuing to work through a pandemic, rather than simply working from home.
Encouraging your employees and colleagues to schedule time to exercise or take some time out for self-care will help create an environment that they feel comfortable and safe in, whether that be at work or at home. Those who have been able to consistently engage in physical activities and mental health supports report a higher level of wellbeing.
Foster a sense of care and engagement amongst your colleagues, although we may be seeing less of each other in face to face settings, having non work-based discussions and checking in on each other’s lives as you would if you were catching up in the office is important to keep a personal relationship established.
If you’re a people leader, Heads Up have identified nine key attributes of a mentally healthy workplace that you can implement within your team.
If you’re worried about a friend, colleague or family member R U OK? has lots of great resources to help you start a conversation.
Drake WorkWise EAP, ManagerSupport and wellbeing programs are also here to support you and your organisation.
Who to contact for help?
Make an appointment with a General Practitioner (GP)
Please note, if you feel your safety or another's safety is at serious risk, please always remember to call 000 in Australia and 111 in New Zealand, for emergency assistance.
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