Posted on April 28, 2021
By Kristina Billings, Director, Health at Work
The pandemic has forever changed the way we work in our day-to-day lives. Whilst the recovery of the Australian economy has been remarkable, now more than ever, employees are battling mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression.
According to a research by Asana, some 77% of workers in Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) experienced burnout in 2020, highlighting concerns about mental health in the world of remote work. But employees still want the flexibility of working from home. A recent poll of more than 2,500 workers conducted by recruiting firm Hays found the majority of Australians want remote work to stay in some capacity in a post-COVID world. However it’s important for organisations to adapt to these changes to ensure overall well-being of their employees.
Here are the five tips to get started:
Managing mental health
It’s actually quite surprising how often people think ‘mental wellbeing’ comes down to yoga, smoothies and candles.Internationally, the World Health Organisation estimates that depression and anxiety issues cost the global economy $1 trillion a year in lost productivity.
Being aware and understanding mental health is a key step toward protecting the wellbeing of oneself and others. A great way to encourage a culture of openness and honesty amongst employees is for management to lead by example. Being transparent and accepting about their mental health journey can inspire employees to feel comfortable initiating healthy conversations about their own struggles. Employees should feel comfortable speaking up if something is wrong by either reaching out to a HR representative or utilising the resources provided through Employee Assistance Programs. Checking in team leaders on a regular basis can also help to maintain a positive workplace. According to a recent global report, nearly 40% of employees said that no one at their company had asked them if they were doing OK. Those same respondents were 38% more likely than others to say that their mental health had declined since the pandemic.
If you are self-employed, try to be honest with your own feelings and reach out for support even if it’s just for a chat. A great place to find a support network might be by reaching out to other business owners in similar circles.
Enabling flexible work hours
Flexibility is a huge factor in promoting wellbeing among staff. Managers might consider offering flexible working options to staff such as a work from home option or allowing staff to leave early to pick up their kids from school, look after sick family, etc. One study by the Boston Consulting Group found that, up to 60 per cent of Australian workers want to work remotely for two or three days a week.
Top tip for employees: it should always be okay to book in a time to chat with your manager and discuss what flexible options are available to ensure they understand your situation. If you are self-employed, prioritise managing your workload – easier said than done, but try to give yourself your own flexibility to take downtime or attend to non-work engagements.
Providing wellbeing programs
Managers should provide some kind of training and/or program that protects the wellbeing of their staff. Resilience and Mindfulness are a great place to start, along with general health. Health@Work’s dashboard is a fantastic tool offering tailored programs to over 100,000 Australian workplaces. Employees should take time to learn what is available at the workplace and take advantage of any training or programs in place.
For the self-employed, look online for resources around wellbeing. Entrepreneurial forums are a great place to start as business owners often share useful video links on how to help manage mindfulness.
Providing regular and transparent communication
A recent global study stated that employees who felt their managers were not good at communicating have been 23% more likely than others to experience mental health declines since the pandemic. Employers need to ensure their team is kept informed about any organisational changes or updates. It’s crucial for employers to update their staff on businesses performance, goals and vision. This helps employees to understand what the organisation is trying to achieve and keeps them invested.
It’s also important to educate employees on signs and symptoms of mental health issues and encourage them to open the discussion with a colleague, family member or friend if they are ever experiencing any of those issues. For this to work, it is essential that managers speak the same "language" as their employees so there can be open channels of discussion. Building an inclusive conversation around supporting mental health is the best way to promote a healthy culture in the workplace
Diversity and inclusion
The clear advantage of having and diverse and inclusive workplace culture is that employees thrive on a greater sense of safety and belonging. Having an open and collaborative culture can play a massive role in supporting the mental health of employees. Employees should flag if they are feeling excluded with a trusted colleague or supervisor so action can be taken.
Employers should educate themselves on what is appropriate and how to ensure staff are feeling heard, included and supported.
As we emerge from the other side of the pandemic, workplace culture has taken a complete turn. Many organisations are realising the importance of introducing corporate wellness programs to their employees and prioritising health and wellbeing. To conclude, businesses can show employees that they care through understanding, appreciation, and empathy.
Kristina Billings is the Director at Health at Work, Australia’s leading corporate wellness organisation.