Supporting your Employees’ Mental Health during a Pandemic

6 min read

By Bianca Yorke-Davies

Managing Consultant

Our working lives have changed significantly in recent months due to COVID-19. In the building products sector, most of my clients are in their third month of working from home, which for many involves navigating childcare duties as well as full time work, and not being able to socialise - all with the added pressure of surviving a global pandemic

A recent survey conducted by Monash University found that the majority of its 1200 participants had recently suffered or were at the time suffering from mild levels of anxiety or depression, with 30% of cases reporting much higher levels. When we add to this the fact that poor mental health was already costing the Australian economy $180 billion annually before the pandemic hit, we can’t ignore the fact that looking after the mental health and wellbeing of employees is still more than ever a priority for businesses; companies have a legal responsibility to provide a mentally healthy work environment, wherever their employees may be.

In recent months, this topic has cropped up a lot in my conversations with clients as they find new ways of focusing on employee wellbeing remotely, and it’s been amazing to hear about the ways in which employers are taking a proactive approach to ensuring that mental health is given priority at this time.

Reassigning some of your workforce

One of the most innovative uses of resource is the reassignment of existing employee roles in line with changing priorities across business. The Fletcher Building Group has adapted some of its workforce to provide mental health support to employees through the creation of a temporary wellness call centre. This has involved training HR and talent teams on mental health management so that they can provide effective daily support to every single staff member. As a result, employees receive regular contact from the business, offering support where it is most needed.

Upskilling leadership

Having to adapt your leadership to cater for disparate teams is a challenge, especially with an increased workload and stress levels. But this is an opportunity for leadership to step up and guide the way from the front. Many leaders are prioritising their own learning and have enrolled in mental health courses so that they can effectively provide support to their teams.

Focusing on clear and transparent communications is vital but challenging at a distance. Richard Munao, CEO AT Cult Design has placed an emphasis on transparency when communicating with his staff. By ensuring regular personal communication with each staff member and that they understand the priorities around looking after themselves and their families first, he has created a culture of closeness, despite the physical distance.

Distance learning

I’ve seen a flurry of online courses promoting health and wellbeing objectives: eating healthy, exercising, ergonomics – the list is endless. Many companies are running online webinars with expert guest facilitators so that their employees have some time in their week to down tools and focus on a collective activity to support their mental health.

For businesses without the resource to run their own events, some have enlisted the support of organisations who are providing free materials to support employees such as Helping Minds and Mental Health Australia. Others, like LinkedIn are encouraging employees to manage their mental health and wellbeing in ways that work for them by giving all staff two days off to focus on this as a priority.

Being ‘social’ at a distance

Culture is a big part of our working lives and one that has been shifted drastically as we reinvent our working environment. Today’s technology means that we don’t necessarily need to miss out on the office chat, birthday celebrations and seeing our colleagues. Where companies have embraced this sense of community, employees feel more engaged and are happier. This includes creating buddy systems where colleagues are partnered up with someone in the business, to share ideas, speak about concerns and navigate challenges. As well as providing additional support, the buddy is another regular point of contact, helping to combat isolation.

Weekly ‘social gatherings’ online have come to replace Friday after work drinks, with the added advantage that you don’t have to worry about how you are getting home. Candidates of mine speak highly of weekly opportunities to socialise with their teams and the wider business, play games together and celebrate successes.

Although every business is unique and many are facing financial hardship, it’s been humbling to hear how clients have been putting mental health first and finding ways to provide support at a time that’s been challenging for everyone. In the most part, this has involved discovering new ways of connecting and maintaining clear and regular communications, something which often comes at little to no cost but can have a huge impact on the wellbeing and the happiness of employees.

For more information on mental help support services, please take a look at the following organisations: