While the focus of workplace wellbeing and mental health in the workplace has been on the rise in the last decade, the impact of COVID-19 has seen nothing short of a seismic shift in the focus and prioritisation of mental health and wellbeing across organisations. 

Managing employees' mental health is an ongoing challenge for HR departments, both large and small, and has been flagged as the biggest challenge compared to the specific change of workforces shifting to remote work. Given the unique climate and stress that comes with COVID-19, it comes as no surprise that employers and employees are juggling numerous factors and challenges like never before.

This piece looks at mental health in the workplace, as well as policies, procedures and processes to help employees stay on track, and most importantly, feel supported throughout this unprecedented time.

Implementing policies and processes

Almost every aspect of the world of work has changed – from onboarding new hires in a remote environment to the constant concern of employees who need to return to a physical office or worksite.

As individuals go through various changes and deal with it differently, implementing policies and procedures at the organisational level are key to success. More communication channels and check-in points with staff are the first step in the process with the most critical being up-to-date policies and procedures when it comes to employee safety and wellbeing. It should also extend to processes for dealing with any worse case scenarios.

Ensuring robust procedures

Robust HR policies and procedures are key to assisting workers throughout this time. Importantly, considerations need to be given for a range of specific scenarios for your market or industry for employee protection and what it means for flexible work, reducing the risk of infection, while complying with the law and workplace procedures.

A PwC report showcases the challenges that employers are facing, with workplace health and safety concerns being paramount from business risk, as well as employee wellbeing perspectives. 

Efforts and procedures to minimise risk include:

  • Following local laws and guidelines regarding workplace policies
  • Implementing stringent health and safety protocols in line with the World Health Organisation guidelines
  • Ensuring an effective communication cadence to ease uncertainty and mental health impact
  • Revising and amending any mental health-related policies and adding in flexible scheduling and time off policies 

Planning and communicating

Planning and communication at every stage in the process around policies and measures in place will go a long way in assisting with employee wellbeing and comfort levels, even as circumstances either start to show improvement or remain influx.

Effective communication also helps to ease the concerns and uncertainties that continue to impact all workers’ mental health and wellbeing – importantly, staying on top of this will be key as this has a massive impact not only on staff happiness but also retention.

Measuring the impact

Research conducted through the Relationships Australia monthly survey showcased the impact on mental health and the workplace.

The results showed that 87% of surveyed participants reported a significant change to their workplace since the start of COVID-19 resulting in profound changes, and 63% of respondents agreed these workplace changes have impacted their mental health.

It’s valuable and timely to check in on your workforce by way of regular employee surveys to gauge and keep track of areas for improvement. Many businesses have opted to keep such surveys anonymous to get a real sense of employee sentiment, as well as allowing for honest feedback, plus wellbeing suggestions and initiatives that can be actioned.

Assistance during this time

With COVID-19 affecting everyone’s mental health in one way or another, it’s vital to provide the latest resources available. The Australian government compiled a list of helpful hotlines and resources to assist with any mental health concerns, which HR divisions can further extend to employees, in addition to your business’s formal employee assistance program or internal initiatives such as having trained mental health first aid officers.

The new Beyond Blue Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service provides 24/7 mental health support, online and by phone. It advises on coping with COVID-19, connection, workplace and isolation. Trained mental health professionals are available at any time 24/7 and they provide information, advice and resources.

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