COVID-19 has impacted all employees in Australia in some way. For some it has been a mild inconvenience, but for others the pandemic has cost them their job, their physical or mental health.
It’s impossible for employers to know how the pandemic has impacted individual employees. But what employers and managers can do is provide support that can make a difference to employees now and into the future. When an employer shows they care, it can help employees feel valued. Here’s what some businesses are doing for their employees during this difficult time.
The Role of Managers
Managers worldwide have found their jobs have changed drastically this year and many would say this has been the most stressful time of their career. They have borne the brunt of the impact the pandemic has on the organisation and for many the stress is beginning to impact their mental health. The pandemic has required that they focus more on the ‘people’ aspect of their role. But not all managers have the personality, experience or training, necessary to handle the new requirements of their role.
Employers must recognise the need to support managers not only with their mental health but also give them the tools they need to support their subordinates. A manager who isn’t managing their own stress, can’t effectively help their team. Employers should encourage managers to access services if they’re feeling overwhelmed. They should also be offered training, access to HR or a fellow manager to mentor them through difficult situations.
Some managers are struggling with the change in dealing with a team that is either all offsite or on a 50/50 split between working from home and the office. Managers should support each other by swapping ideas on what’s worked well communicating with their team.
Encourage managers to work together more than they may have in the past. A regular catch-up of the management team to discuss how things have changed can give encouragement and support to managers so they realise they aren’t alone.
How to Support Employees During COVID-19
Organisations have a range of initiatives they can use to assist managers and employees reduce the impact of the pandemic.
Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
The effects of COVID-19 will continue on for some time. The longer it goes on, the more mental health problems there will be. Remind staff that the pandemic is causing anxiety, stress and depression and they should access the confidential EAP counselling service should they need it.
Threat of Job Loss
Workers across the country are worried about losing their job. For some, the threat is imminent as government stimulus is wound back but for others the threat will remain for many months or years depending on the Australian and global economy. It’s a long time to work under a cloud of uncertainty and can cause depression and anxiety.
While it’s unfair to give false hope, managers should communicate to staff everything they’re doing to avoid redundancies. Showing workers there is a plan to keep the business afloat is reassuring. If the balance sheet or pipeline of work is strong, tell staff. Workers are likely to be more productive and happy if the outlook is bright.
Working From Home
Some employees struggled with telecommuting and couldn’t wait to return to the office while others adapted to working from home very quickly. Redback Connect conducted a poll of 1,000 Australians who worked from home early in the pandemic and found 86% of respondents would like to work from home for at least part of their working week.
Workers have had a taste of the work life balance they can gain from working at home. It makes life easier for staff to deal with their other commitments such as children or elderly parents making them happier, more productive workers. If possible, managers need to be supportive of staff who want to continue working from home.
Difference of Opinions
Not everyone has the same opinion about the pandemic – some believe the risk has disappeared or overstated from day one while others are extremely worried about contracting COVID-19 and do everything they can to minimise the risks. Difference in opinion can divide employees and cause conflict. It’s important that managers understand everyone has an opinion and it may differ from theirs. They should also remind staff to be respectful of everyone’s opinion.
Employers and managers should tell employees they’re listening. Ask staff to share their thoughts if they think there is a safer way to work so they feel empowered to improve their work situation.
Many workplaces have experienced major change due to the pandemic. Employees may be working remotely, redundancies are occurring and there’s more pressure to perform. Every change can impact on the attitude of employees and the culture of the organisation. It’s important to recognise that everyone treats change differently – some people thrive while others struggle with the most minor change.
If changes need to be made in the organisation, be sensitive about it. Poorly managed changes can increase the risk of mental health problems in some employees. Change can be distressing for some employees if they aren’t informed about what the change means to them, they feel insecure in their role or change is poorly managed. Those who are at risk may need more discussion with their manager and made aware of the assistance available through the EAP. Managers should be taught to look out for signs of distress in employees such as increased absenteeism, presenteeism, conflict and stress.
Being a manager who can successfully support their employees takes training and experience. PeopleSense by Altius offers free webinars on leadership development.
If you’re in a managerial position, you can access the Manager Assistance Program as part of your PeopleSense by Altius EAP offering. Call us on 1300 307 912 or (08) 9388 9000, or contact us online