Supporting Employee Wellbeing During COVID-19

Supporting Employee Wellbeing During COVID-19

COVID-19 disrupted the daily routine of most of us in many ways, but the way we work has been utterly transformed. For many staff, there was a hasty shift to working from home, and for those continuing to attend their workplace, there was the rapid adoption of social distancing, staggered hours, and the adoption of ramped up hygiene standards.

While the evidence clearly shows these practices have helped to limit the spread of the virus, they do pose challenges for employee health, wellbeing, productivity, and engagement.

In a recent Dynamic Business article workplace safety specialist at SAI Global, Rob Beath,  highlights the fact that even during a crisis an organisation’s people are its most important asset and they need to be taken care of.

“…many employees are feeling unsettled or uncertain during this time, employers must ensure everyone in their organisation feels safe, informed, and prepared.

“Now more than ever, employers need to offer their workers proper guidance, training, and open lines of communication to reduce anxiety and its potential effects on employee health.”

Employers need to be vigilant about preserving the wellbeing of employees and offer measures to support them, this article offers a range of simple suggestions. Remember, how your company responds now will have a lasting impact on employee engagement, productivity, and loyalty in the longer term.

Maintain social connections

The social benefits afforded by attending a workplace cannot be overestimated and in a situation of diminished face-to-face contact, it’s helpful to try and maintain some level of social contact between colleagues and teams.

In many workplaces, this has taken the form of using Zoom to hold virtual coffee breaks, lunches or Friday afternoon drinks. Traditions for marking birthdays and the achievement of key business targets can also be moved online and communicated via email and messaging.

It’s also helpful to schedule time for non-work conversations. To this end it may be helpful to temporarily transfer workplace social clubs online or setup new online groups based on shared interests such as a book club, movie night at home, or a recipe roundup of top isolation dishes.

Ramp up your health and wellbeing program

Many companies offer employee assistance programs to promote wellbeing and while employees can’t attend their gym right now the online world of exercise and wellbeing is booming!

Choose and offer credible online exercise programs to employees and ensure they fall into relevant categories that address the health challenges caused by the current environment, this could include mindfulness and meditation, digital fitness, nutrition, and cooking classes.

Remind employees to work in ways that are kind to their mind and body including setting boundaries on their hours and encouraging simple behaviours like stretching and walking during the day.

It’s also important to ensure your staff know how to access any counselling services available to them and how to access online support services like Beyond Blue and Black Dog Institute.

Communicate clearly and often

Fragmented and inconsistent communications can increase feelings of anxiety and stress, so it’s important to create and adhere to a communication plan comprised of consistent, honest, and timely messaging.

Include information about how your business is addressing COVID-19 as well as providing updates on preventative measures. Focus on what the business is doing to support employees, the return to work strategy and business continuity plans post crisis.

Communication needs to be two-way and should provide a mechanism for people to ask questions and share concerns. Remember managers should follow up with team members personally via mobile or on a video conferencing platform to check-in, offer support, and to promote inclusivity. This will help employees feel more personally connected and valued.

Re-entering the workplace

Earlier this month, the federal government released Roadmap to a COVIDSafe Australia a three-step plan to gradually reopen businesses and society and state governments are implementing the plan based on local conditions.

When workplaces reopen, they are unlikely to look the same. Businesses will have to work hard to safeguard employee health and safety, as well as to instil confidence that it is safe to return to work. Managers will need to discuss specific arrangements with employees to ensure the workplace meets social distancing requirements.

COVID-19 guidelines and a safe workplace checklist need to be in place to facilitate the return of employees. Areas that should be addressed include commuting options, arrival at the office procedures, temperature checking, moving around the office, use of kitchens, and meeting rooms.

How quickly businesses recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 shutdown will, to some extent, be determined by the speed with which they can return to business as usual. With staff at the heart of this process, it makes sense to do as much as you can to support your people at this challenging time.

References and additional reading

Black Dog Institute: Coronavirus resources for managers and workers

Beyond Blue: Impacts on my work