Making workplaces safe places
Many workplaces have indicated to their people that they won’t be heading back to the office anytime this year. Other workplaces are preparing to welcome their people back within the next few months. Australia Post’s National Health and Wellbeing Manager, Fiona Andrew, isn’t exaggerating when she says planning the return of its office-based workforce is “a mammoth task.”
“We have to consider all aspects of physical safety. Feeling safe at work has a direct impact on our mental health. So there’s been extensive planning around managing issues like employee illness, meeting rooms, lift capacity and communal spaces like the bathrooms and kitchens.
“But the biggest task for my team during this time, has been to provide the guidance, tools and resources to support our people to look after their psychological safety. This was the priority right from the start and it will remain a priority as teams reconfigure and settle into a different way of working. Encouraging teams to stay well connected is also vital as we know that connection is a strong protective factor in positive mental wellbeing.”
While Australia Post shut down its corporate office, it kept most of its Post Offices, parcel facilities and most of its delivery network operational during COVID-19. Fiona’s team moved quickly to develop a psychological safety plan to address the psychological risks as they emerged in response to the evolving nature of the crisis.
Key elements of this plan included promoting the Employee/Workforce Assistance Program (EAP/WAP), developing resources to guide leaders in supporting their teams and distributing messages of empathy, support and appreciation from frontline leaders in Australia Post’s delivery and contact centre networks.
“Our EAP/WAP has been a wonderful source of support for our workforce during this time. Many of us have reached out to this service in the last few months to manage COVID-related anxiety.”
“Our EAP/WAP provider also created a new manager-referred support program which provides weekly outbound call support to employees working from home, for whom the home environment may not be comfortable, social or safe.”
Creating a mentally healthy workplace
COVID-19 has shown businesses the value of a strategic approach that protects, promotes and supports mental health at work.
For extra support and guidance during the coronavirus pandemic, Beyond Blue has established the Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service.
Here’s Beyond Blue’s guide to helping create a mentally healthy workplace whether your people continue working remotely or return to the office:
- Improve your understanding of mental health. Regularly provide information on the signs and symptoms of various mental health conditions and share available support networks with employees.
- Keep a growth mindset. Stay flexible and adaptable around your communication systems and how you’re using it. Video conferencing is necessary but also fatiguing when overused.
- Lead by example. People find it hard to shut off when they’re working from home. Good leadership isn’t just telling them not to work beyond office hours but enabling that. Don’t have a 4.30pm meeting and assign work that’s due the next morning.
- Think about work design in terms of role clarity, recognition, feedback and task variety. This will help protect employees’ mental health during future moments of uncertainty.
- Integrate your mental health initiatives into the day-to-day running of your business. Rather than invest in expensive initiatives, choose simple and inclusive practices like scheduling mini breaks throughout the workday.
- Support people who are facing mental health challenges by training leaders to monitor mental health and remove barriers around seeking mental health support.
Every workplace has been impacted differently by the pandemic and will require a tailored approach in creating a mentally healthy environment. Beyond Blue’s fact sheet on creating a mentally healthy workplace will help get you started.