Worker wellbeing and COVID-19
Ensuring the wellbeing of workers while in isolation poses a difficult challenge, but steps can be taken to connect staff members to their colleagues and the business as a whole.
As we attempt to navigate the challenges that have appeared as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to highlight the importance of taking steps to maintain our mental as well as physical health.
The platform set up by the Department of Health to provide access to online resources, direction to phone support and information on mental health and wellbeing, Head to Health (tinyurl.com/uqzwryo), explains that it is normal for us to feel anxious, stressed, worried or even bored in response to a crisis event.
It is crucial, however, that we develop habits to cope and maintain good mental health to weather this difficult period.
What are the primary risks to worker wellbeing?
Work (occupational) health and safety (WHS) obligations apply to psychological as well as physical health. This means it’s equally important for business owners to consider what steps they will take to support their workers’ mental health, along with physical health and wellbeing during this time.
According to Safe Work Australia (tinyurl.com/qw8wo9r), WHS hazards that workers may experience as a result of COVID-19 include, but are not limited to:
- exposure to client violence or aggression—most likely prominent in healthcare settings
- isolated work—in the context of physiotherapy businesses, if a drastic portion of the workforce is separated in adherence to social distancing measures or is forced to self-isolate
- poor change management—for example if businesses are (understandably) restructuring to address the effects of COVID-19, but are not providing adequate information or support to workers.
What can I do to promote healthy habits and support my workers?
Ensure open channels of communication, although you should discontinue face-to-face meetings wherever possible. By offering regular opportunities for workers to connect virtually on COVID-19 or non-COVID-19 related issues, it will go a long way to minimise feelings of being overwhelmed, afraid and isolated.
Emphasise the importance of maintaining a daily routine, whatever that might mean for your workers. It could be following regular sleep patterns, subscribing to health and wellbeing programs run exclusively online to ensure they do regular exercise, or eating and drinking well.
Encourage staff to re-imagine ways to engage with their usual hobbies to help maintain a sense of normalcy (eg, connecting with friends and family via social media, playing board games using virtual platforms, accessing music and the arts in online settings).
Provide access to up-to-date, qualified and trustworthy information as it becomes available (from reputable news outlets such as the ABC, the Department of Health and state/territory health bodies, Safe Work Australia etc).
Alert workers to available assistance services (eg, Lifeline, 1800 RESPECT, BeyondBlue). We are undoubtedly set to experience never-before-seen challenges for the foreseeable future. Designing and implementing simple but effective work health and safety strategies will help ensure your business has a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
>> Wentworth Advantage operates the HR in Practice workplace relations and work (occupational) health and safety advice service for APA Business Group members. A host of wellbeing resources are also available via the HR Portal on the APA website. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1300 306 622 to join the Business Group.
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