A high proportion of calls calls made to mental health support lines since the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns began have been related to some aspect of the coronavirus impacts. Of course, a lot of the distress is being experienced by those who’ve lost their place in Australia’s workforce. However, mental wellbeing impacts on those still working, especially from home, are not insignificant. Employers have a duty of care to ensure workers have a safe work environment even if working at home, and this includes actively identifying and managing preventable mental health stressors.

Some of the health and wellbeing risks to workers in working-from-home arrangements are self-evident, such as physical injury risks resulting from new (potentially ergonomically unsound) workstations. Other risks, especially in the area of mental wellbeing, are less easily spotted, such as:

  • Social isolation and loneliness.
  • Fears around job security.
  • Domestic stresses (difficulties working out a new work-life balance and physical space uses, limited ‘break’ time from family, home schooling pressures etc.).
  • Role clarity uncertainties as usual work tasks have to be reconfigured to suit a remote workplace context.
  • Increased stress around pressure to prove maintained or increased productivity in the home working environment.

Some of the strategies for employers to manage these risks can include:

  • Implement mechanisms for workers to maintain contact with their usual workplace network, for example start-of-the-day virtual check-ins, online social meetings at morning-tea time etc.
  • Maintain open and honest communications and provide regular (but not constant) updates around the organisation’s plans and activities to manage financial downturns and other pandemic-related disruptions.
  • Be understanding of the problems and disruptions faced by workers struggling to acclimatise to the new work environment, be flexible and check if reasonable adjustments can be made to either work tools or work tasks that will help mitigate the difficulties.
  • Focus on the end goal of work tasks, not the means employed to get there, and consult with workers to determine the best workarounds for tasks.

Some additional DOs and DON’Ts for employers:

  • DO encourage workers to raise any concerns and provide a central point of contact for this.
  • DO implement processes for monitoring wellbeing risks, both physical and mental.
  • DO provide an EAP if possible.
  • DO encourage sharing of ideas and solutions around the organisation.
  • DO keep communications upbeat as much as possible.
  • DON’T be aggressive around productivity expectations.
  • DON’T blur the line between work time and personal time by sending emails or work requests outside of usual work hours.

Some DOs and DON’Ts for workers:

  • DO eat well and get enough rest.
  • DO exercise regularly.
  • DO stay in regular real-time contact with colleagues via video and phone calls.
  • DO get ready for work the same way as usual and maintain a standard work-day timetable and routine.
  • DO set some reasonable ground rules with others in your home around not interrupting work time etc.
  • DO remind yourself that however difficult things might be right now, this situation is not permanent.
  • DO finds ways to remotely connect with your non-work community too – family, friends, hobby and volunteer groups etc.
  • DON’T be tempted to self-medicate the additional stress with alcohol or drugs.
  • DON’T make heaps of extra (unnecessary) emails and phone calls in an effort to prove that you’re still busy.
  • DON’T obsessively consume social or mainstream media reports about the pandemic. Check in once a day and then focus on something else more positive.

Please contact QRMC for more information.