COVID-19: Psychosocial risks your workplace should be addressing

We’re in uncharted waters; 2020 is definitely not business as usual. Just as Australians began the long recovery from an unprecedented bushfire season, the world was hit with the novel coronavirus COVID-19.  As businesses around the globe activate their business continuity plans in response to the virus, it’s important that while we try our best to mitigate the physical risks, that we also consider the psychosocial risks at play. Businesses need to be looking at how they are and will continue to support employees as work arrangements change and adapt to life during a pandemic.

As social distancing becomes more widely practiced, businesses will be asking employees to work from home (some companies have already done this) in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. And rightly so. But what does this mean for the social and psychological wellbeing of their employees? What are the psychosocial risk factors businesses should be trying to address and mitigate?

Firstly, employees who already experience social and psychological issues will likely experience heightened levels of distress. Why? Social connectedness is often one of the most effective ways of reducing the risks associated with things such as mental health issues or family and domestic violence situations. What happens when someone who experiences depression is isolated at home and thrown out of routine? What happens when someone who has been experiencing family and domestic violence is required to stay home and work in the same space as their abusive partner or family member? These are just a few scenarios, but the list is long, including alcohol and substance abuse issues, elder abuse, relationship issues etc. So often, the respite workplaces offer employees, is overlooked.

Even for those people who aren’t vulnerable to social issues or poor mental health, being isolated and having our routines disrupted can send even the most resilient person into a tailspin. Add to this the intense media coverage, panic buying and fear of an economic downturn, is it any wonder everyone is experiencing some form of anxiety?

So, what can workplaces do to mitigate these psychosocial risks?

  • Be organised and communicate the businesses continuity plan to all employees so they feel the workplace has their safety top of mind and they don’t have to wonder the next steps
  • For those employees who have previously been identified as at risk for any social or mental health issues, engage a psychological services company to provide Well Check1 calls over the phone or via video link. This means that even if the employee is working from home, they are regularly checked in on by a psychologist who can identify warning signs and offer early intervention strategies to prevent small problems becoming bigger
  • For all staff working remotely or in isolation due to being unwell, leaders should be making regular check in calls, running team meetings via video link and staying in regular communication so that they can identify early if anyone is struggling
  • Support your leaders. As work forces start to work from home, this often places increased pressure on managers and leaders so it is important to provide them with training on how to best manage this ongoing situation. This could be done via webinar and should include strategies for staying connected with teams remotely, how to recognise early warning signs of poor mental health or abuse, via telephone or video link and self care strategies for coping with these extenuating circumstances and the consequent economic pressures.

What can you do now as an individual to maintain your own mental fitness?

  • Keep informed via reputable media outlets and authorities and try to stop yourself endlessly scrolling social feeds or having the news playing in the background 24/7
  • If you are in mandatory isolation or are opting to self-isolate stay, connected with friends and family over the phone or via video chat to maintain your social connectedness
  • Set up a daily physical exercise routine to ensure you are releasing a healthy dose of feel good hormones which will help to maintain your mood
  • Practice some mindfulness meditation each day. With the breath being the focal point of most meditations, this will activate your body’s rest and digest nervous system which will counteract the fight or flight response we all seem to be operating in at the moment.

Remember we are all in this together so instead of having it bring out the worst in us, let’s try to practice some social awareness and band together (albeit at a safe distance) to do what we can to keep everyone physically and psychologically safe.

1 Well Checks – Well Checks are aimed at providing support to both managers and employees by checking in on them so that specific and timely intervention can be provided if someone is not travelling so well. Proactive well checks also act as a means for the employee to debrief during a time of increased pressure and to receive wellbeing coaching around specific skills and competencies, which often prevents little problems from becoming bigger. If employees are in isolation or in roles where they are exposed to emotionally distressing situations, Well Checks are important to ensure depleted emotional reserves don’t become detrimental to their mental health.

For more information on our Well Checks and our Responding to Uncertainty Framework, contacts us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au

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