Mental health might not have been on the radar of many businesses previously, but this year COVID-19 has put mental wellbeing at the forefront of workplace safety considerations. Both employees and business owners have been subjected to additional stress and uncertainty, and self-isolation and possible loneliness have only added to feelings of anxiety.

Back to work – but let’s not forget mental health

Although we’re now hoping for a return to business as usual, it’s important to be aware of the continuing importance of mental health. Federal government agency Comcare says that one in five Australian workers has a mental health condition. Poor mental health costs Australian businesses $11 billion each year.

Business owners have a responsibility to ensure the psychological as well as physical health and safety of employees, clearly defined in the federal Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Start with a mental health plan

The first step is to embed a mental health plan in your workplace. Try this simple 6-step method for small businesses to implement a Workplace Wellbeing Plan. It explains how to identify the specific needs and risks of your business, and then take action. A permanent Employee Assistance Program could provide benefits to your business long after coronavirus is a distant memory.

Keep remote employees informed and in contact

If your employees are still working remotely, schedule regular one-on-one catch-ups, in person if allowed, otherwise via video, email or phone. Watch for any marked changes in attitude or productivity, while accepting that some adverse effects of isolation and distancing are inevitable. Perhaps ask them how they feel about remote working, and explain what help is available both from you – such as through your Employee Assistance Program – and from external sources like Beyond Blue and Black Dog Institute.

Offer support for returning to the workplace

Returning to the workplace can bring a new set of anxieties. A phased return to the site may work better than a sudden wholesale transition. Reassure employees about your steps to stop the spread, like rearranging furniture, limiting on-site numbers and extra cleaning procedures. Ensure everyone understands the need to continue practising strict hygiene measures and social distancing. You can still plan a back-to-work celebration – perhaps a visit to a local café for the whole team.

Take care of yourself too

If you struggle mentally, your business and your staff will suffer along with you. For your own sake, and theirs, you need to take care of yourself as well. Find someone you can talk to frankly to share any difficulties you may be experiencing, and don’t hesitate to access those same outside resources you are recommending to your staff.

More resources

As well as Beyond Blue and Black Dog, there are other online mental health resources available:

  • Head to Health Australian Department of Health mental health online resource hub
  • Headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation
  • Lifeline Crisis counselling, information and support service
  • MensLine Counselling and support service for men