During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, many employees have been thrust into isolation and loneliness and have had to endure grief at the loss of friends and loved ones; they have experienced general anxiety about the future and been overwhelmed by juggling work with other commitments, such as childcare.
Many employees have been concerned about losing their jobs. As the stressors linked to the coronavirus pandemic continue to erode employee mental health, it is employers who prioritise their workers’ mental health that will derive great benefits from retaining and attracting valuable, productive employees.
Having an employee-centric approach to business can no longer be ignored. Employees represent both an invaluable resource and a high-risk asset and both the mental health and physical safety of employees are critical to long-term value creation. With this in mind, there are two key steps that are required to holistically support the mental and physical wellbeing of employees in the post-COVID-19 world. They are:
“Having an employee-centric approach to business can no longer be ignored.”
- Mental – Expansion of mental wellness benefits to ensure support for employees who require them, or who are at the greatest risk of suffering poor mental health in future.
- Physical – Reorganisation of the physical workspace and introduction of behavioural changes to make employees feel safer.
Supporting mental wellbeing
“To help employees deal with coronavirus-related stress and mental health issues, a strong Employee Assistance Programme or EAP is a good place to start.”
To help employees deal with coronavirus-related stress and mental health issues, a strong Employee Assistance Programme or EAP is a good place to start. Work-site and digitally-based EA programmes assist employees in identifying and resolving personal issues that include health, family, financial, alcohol, drug, legal or emotional issues – any of which may be affecting job performance.
The services on offer may vary between EAP service providers, however, with their focus on counselling, the end goals remain the same for all EAPs:
- To sustain employee performance through supporting and reducing the personal issues that affect an employee’s concentration, engagement and productivity.
- To enhance employee quality of life by helping to improve harmony in work-life balance.
- To provide support to the managers and leadership of the organisation. Adopting an employee assistance programme developed by professionals can also help equip supervisors with the resources to recognise and handle problems related to mental wellbeing.
Many employers believe EAPs are available primarily or solely for crisis support services. While, crisis response is a cornerstone service for EAPs, into the future, innovative EAPs are also able to support holistic employee wellbeing through integration into workplace wellness and safety programmes, strategic employer partnerships and member access to innovative services. 1
Support mental health by supporting physical health
As COVID-19 presents new challenges to workplaces across the globe, cultivating an organisational safety culture is taking on new importance. While it may seem daunting to adjust and keenly uphold your workplace safety policies after COVID-19, it’s vital to approach a return to the office with an abundance of caution.
It is important to identify where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work and communicate new safety measures to all stakeholders:
- Conduct a thorough hazard assessment of the workplace to identify potential workplace hazards that could increase risks for COVID-19 transmission.
- Identify work and common areas where employees could have close contact with others – within two meters. For example: meeting rooms, break rooms, the cafeteria, locker rooms, check-in areas, waiting areas, and routes of entry and exit.
- Include all employees in communication plans. For example: management, staff, utility employees, relief employees, janitorial staff, and maintenance staff.
- If contractors are employed in the workplace, develop plans to communicate with the contracting company about adhering to changes to work processes and requirements in order for the contractors to prevent transmission of COVID-19.
As organisations reframe their future, it is essential that they consider how they can support and reinforce both the physical and mental health of their workforce. In this way, they can empower employees to be fully present during what is likely to be an extended period of both disruption and opportunity. 2
“As organisations reframe their future, it is essential that they consider how they can support and reinforce both the physical and mental health of their workforce.”