Support your team
Change is a common cause of stress and anxiety at work, especially sudden and unexpected change. This is exactly what the COVID-19 pandemic has forced on all businesses.

It’s an important part of being an employer to talk openly and honestly about:

  • wellbeing and mental health — it’s common for wellbeing to take a hit during uncertain times
  • cost-cutting in your business, such as reducing hours.

Supporting your people and treating them fairly is not just the decent thing to do. It’s required by health and safety and employment laws. Plus it makes good business sense. Workers who feel happy and safe are more productive and more likely to represent your business in a positive light.

Business benefits of good mental wellbeing — Wellplace

Yet some business owners mistakenly think employee wellbeing is none of their concern. In Xero’s 2019 Small Business Wellbeing Report, two in five people said they didn’t feel responsible for their employees’ wellbeing. In the same survey, almost half agreed that happy thriving staff improved productivity.

Small business wellbeing report — Xero

Coping with COVID-19: Tips for businesses — Wellplace

Do take care of your own wellbeing. Your health is your business’s biggest resource.

Boss burnout: Spot warning signs in yourself

How to lead in the time of COVID-19 — Wellplace

Don’t avoid sensitive conversations. Everyone knows these are uncertain times. Rumours and speculation will likely fill the space left by your silence.

Be open and honest

Start by thinking about what might be causing your people stress. Common examples include:

  • job security
  • personal financial worries, such as paying bills on a reduced income
  • catching COVID-19
  • changes in the business, such as job cuts or a shift in focus
  • concern about working remotely, for example using technology or conflicting work/home commitments.

The best thing you can do is to talk openly and honestly. This might be in one-on-one check-ins or in team talks, depending on the topic and any need for confidentiality. Be supportive. Remember everyone’s situation is different. It’s OK not to have all the answers. But do assure your staff you’ll give updates and share information as it comes to hand.

The aim is to help your people manage stress levels and prepare for what might be to come. Make sure you know the warning signs of stress — you’ll find helpful factsheets on the Mental Health Foundation website.

Minimising and managing workplace stress — Mental Health Foundation

Supporting wellbeing

It helps to regularly and openly talk about wellbeing. Let everyone know it’s common to feel stress, anger or anxiety in uncertain times.

Regularly remind your people where to find support. This could be:

  • regular wellbeing check-ins with you or a trusted colleague
  • advice from their union, if they belong to one
  • online wellbeing and mental health resources
  • free and confidential counselling services, such as call or text 1737.

Counselling may also be available via an employee assistance programme.

It’s a good idea to put wellbeing practices into place. Ask your team what will help them find balance and boost wellbeing. Try using the Mental Health Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing as a guide:

  1. Be active, eg team yoga class or walking meetings.
  2. Give, eg fundraising to support a local charity.
  3. Take notice, eg deep breathing exercises.
  4. Keep learning, eg on-the-job skill sharing.
  5. Connect, eg shared lunch or team bake-off.

Try putting up a poster showing warning signs of stress and tips to improve wellbeing — check websites like Wellplace and the Mental Health Foundation.

Workplace wellbeing during COVID-19 — Mental Health Foundation

COVID-19: Creating a safe and supportive work environment — Wellplace

Someone with high wellbeing feels good, functions well, is satisfied with life, develops as a person, and has strong relationships.

This is how the Mental Health Foundation defines wellbeing.

Talking about cost-cutting

Many businesses are having to make hard decisions about how they operate, whether it’s reducing hours, redundancies, or changing how they operate. All directly affect your employees, with the potential to affect their finances, working relationships, home life and wellbeing.

Communicate clearly and often, with information that’s simple to understand, relevant and factual. Emphasise care for each other and solidarity. Don’t offer false hope or reassurance. If there’s nothing new to communicate — or you are still working out plans — let people know.

Consulting with your workers helps ease the stress of uncertainty. It’s also a required part of any restructuring process or other changes to people’s employment conditions.

You might be able to offer alternative benefits or make changes that help your business and your employees. For example, it’s a good idea to review and update how you handle leave, flexible working, and health and safety. This may involve updating any written policies or procedures. This is a good opportunity to engage your staff and let them in on the behind-the-scenes operations.

You may also need to review and update your employment agreements. Try our online tools to build plain English policies and employment agreements.

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