Over the last several years, wellbeing has been a significant focus within health and safety legislatures, especially mental health and wellbeing. Businesses with large mobile workforces, like the mining or oil and gas industries, and occupations subject to trauma exposure and violence, such as the Defence Force, Emergency Services, or public transport personnel, have been most at risk. The attention has been associated with an increase in suicides and other conditions such as depression, especially for fly-in-fly-out workers absent from families, and those exposed to physical or verbal assault. There has been a notable increase in the last decade of workers compensation claims and cases relating to mental health associated with stress. Mental health and wellbeing are being recognised and accepted for their importance in maintaining healthy teams and individuals.
The Covid-19 pandemic has placed a large proportion of the working population at home, or out of work, potentially triggering similar conditions to those people working away from home for long periods of time. Even though their families might be there every day, the stress associated with no or less income has created an atmosphere of anxiety and uncertainty. Close confines with family where previously there was separation during work hours is causing tension. A sedentary lifestyle connected to computers for Zoom meetings and working from home is leading to unhealthy habits.
Businesses and Managers are responsible for ensuring that their employees working from home are taken care of and remain connected, just the same as those physically in the workplace. Out-of-sight cannot be out-of-mind. We have to diligently make the effort to engage with our workers who may be physically separated from their colleagues to ensure their wellbeing. This may seem difficult and it may be uncomfortable having the deep-and-meaningful discussions this requires. If that is the case, find someone within or external to the business who can make these calls to follow-up and obtain the feedback.
It doesn’t require a pandemic or working remotely to have mental health issues in the workplace. There are too many other factors such as low or high job demand, poor leadership or co-worker support, insufficient resources, poor workplace relationships, poor environmental conditions, inconsistent or abusive treatment of workers, and disruptive changes that can create or aggravate an existing condition. Businesses need to have a process to understand the triggers and risks associated with mental health and wellbeing and have a program to manage and mitigate these workplace risks. Not everyone reacts the same to stressors and any program needs to consider these differences. When it is identified that a person’s mental health and wellbeing has been affected there are many public programs available to aid and support if the business does not have a contracted Employee Support Program. Lifeline and BeyondBlue both offer excellent support and come recommended for this type of assistance. But the best cure is prevention. Review your workplace for stressors, talk to your people about their working conditions, and take control of any circumstances that may lead to mental health concerns. Make the effort today before it is too late.