In preparing for post-Covid ‘normal’, business owners must remember that the world has changed for their employees too…
Right now, mental health is firmly in the spotlight.
By Paul Rattray
There’s been a few interesting surveys floating around the internet about what employees want from their workplaces post-Covid. One theme is emerging very strongly: Wellbeing.
What does that mean? Essentially, wellbeing means overall happiness, health and life satisfaction.
It goes without saying that pandemic has made many people re-think, reassess, and reprioritise.
And for some that’s going to mean shifting gears in their careers, to make more time for family and friends and other personal goals.
Certainly, in Australia, particularly in the major cities, we’re seeing less employees keen on tackling the long daily commute into work.
Hybrid work options are becoming popular, allowing employees to spend time working from home, as well as having designated days in the office. There’s obviously a benefit in this to be able to provide adequate social distancing measures, but there are also cases where some people in appropriate roles, have elected to move off-site altogether which means they’ll become ‘remote workers’ on a more permanent basis.
How companies deal with this depends on a number of factors. It most definitely requires a re-think of the business model and resourcing. It also requires a significant investment in technology as well as some innovative thinking to maintain a sense of workplace culture and enthusiasm, motivation and productivity as the traditional team structure adjusts.
It’s important to remember that while there is benefit in providing flexible arrangements to recruit and retain talent, business owners must balance this with operational need and customer satisfaction. Certainly, some businesses may take the opportunity to downsize if there are less people on the premises and save overhead costs. But, if the team structure is changing significantly, then it may be wise to draw up new roles and contracts to reflect new working arrangements in order to ensure that both employer and employee are covered under Australian employment legislation. Tax and superannuation obligations need to be considered too.
Another critical factor that has been highlighted in a report from McKinsey & Company released at the end of 2020 is mental health. The report showed that 62% of employees globally consider mental health issues to be a top challenge, with higher reporting among diverse groups.
The same report paints a picture of employers scrambling to meet the moment: 96% of companies globally provided additional mental health resources to employees, but only one in six employees reported feeling supported.
In Australia, where the majority of businesses are small-and-medium enterprises, and family businesses and micro businesses (SMEs), this is going to present significant issues, because essentially, what these surveys show very clearly is that mental health is moving out of the ‘personal’ domain into the ‘work domain’ and therefore increasingly the onus is on businesses to support their employees.
Of course, we all know the costs associated with not addressing employees’ mental health issues — from lower productivity, to the requirement for extended sick leave. And the acute problem with mental health is that it is not always easy to diagnose, particularly in its early stages, and it can escalate quickly.
So, understanding this issue, and preparing for it, is an absolute necessity.
Encouraging employees to take regular breaks — not just during the work day, but also by taking long weekends when possible, and holiday leave, as well as ensuring workloads are sensible particularly when technology allows the demands of work to permeate our lives 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is a must.
Maintaining open communication, creating safe spaces for confidential conversations, providing resources, information and access to specialist mental health service providers are all obvious starting points too. Overall, leaders will need to ensure they have the empathy to be able to assist employees struggling with mental health.
The reality is that life is still uncertain, as evidenced by the pre-Easter Covid cluster which developed overnight in Brisbane and sent the city into lockdown just as people were preparing for a relaxing long weekend and end of term school holidays.
The impact of the pandemic on our personal freedoms and to a large extent, our joy, has been significant over the past twelve months and there is currently no end in sight, although the vaccination, and the fact that Australia has so few active cases, does offer some hope.
The imperative is to keep moving forward, despite the occasional setbacks and the uncertainty that prevails, and we must recognise that everyone is coping differently.