In a pre-COVID-19 world, one in four Australians aged 15 and over reported experiencing an episode of loneliness, while one in two felt lonely for at least one day a week.
Since COVID-19 struck, those who remain employed find themselves in a strange new world of staggered office schedules, working from home, or an unpredictable combination of the two.
So what are the best ways to engage and connect with employees, in and out of the workplace? Steph Wanless reports.
The sudden loss of connection since COVID-19 came into our lives may trigger feelings of loneliness for people everywhere.
That’s why it’s more important than ever for businesses to have a robust mental health program in place to offer support, boost connection and prepare for the future as we navigate this pandemic together.
KNOW THE SIGNS
Lonely people the world over experience significantly worse mental and physical health to those who are connected.
Social isolation has been linked to mental illness, emotional distress, the development of dementia, poor health behaviours, suicide and premature death.
'Being socially connected with our community, with our friends, with our family, is our lifeline,' says mental health and wellbeing advocate Matthew Johnstone.
While lockdown and social distancing measures have given some of us time to stop and contemplate what’s really necessary in our lives, others are struggling.
'If you notice people starting to withdraw from meetings or catch-ups — be it in person or virtually — if you know someone isn’t sleeping well, if they’re eating a lot of foods that are high in saturated fat or sugar, drinking alcohol more frequently or partaking in gambling, these are all tell-tale signs that they may not be coping right now,' Johnstone advises.
MENTALLY ARMING A WORKFORCE
According to Heads Up, the workplace mental health offshoot of Beyond Blue, in order to promote positive mental health and wellbeing, it’s crucial to:
- Develop manager capability in positive, proactive leadership. For example, promoting employee growth, matching employee skills and strengths with tasks, and providing recognition and constructive feedback.
- Encourage staff to work on tasks together, discuss ideas, share skills and take part in social activities.
- Emphasise the value of the work employees do, celebrate achievements and praise effort, as well as results.
GETTING IN EARLY
When Allianz Australia mobilised its entire workforce to work from home in two and a half weeks, a survey was sent out asking people how they were feeling, and what they needed in terms of support.
In response to feedback, Allianz pushed the button on several programs sitting in the business’ mental health and wellbeing strategy earlier than planned.
'First we focused on "Red-Zone Care" and ensured every single employee was aware of the support available through our EAP (employee assistance program) and heavily promoted the Mental Health First Aid Officer network,' says Rebekka Squire, Employee Engagement and Experience Manager at Allianz.
'This is an accredited group of employees who are trained to have a conversation and offer either emotional, mental or triage support depending on the situation,' she explains.
Allianz also offered additional training to its leaders to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health concerns, and upskill on how to provide support.
'We communicated a strong message around wellbeing and reassured our people that we did not expect the same level of productivity or performance in these circumstances,' Squire adds.
BUILDING SOCIALLY-DISTANCED CONNECTIONS
In an effort to counteract the loss of physical contact, Allianz hosted a two-week ‘Dare to Care’ connectedness campaign, which rewarded employees with points when they shared wellbeing behaviours such as exercise, healthy eating, rest and sleep on an intranet page.
'Those points could then be redeemed in Allianz’s appreciate marketplace, where you can choose a voucher, an experience, even a blender — or you could donate your points to a paralympic committee, which is what our winner ultimately did,' Squire enthuses.
Of those who took part in the program, 98 per cent said it had a positive impact on their wellbeing.
A MORE FLEXIBLE FUTURE
Squire says Allianz will continue to build on its approach to flexibility across the organisation once COVID passes.
'We have now given people much more flexibility in the way our people work and this has created a very positive response as seen in our engagement scores.
'We’re looking very carefully at how we can continue the approach as we develop our future work model,' she says.
According to Johnstone, the way of work has changed forever, as well as the general approach to mental health and wellbeing.
'This has to be viewed as a long game, an ongoing conversation where leaders and companies everywhere introduce regular programs and seminars, invite employees to share their ideas and experiences and are armed with the tools we need to move through these troubling times,' he says.
If you or someone you know needs support, you can contact Beyond Blue Support Services 24/7 on 1300 224 636, or Lifeline 24/7 Crisis Support on 13 11 14.
This article has been prepared by Allianz Australia Insurance Limited ABN 15 000 122 850 AFSL 234708 (“Allianz”). Information contained in this article is accurate as at 26 02 2021 and may be subject to change. In some cases information has been provided to us by third parties and while that information is believed to be accurate and reliable, its accuracy is not guaranteed in any way. Any opinions expressed constitute our views at the time of issue and are subject to change. Neither Allianz, nor its employees or directors give any warranty of accuracy or accept responsibility for any loss or liability incurred by you in respect of any error, omission or misrepresentation in this article.
This article was originally published by NIBA in Issue 3, Mental Health & Wellbeing, A NIBA Brokers’ Guide.