By Olivia Perry

Today is R U OK? Day, recognised nationally as part of the R U OK? initiative. In the midst of a global pandemic, where we are experiencing lockdowns, working from home and extremely challenging times, it’s more important than ever to value our mental health and the health of those around us. R U OK? Day focuses on keeping everyone connected and starting a conversation around mental health by simply asking: “Are you okay?” – a question which fuels a conversation that could potentially change someone’s life.

In this article I point out how employers can support mental health during a pandemic.

What are some warning signs to look out for in your employees?

 Workers often spend much of their lives at work, and employers may be in one of the best positions to recognise the early warning signs of poor mental health. Such signs vary between person to person, but may include:

  • Increased absenteeism or tardiness.
  • Looking tired and seeming stressed.
  • Having trouble concentrating, making decisions and managing multiple tasks.
  • Being unusually emotional and getting frustrated with people.
  • Avoiding social activities.
  • Outbursts and mood swings.
  • Sitting alone at lunchtime.
  • Unable to accept negative feedback.
  • A change in personality or attitude.

How can employers support mental health during a pandemic?

Use this opportunity to reduce the stigma: often the fear of stigma inhibits some employees from reaching out for the support they need. Mental health can be a difficult topic to bring up with an employer, so where an employer starts the conversation, this can lessen the stigma while raising awareness of the issue. R U OK? Day is a good excuse to show employees you’re willing to listen and provide support.

Unplug: for some employees, working from home can mean feeling ‘plugged in’ all the time, which can cause extra work-related stress. As an employer, encouraging your employees to switch off at the end of the day and make an effort to go for a walk, spend time with family or purely just take time for themselves, can foster a stress-free environment and promote a healthy work-life balance that ultimately benefits both the employees and the overall productivity of the business.

Communicate: in a world of lockdowns and uncertainty, employees’ sense of insecurity and stress are heightened. A good leader will show initiative by instigating conversations to show empathy and provide mental health guidance. This could include encouraging regular group and individual catch ups/check ins (even if online), introducing initiatives to maintain employee morale such as social events, reward and recognition programs with employee ‘perks’, and promoting a larger conversation about overall well-being. R U OK? Day is a great way to start these conversations in a natural way, with the overall aim of encouraging such discussions throughout the year.

Provide support: ensure your employees know where to access mental health support if they need it. Whether this is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) hosted by your business, or one the many free support services such as Lifeline, Beyond Blue, or Mensline, it’s important that you provide clear instructions for how employees can reach out for assistance.

If you have any questions about the information inside this article, feel free to contact the team at enableHR.

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Olivia Perry is a qualified Workplace Relations Consultant at FCB Group (our parent company). She regularly provides advice to a large range of clients in relation to workplace laws and management of complex workplace matters.