There’s no doubt that the past couple of years have been tough and required us to find new ways to make things work – including what has for a long time been for many the elusive goal of ‘work-life’ balance. Throw managing health (both physical and mental), home-schooling, working, managing family and relationships through lockdowns (Auckland – we have seen and appreciated the hard work you’ve put in!), and it’s no surprise to read that record numbers of us are at risk of experiencing burn-out. Supporting Your Staff during these times has become even more important.
So, what can we all do to ensure we are working in a safe and healthy manner, and making sure our employees are well supported too?
I have been encouraged to see employers responding to the needs of employees who may require additional support and/or flexibility in their work for mental health and wellbeing, both short-term and long-term, and in particular as a result of the changing work landscape with the ongoing impacts of Covid-19. An employer’s support of employees’ health and wellbeing can assist in preventing absenteeism, performance/disciplinary issues arising, and issues escalating unnecessarily. In addition to that, it’s vital for employers to manage risks to maintain a safe and healthy working environment for all its employees.
The Mental Health Commissioner reports that New Zealand’s rates of mental health issues is one-in-two of us will have a mental health or addiction issue at some stage in our lives and one-in-five of us at any one time will have a mental health or addiction issue where we may need support1. That brings us to consider the foundations of the employment relationship, being the mutual obligations of good faith, including the requirement to be active and constructive in maintaining a productive relationship. An employer and employee ought to be able to have conversations about an employee’s wellbeing in a structured way in a supported and safe environment, without fear of discrimination and/or disparate treatment when an employee discloses an issue to their employer, or the employer becomes aware of an issue. Any such treatment is unlawful. It is imperative that an employee who discloses mental health issues or has any underlying medical condition is treated fairly.
It’s also vital to have open and transparent communication about things that may give rise to concern. How to manage conversations about achieving work obligations when working from home alongside other responsibilities i.e. childcare, home-schooling? How flexible can the employer be about the work that is performed? Is there an opportunity to work in different ways than the employee may have done before? Is the employee managing balancing turning off from work at the end of the workday when that work is in their living room? What support can the employer reasonably provide? EAP? Consider working conditions – both physical (lighting, heating, ergonomics) and setting realistic targets, hours worked, training and ongoing support/communication.
While we adjust to the Covid-19 Protection Framework (aka ‘the traffic light system’), it will be important to keep those lines of communication open and for both employers and employees to work within the principles of support, partnership and self-responsibility in raising and responding to concerns, managing wellbeing in the workplace and maintaining a workplace where that is encouraged.
It’s the end of another long, tough, year – where decisions have had to be made quickly and there will be an adjustment as we work together to living as safely as possible with covid in the community. I encourage ongoing discussion, care and respect with others, in particular those whose opinions you may not agree with.