Worker wellbeing and COVID-19


Wednesday, 8 April 2020

As we attempt to navigate the unprecedented challenges that have appeared as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to highlight the importance of taking steps to maintain our mental as well as physical health. As Head to Health – the platform set up by the Federal Department of Health to provide access to online resources, direction to phone support and information on mental health and wellbeing – explains, it is normal for us to feel anxious, stressed, worried or even bored in response to a crisis event. It’s crucial, however, that we develop habits to cope and maintain good mental health to weather this difficult period.

What are the primary risks to worker wellbeing?

Work (occupational) health and safety obligations apply to psychological as well as physical health. This means it’s equally important for veterinary practice owners to consider what steps they’ll take to support their workers’ mental as well as physical health and wellbeing during this time.

According to Safe Work Australia, WHS hazards that workers may experience as a result of COVID-19 include (but are not limited to):

  • Exposure to customer violence or aggression
  • Isolated work – in the context of veterinary practices if a drastic portion of the workforce is separated to adhere to social distancing measures or is forced to self-isolate
  • Poor change management – for example if practices are (understandably) restructuring to address the effects of COVID-19 but are not providing adequate information or support to workers
What can I do to promote healthy habits and support my workers during this time?
  • Ensure open channels of communication – although you should discontinue face-to-face meetings wherever possible, offering regular opportunities for workers to connect virtually on COVID or non-COVID related issues will go a long way to minimise feelings of being overwhelmed, afraid and isolated
  • Emphasise the importance of maintaining a daily routine, whatever that might mean for your workers – following regular sleep patterns, eating and drinking well, subscribing to health and wellbeing programs run exclusively online to ensure they do regular exercise
  • Encourage staff to re-imagine ways to engage with their usual hobbies to help maintain a sense of normalcy (e.g. connecting with friends and family via social media, playing board games using virtual platforms, accessing music and the arts in online settings)
  • Provide access to up-to-date, qualified and trustworthy information as it becomes available (from reputable news outlets such as the ABC, the Department of Health and State/Territory health bodies, Safe Work Australia etc.)
  • Alert workers to available assistance services e.g. Lifeline, 1800 RESPECT, BeyondBlue

We are undoubtedly set to experience never before seen challenges for the foreseeable future. Designing and implementing simple but effective work health and safety strategies will help ensure your business has a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For specialist workplace relations and work (occupational) health and safety advice, the team at the AVA HR Advisory Service are available by phone, email and online chat Monday – Friday 8:30am – 5:30pm AEST. A host of wellbeing resources are also available on the dedicated HR portal for members.

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