Sarah Hellwege is a psychologist with SuperFriend, an organisation that helps superannuation funds and insurers develop mental health and wellbeing solutions for employees and members. Alex Hunter is MetLife’s talent acquisition manager. Here, they team up to offer some tips for safeguarding your staff’s mental well-being.

1. Help staff adjust to working from home

Alex: Not everyone has worked from home before and for some people it's daunting. The word I keep hearing is ‘anxiety’.

Sarah: It helps to put together comprehensive policies, training and individual support plans that support staff adapt to their new situation. For example, many people will be navigating working from home with young children that were formerly in day care or making room for both parents working from home. These are all change to the norm which we have not had to manage before, and inevitably cause some disruption to the way we work.  

2. Understand people feel fragile about change

Sarah: Humans function well when they can safely predict their workday, week, year however, right now we are all experiencing great uncertainty. People are worried about their own health and supporting their immediate and extended families. Individual circumstances will differ but it’s vital to support each individual to navigate their personal experiences. This is what will enable them to do their best at work.

3. Re-evaluate workflow and adjust it

Sarah: Let your team know you’re managing business expectations around the changing circumstances. For example, if someone has primary parenting responsibilities, let them know workflow can be adjusted. Similarly, give staff the option of shaping the day to suit their individual needs. If someone works better first thing in the morning or later in the day, where possible, allow them this flexibility to adjust their hours and workflow to suit their circumstance.

4. Support frontline staff with training to handle anxious and at risk customers

Sarah: If your frontline staff are dealing with a lot of escalated calls from customers who are angry, aggressive or may be at risk of self-harm or suicide, review your internal policies, processes to align with the changing environmental circumstances and bolster with facilitated training to manage those situations. Here at SuperFriend we’re running online training to support contact centres and other frontline workers.

5. Encourage your team to access support programs

Alex: We know uncertainty creates stress and that when people are stressed and feel unsupported, they don’t perform effectively. If you’re asking for high levels of engagement and productivity, you need to provide support. Ensure staff know they have access to support programs such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAP).

Our executive leadership team are under pressure too. They need the same level of care they're providing to staff.

6. Create individual self-care plans

Sarah: I recommended managers develop individual support and self-care plans based on conversations that assess a person’s situation. Ask questions such as:

  • What are your strengths?
  • How can you draw upon these strengths during this time?
  • How have your stress levels been?
  • How do you know when you’re stressed or need a break?
  • What can you do when you are stressed?

Early warning signs for stress may include:

  • trouble focussing
  • feeling agitated
  • irritability
  • poor sleep
  • family tensions.

7. Encourage your team to participate in wellbeing and self-care activities

Sarah: If you see early warning signs, help staff put that self-care strategy in place. The self-care plan needs to be an agreement you’ve made together. Some strategies may include:

  • walking the dog
  • spending time in the garden
  • reading a book or something not related to work
  • making a cup of tea
  • switching off for half an hour
  • accessing Employee Assistance Program services
  • exercise.

8. Provide regular updates from leaders

Alex: People want to hear from the person in charge. Our CEO write daily emails which may include an update, a thank you, or a top tip of the day. We’re a global company. This situation affects us in every location and each location is at a different stage of the crisis.