Legal Insights

Best practice in mental health - What can employers do to promote the mental health of employees?

By Catherine Dunlop, Tamsin Webster & Benita Williams

• 07 August 2020 • 3 min read

As the COVID-19 landscape across Australia changes, and in particular as Melbourne employers enter into COVID-19 Stage 4 restrictions, employers need to ensure they continue to look after the mental wellbeing of their employees at work, as far as is reasonably practicable.

For some employers, Stage 4 may mean that their employees are now working under new challenging conditions, for example working from home for the first time, or working reduced hours. Other employees may be affected by the closure of childcare and schools, juggling work with carer and parental responsibilities. Other employees may be affected by the severity and length of the new restrictions.

Encouraging good mental health and wellbeing of employees at work and at home is important right now, and employers can have a significant role in supporting their team so they can continue to work and contribute. We recommend employers consider taking the following steps:

  1. Encourage your leaders to take care of their own mental health. It is important that employers firstly ensure that their leaders are taking care of their own mental wellbeing. It must be understood that business leaders will not be in a position to effectively assist their employees if they are not first looking after their own mental health. Many senior people have been operating in a ‘crisis-response’ mode for many months and it is important that they are given support and encouraged to seek help if they think that will assist them.
  2. Encourage a discussion about mental health and provide all employees with resources. Depending on the size of your organisation, leaders will be unable to check in and monitor every single person. However, leaders can encourage a discussion about mental health, and reduce the stigma of seeking assistance. We recommend you provide employees with access to appropriate support and resources, such as Employee Assistance Programs, or by using publicly available resources such as Beyond Blue.
  3. Touch base with at risk individuals. Whilst leaders will not be able to check-in with every employee they will be able to, and will need to, identify their at risk employees.

Risk factors may include:

  • excessive workloads
  • employees with pre-existing conditions
  • employees at greater risk of infection because of their roles
  • vicarious trauma
  • employees with carer and parental responsibilities who can’t access childcare or assistance
  • employees involved in a COVID crisis response team may also be at risk, due to the protracted nature of this crisis.

In some cases an employee may be observed to be withdrawn, not engaging in virtual team meetings at all and/or particularly angry or abrupt. These employees may also be at risk.

For these at risk employees it will be important for the employer to monitor the employee, including regular check-ins with the employee, monitoring workload and productivity, encouraging the use of Employee Assistance Programs, and discussing the possibility of flexible work, where appropriate.

We have developed a Mental Health Guide for employers, within our COVID-19 Safety Guide – if you would like further details about this or have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Melbourne Employment, Safety and People team.

Get in touch with our Employment, Safety and People team

By Catherine Dunlop, Tamsin Webster & Benita Williams

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