Many people and businesses are wondering how we will recover from COVID-19. Some states in Australia are almost back to business as usual, while others like Victoria, are in the grip of a second-wave. The problem is when one State suffers; the whole Australian economy sees an impact.

Many businesses are taking a cautious approach before spending on new projects and resources. Some are continuing to lay-off staff, and we expect more will do so when JobKeeper ends in Septemeber. Others are turning to technology to help them recover from COVID-19 because lower staff numbers mean your employees have an increasing workload. As we recover from COVID-19, we will be expected to do more with far less. Stress is increasing, and mental health is declining. All of this begs the question of what post-COVID-19 will look like.

For this article, we take a look at some recent research that explores how Australians have been impacted, how we are responding and what recovery post-pandemic may be. Our interest is in supporting employee safety and well-being; however, with fewer resources, we place them at increased risk. How can we recover from COVID-19 and keep our employees safe and well?

Jobs Decreasing and High Unemployment

The lock-downs and closed borders as protection measures for COVID-19 are resulting in the highest levels of unemployment and under-employment that Australia has experienced in decades. Just over 800,000 Australians were unemployed in April 2020, and at the time of writing this article, only 200,000 have gone back to work in a full-time role as we recover form COVID-19. Under-employment is also at a record high with almost 2 million Australians who are looking for more hours of work.

There is evidence that private investment for projects is significantly reducing. The COVID-19 outbreak has already affected private infrastructure investing, with reports of several mergers, acquisitions and financing activities in the infrastructure space having been postponed. Private investment supports almost 80% of all infrastructure projects, and governments can only do so much to keep the economy going.

Younger Australians are most impacted, with almost 20% of Australians under 20 and 12% aged 20-29 years losing their job. That’s because many were working in accommodation and food services jobs, where one-third of jobs have been lost.

Anxiety Levels are Slowly Decreasing

As restrictions are easing, there is evidence that our extremely high anxiety levels are starting to decrease. There is a sense of hope that we will safely recover from COVID-19 with one-third of Australians feeling more positive. The graph below shows some recent improvement in our emotions.

Australians are more optimistic that we will get through these challenges and resume our social activity, but most expect it will still take months for things to properly recover. However, many expect their financial recovery will take well into 2021, and others predict it will be years before they bounce back.

emotions caused by COVID-19
Ref: McCrindle, May 2020. Recovering
from COVID-19 Report.

However, at the time of writing this article, there is an increasing second-wave of virus cases unfolding in Victoria. We should expect that with continuing outbreaks across Melbourne and beyond, that Victorians and other Australians once again will become more anxious. As employers, we need to look at ways to support our employees and how we can reduce their anxiety.

See our article, COVID-19: Reduce Your Employee’s Anxiety.

We Still Worry That We Might Catch The Virus

There is also a link between a loss of sleep and worrying that you can catch the virus, as well as poor quality sleep when you feel your job is at risk. Sleep loss is a factor in workplace fatigue hazards and is especially critical when your employees operate machinery or perform high-risk tasks.

See our article, Could Worry About COVID-19 Affect Sleep?

In times of crisis and particularly during lock-down and as we recover from COVID-19, feelings of high stress and anxiety are not uncommon, and even a small thing can cause us to worry. One way to build our resilience is to learn coping strategies and the actions we can take to calm our minds.

Tap into Safety understands the great importance that learning coping strategies has on our continued well-being. When we show signs of stress, anxiety or experience depressive thoughts, we must learn coping mechanisms to move our thoughts to positive and empowering ones. But this is a skill that has to be taught; we’re not just born with the ability to always cope in times of high-stress.

Our interactive Training Platform uses micro-learning to teach coping strategies and where to seek help when things get too tough. Some of the topics we cover include:

  1. Helping Employees with Mental Health Concerns
  2. Depressive Thoughts and Alcohol Use
  3. Working from Home
  4. Managing Your Employees
  5. Signs of Declining Mental Health in Employees
  6. Fear of Job Loss
  7. Fatigue Management
  8. Financial Stress

See our article, Mindfulness Training Reduces Employee’s Stress.

The Benefits of Working From Home

Many organisations have moved non-essential employees to work from home, with 27% of Australians moving out of their offices. This practice helps to encourage social distancing to stop the spread of the virus. Some employees found working from home a challenge; others say that the benefits outweigh the challenges. Interestingly, over 70% of OHS professionals expect that at least some of their employees will continue to work from home post the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over 80% of employees who work from home report that this working arrangement saves them time with no commute or time to get ready for work, and 75% save money on travel and lunch costs. They enjoy flexible working hours, the extra time with family and the lower impact on the environment. They note that their productivity is increasing by over 50% and that they have an improvement in their work/life balance.

See our article, What Does Safely Working from Home Mean?

The Challenges of Working From Home

While many enjoy working from home arrangements, there are some areas we need to monitor that impact on mental health. In this research, as shown in the table below, 44% report that working from home makes them more socially isolated and one-third note a blurring of work and home boundaries. There is also the feeling that employees are missing opportunities to collaborate, and some suggest it’s easier to get things done when they can pop next door to speak to their colleagues directly.

Challenges of working from home
Ref: McCrindle, May 2020. Recovering
from COVID-19 Report.

In our discussions with clients as we recover from COVID-19, we note that many are beginning to modify their working week. Employees are coming into the office a couple of days and working from home for the remainder. They enjoy the flexibility of social and quiet work time, and we suggest this is likely to be a continuing and beneficial working arrangement. Technology helps to facilitate this type of flexibility because the lock-down has upskilled our employees to use online and screen sharing platforms for off-site meetings.

See our article, COVID-19: Settling into the New Normal at Work.

What This Means for Safety and HR Professionals

As we recover from COVID-19, for managers and supervisors, managing at a distance is likely to become the new normal. There are five areas that you should consider to help you manage employees who work from home, particularly if you are choosing or are required to do the same.

  1. Communication – Make time to talk to your team, be positive and encourage respect. Managers must reinforce politeness, patience and consideration within your team when communicating virtually.
  2. Performance Management – Focus on the performance that relates to where employees are physically working, encourage self-assessment, and conduct regular one-to-ones, keeping an open dialogue.
  3. Keep Tabs on Mental Health – Find out what drives and motivates your employees, regularly check in with them to show that they are cared for and feel safe and valued, and try to understand what information your employees need and provide it to them, quickly and regularly.
  4. Safety – In this time of disruption from COVID-19, you still have to meet your OHS obligations, which is all the more difficult when your employees are working from home. Safety professionals need to actively engage in the design of work for safely working from home to give employees ownership of the work and the risk controls. It would be best if you addressed working hours and routine, the physical working environment, responsibilities and decisionmaking, the flow of information and task inter-connectedness.
  5. Training and Development – COVID-19 has made eLearning the focal point of most training and development initiatives with many organisations shifting in-person or blended training initiatives entirely online. They are also moving up, and re-prioritising, annual compliance training, including safety inductions and VOC’s.

See our article, Post COVID-19: Productivity and Prosperity.

To Conclude

Australians are all coming together, hopeful that we can quickly recover from COVID-19. Many businesses are taking a cautious approach, and some are continuing to lay-off staff. This study shows that most Australians are more optimistic that we will get through these challenges and resume our social activity, but most expect it will still take months for things to recover properly. Many also believe that their financial recovery will take well into 2021, while others predict it will be years before they bounce back.

This article discusses what a post virus working environment will look like as we recover from COVID-19 with over 70% of OHS professionals expect that at least some of their employees will continue to work from home. The study shows that the benefits of working from home far outweigh the challenges with many employees enjoying the time and cost savings and flexibility.

However, for Safety and HR Professionals managing employees from a distance can be difficult. Communication, performance management, looking after mental health, ensuring safety and continuing training and development, all need to be done differently, and technology can certainly help.

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