Managers should be looking out for staff over these difficult weeks of short staffing

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Managers should be looking out for staff over these difficult weeks of short staffing
We have seen the impacts of illness and isolation leading to overwork and burnout especially in frontline workers.
Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

... And high risk of illness at work.

Senior Research Fellow, Mark Deady, gives advice for staff members:

As we start 2022 facing new, albeit not entirely unfamiliar, uncertainties that affect all aspects of our lives, it is more important than ever to consider the toll placed on our wellbeing by these factors and the implications for our mental health, especially in terms of our working lives. This is not how anyone wanted things to go and it’s reasonable to feel a range of emotions from angry, to despondency, to anxiety and overwhelm.

None of have been unaffected by the consequences of the easing of restrictions, the omicron variant, and the dramatic rise in cases throughout the country. Whether we have contracted COVID ourselves, have had loved ones who have, or are continuing to vigilantly protect ourselves and others from the disease, one cannot help but feel a general sense of exhaustion and fatigue, especially at a time we all needed respite. This fatigue is compounded by social isolation, parenting concerns and day-care closures, cancelled plans and holidays, testing barriers and so much uncertainty about where this all goes now.

In a workplace setting, we have seen the impacts of illness and isolation leading to overwork and burnout especially in frontline workers, supply chain problems, financial strain of lost work, job insecurity or long-term work sustainability especially for small businesses.

Working-age Australians are experiencing dramatically elevated psychological distress over the last two years compared with pre-pandemic levels. While the current situation is likely to exacerbate this as the fears, frustrations, and fatigue continues. Financial distress and overall work and social impacts triggered by COVID-19 have been shown to be associated with worse mental health, even after accounting for demographic factors and job loss.

As managers it is important to:

  • Maintain regular catch-ups with your team

  • Look out for signs of struggle

  • Set up regular 1:1 meetings with staff you’re concerned about

  • Try to provide support, both in and beyond the workplace

  • Keep an eye on your own mental health

As individuals now more than ever it is important to prioritise your mental health and wellbeing. This is an ongoing strain that continues to ask so much of us, but we can take some solace in the incredible resilience we have all shown already. There is not a lot we can do to alleviate the global uncertainties but there are things we can do to keep ourselves as healthy as possible.

These things include:

  • Continuing to look for balance where possible. Planning to include achievement, connection, and pleasurable activities into every day, even in small ways.

  • Channelling uncomfortable energy into action or kindness and assistance of others

  • Acknowledge the difficulties of this time but practice gratitude too where you're able.

  • Rely on reputable news and information

  • Limit or try to prevent engaging in behaviours that feed your feelings of distress or anxiety

  • Stay focused on the present, on what you can control, rather than speculating about an unpredictable future

  • Notice the thoughts and emotions you experience (as well as the triggers for these) but don’t surrender to them

  • Look after your body (through sleep, diet, exercise, and limiting use of drugs and alcohol)

  • Stay connected with others

  • Remember to focus on breathing when feeling stressed

  • If you’re feeling like you’re not coping, get professional advice

Potential resources

An app for people to monitor their symptoms and seek immediate mental health support and tips:

Dr Mark Deady is a UNSW Senior Research Fellow at the Black Dog Institute and the research lead within the Workplace Mental Health Research Program. He has over twelve years research experience in the field of mental health and substance use disorders. In this time he has worked on a range of projects at a coronial, epidemiological, and clinical level, completing his PhD at UNSW in 2015.

Dr Deady has extensive expertise in the development of digital interventions, online service delivery, clinical trial evaluation, and workplace mental health. His primary research interest is in improving access to evidence-based prevention and early intervention through technology and the translation of research into practice, particularly in vulnerable populations including young people and high-risk workforces.

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