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How COVID-19 should shift your priorities?

The various challenges brought on by COVID-19 have tested us as a country, with many Australians, organisations and communities feeling the effects of the seismic societal, social and economic changes as a result of this pandemic.

In a short space of time, we faced strict lockdowns, impacts on employment and financial situations, and changes in lifestyle and our movements. The change was challenging. Combatting the feeling of isolation was something that many of us had never experienced before.

Lessons learned during uncertain and difficult times

For some, these changes brought with them the potential for sometimes complex mental health challenges. For others, it has brought people closer, be that spending more time with loved ones or having extra time to learn new skills. TAL research1 found that 49% of Australians believe the COVID-19 situation has allowed them to focus on their own personal wellbeing. We are in the unique position to take our learnings from that experience and apply them to the way we live our lives in the future, to ensure we continue to focus on one of the most important things in our lives - our mental health and wellbeing.

A majority of Australians spend the greatest part of their waking day working, and a number of studies show that workplaces play an important role in maintaining the mental health and wellbeing of their employees. As we transition to the 'next normal', businesses need to keep monitoring the needs of their employees so they can offer them the best possible support. When it comes to business leaders, understanding the importance of looking after mental health in everyday life can help them recognise how to best support their employees and foster a safe environment post-pandemic, where everyone feels secure to thrive. Business leaders can provide this support in a number of ways.

The importance of clear communication

Communication is key and although it's not always easy to have conversations on sensitive topics, this experience has reminded us that staying in close contact with employees will help them understand that their leaders are approachable and present. A recent survey by Superfriend showed that the most common barrier to achieving a thriving workplace is the lack of appropriate skills in managers2. At TAL, we understand it's important for our leaders to be equipped with the right skills and tools to support their direct reports and foster an environment where those direct reports feel comfortable approaching their managers to discuss their individual mental health. This can enable leaders to stay connected and understand employee needs beyond just their workload.

At TAL, communication has been key to leadership success in remote working. We encourage our leaders to use digital tools for regular check-ins to help keep people engaged, connected and productive. Supporting the mental wellbeing of our people to ensure we're building their skills and capability remains a priority. Over the past few months, I have facilitated 30 mental wellbeing sessions for more than 750 people across TAL to help them stay mentally healthy while working from home. In addition, our ongoing Mental Health & Wellbeing Training Program helps our people leaders support their teams to the best of their abilities, both as individuals and as a collective.

Looking ahead to the future

Many businesses had to quickly adapt their operational models to enable people to work remotely. With restrictions easing in many places now, we're also seeing that bringing employees back to the office safely is not a simple process and there are many considerations through this transition period. As employers, being flexible in our approach and expectations of employees will go a long way to support those employees who are still feeling overwhelmed as a result of COVID-19 and uncomfortable returning to work.

Together, we must all continually drive change and strive for excellence in the mental health space, because our mental health and wellbeing is critical to a happy and healthy life.

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