The mental health risks of COVID-19

Risk Matters - Winter 2020

As local governments prepare for the new normal of physical health safe guards including temperature checks and additional cleaning, they also need to consider how best to monitor and support employees mental health.

Experts believe workplace mental health injuries will rise due to COVID -19 and the psychological impacts will be felt for years. Managing the mental health risk during this time means employees will have better capacity to fulfil their roles and potential harm to health is reduced.

It’s important local governments understand the psychosocial risks arising for employees both in and out of the workplace.

Work related

  1. Exposure to physical hazards and poor environmental conditions

2. Increased work demand

3. Exposure to violence, aggression, traumatic events and discrimination

4. Low support and isolated work

5. Increased emotional distress

6. Poor organisational change management

7. Poor workplace relationships

Non-work related

  1. Financial stress

2. Balancing work and caring responsibilities

3. Concern for vulnerable family members/friends

4. Change and uncertainty

5. Personal relationship stress

What's a psychosocial hazard?

A psychosocial hazard is anything in the design or management of work that causes stress. Stress is the physical, mental and emotional reaction a person has when we perceive the demands of their work exceed their ability or resources to cope. Work-related stress if prolonged or severe can cause both psychological and physical injury. Stress itself is not an injury”. Safe Work Australia.

Other sections in this season's Risk Matters

Welcome to the board

LGIS WA has a new board member in Claremont councillor Paul Kelly.

Cr Kelly brings a wealth of knowledge to the role – with previous experience as board member and chairperson of the board at LGIS.

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Re-Entry Syndrome

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, nearly half of all Australians were working from home at the start of May.

Many local government employees found they were also either working from home, stood down or redeployed into different departments.

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Managers should develop strategies to support their teams, identify vulnerable individuals and implement supportive practices. It’s important local governments and their leaders are sensitive and understanding of the issues individuals may be dealing with. Vulnerable employees, particularly, may be nervous about returning to normality and exposing themselves to illness. There will be some anxiety within the workforce related to coronavirus fears, but also due to suddenly being around large groups of people for the first time in months.

Communication is the key to allaying these fears

If employees know leaders are approachable, supportive and understanding, and safety measures have been assessed and updated to reflect the ‘new normal’ it can help them feel at ease in the workplace. You and your employees know your business better than anyone – so talk to them about what they think potential risks could be. They may have ideas on cost effective and easy ways on how these risks can be reduced.

If possible, vulnerable workers could return to the workforce slowly. Vulnerable workers include those with health conditions, workers from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, older workers and workers with a disability. Managers should work with these people to make them feel secure about the return to work. Can they continue to work from home? Do they want to wear masks? Do they feel safer returning a few days at a time? Continue to regularly check-in with them and make any necessary changes as they are needed.

Financial hardship will increase community stress

The Reserve Bank of Australia announced in May, Australia would face its first recession in 30 years. Many people within the community and employees will be experiencing financial hardship.

This opens local governments up to risk.

Frontline staff may experience higher rates of aggression from members of the community.

For example, a customer service employee might be exposed to a high level of anxious and angry customers due to financial stress.

  • Is it possible to limit their interactions to phone and email only?
  • Do employees have time for breaks following a difficult interaction?
  • Have frontline staff been taught how to deal with an angry customer or member of the public? If not, consider the LGIS ‘At the coalface’ workshop.

Prepare for the influx

Relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions has already seen cafes, restaurants, boot camps and some local government services inundated with interest from the public. People are eager to resume activities, which they once took for granted.

People will be excited to be able use local government facilities again, and it’s reasonable to expect many will need to readjust to public spaces.

There will be people who have not been able to access swimming facilities for a long time and might be at higher risk of drowning or accidents – do more lifeguards need to be put on duty?

How are you scheduling additional cleaning into shifts?

Libraries, community centres and art galleries may also experience a massive boost in people visiting, many of whom have become unaccustomed to being in large groups and may have lost their tolerance of certain behaviours.

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Other sections of this season's Risk Matters

New Normal

Western Australia fared better than many locations around the world following the coronavirus pandemic.​ However, COVID-19 had an overwhelming impact on local governments and exposed weaknesses within every industry.

How local governments operate in a post COVID-19 world will determine future workplace success.

Ideally, local governments will exit the crisis better than before.

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The mental health risks of COVID-19

As local governments prepare for the new normal of physical health safe guards including temperature checks and additional cleaning, they also need to consider how best to monitor and support employees mental health.

Read more »