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Man on the phone while looking at his computer

How to support employees during the coronavirus pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting small business owners, senior leaders and managers with unprecedented challenges and many difficult choices.

About whether a business can continue operating in the short and longer term and if so, how it will work. About what roles might exist and in turn, whether valued employees will have to be asked to work reduced hours, be stood down, or made redundant. About how best to support those people.

When it comes to supporting your employees through these trying times, there are several considerations, from the financial to those related to their wellbeing and mental health. 

Firstly, the federal government has several payments that provide financial support. That financial support will be paramount and knowing it’s there will go a long way to allaying many of the employee’s fears.

Financial support

You will likely have heard of the government’s JobKeeper payment. For those who are eligible, this allows employers to retain employees with wage support provided by the government, whether the employee has been stood down or will continue to work in the business, even on reduced hours.

Not only can this present the chance to keep your team together for when times improve (whether employees are actively working or not), it might provide crucial financial support and a degree of certainty for employees in these uncertain times.

Click here to download the government fact sheet: Jobkeeper Payment – Information for employers.

If you need to make an employee’s role redundant or have no work for casual staff, and you don’t choose to include them as a JobKeeper recipient (or they are ineligible for it), the government has put other income support measures in place. You can direct affected employees to information on these support measures here.

Supporting the wellbeing and mental health of your employees

While financial assistance will be vital, employees may naturally be feeling uncertain and anxious about their situation. There are a number of things employers can do to help with these feelings.

Being open and honest

There is no single way to handle a difficult conversation with employees about changes to their work situation, particularly when it is due to the extraordinary circumstances brought on by the coronavirus. 

Each business, workplace and employee relationship is different, and individual circumstances obviously differ. This article provides information around how to manage difficult conversations with employees.

Maintaining a strong connection

If you have employees receiving the JobKeeper payment but not actively working, or working reduced hours, you should establish ways to maintain a meaningful connection.

Aside from being worthwhile for your business, maintaining links to their work colleagues will help support your employees through the period of physical isolation. Maintaining human connection, especially at these times, is an important ingredient for protecting mental health.

Specific actions you could take:

  • reach out to employees individually to offer emotional support.
  • ensure they are aware of other supports available (for example, if you have an Employee Assistance Program in place)
  • schedule a regular meeting to bring employees together using group-chat tools such as Zoom or WhatsApp.
  • invest time in preparing for these meetings so they are meaningful.
  • invite people to share useful resources and tips they have found while isolated.
  • provide updates on business planning that is underway.
  • arrange to maintain regular (or additional) social events that would normally occur in the workplace, such as daily coffee catch-ups or birthday celebrations.
  • encourage people to stay in touch away from workplace forums.

For those who are no longer with the business

You also have an opportunity to support employees who no longer have a formal connection with your business. This support can be important for their wellbeing, and though you may feel reluctant or nervous, you may be surprised by their reaction.

Some things to consider:

  • people will understand the pandemic brought about their job loss, and that it had little to do with them or their performance.
  • they are likely to appreciate the effort you make to stay in touch.
  • reaching out and keeping them connected will help their self-esteem.
  • if there’s an opportunity to do so, providing a reference and connecting them with other opportunities can be tangible, helpful actions that may come from staying in touch.
  • Managing your own mental health

    In order to be best-positioned to support your employees, it's important that you look after your own wellbeing.

    This article looks at how business owners, leaders and managers can manage their mental health during the coronavirus.

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