The COVID-19 pandemic is a stressful and uncertain time for all Australians. Working from home, particularly for the first time, can create additional risks to mental health.
Working from home can have psychological risks that are different to the risks in an office or your regular workplace. A psychosocial hazard is anything in the design or management of work that causes stress. Some psychosocial hazards that may impact a worker’s mental health while working from home include:
- being isolated from managers, colleagues and support networks
- less support, for example workers may feel they don’t have the normal support they receive from their supervisor or manager
- changes to work demand, for example the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and a move to working at home may create higher workloads for some workers and reduced workloads for others
- low job control
- not having clear boundaries between home-life and work-life
- poor environmental conditions, for example an ergonomically unsound work station or high noise levels, and
- poor organisational change management, for example workers may feel they haven’t been consulted about the changes to their work.
Working from home may also impact a worker’s mental health in other ways, such as from changed family demands. For example, home schooling school-aged children who are learning from home, relationship strain or family and domestic violence.
Looking after the mental health of workers at home
Employers & employees must eliminate or minimise the risk to psychological health and safety arising from work as far as is reasonably practicable, including when your workers are working from home.
You must consult with workers on psychosocial hazards they may face and how to manage them. Workers often know what the issues are and have ideas about how to manage them. You must also review how you’re managing the risks to check your policies and processes are effective.
Good communication with your workers is especially important when they are working from home. It is important that you have regular and clear communication with your workers to set realistic and clear instructions on workloads, roles and tasks, to monitor work levels and to check that work can be successfully completed from home without creating any additional safety risks. Adjust any work tasks and ways of working as appropriate.
Steps you must take to manage risks to your workers’ mental health where reasonably practicable include:
- providing information about mental health and other support services available to your workers (See EAP Assist Website https://eapassist.com.au/).
- maintaining regular communication with your workers and encouraging workers to stay in contact with each other
- staying informed with information from official sources and sharing relevant information with your workers
- offering your workers flexibility, such as with their work hours, where possible
- making sure workers are effectively disengaging from their work and logging off at the end of the day
- responding appropriately to signs a worker may be struggling, e.g. changed behaviour
- informing workers about their entitlements if they become unfit for work or have caring responsibilities
- eliminating or minimising physical risks, and
- providing workers with a point of contact to discuss their concerns and to find workplace information in a central place