A new report from The Wellbeing Lab and AHRI reveals the impact of recent tragedies, and shows workers need HR’s support now more than ever.

Over eighty per cent of workers say their struggles increased in the months covering the bushfires and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is just one of the findings from The State of Wellbeing in Australia research from The Wellbeing Lab and the Australian Human Resources Institute. Only about ten per cent of workers reported they were “constantly thriving”, a nine per cent drop since the 2018 report. 

Recently published the report’s authors are the first to admit they weren’t surprised to discover more people are finding things difficult. As they were first collating data, in December 2019, Australia suffered the worst bushfires in its history. And just as the recovery from those fires began, the world was plunged into the chaos of a serious pandemic. 

So in mid-March the researchers went back to respondents to see how these events would change workers’ answers. Because of this, the report offers a unique look at how workplace wellbeing has been affected by the onset of COVID-10.

A unique report in unique times
The researchers reached out to the participants and asked them the same questions about their well-being in light of the bushfires, the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential economic recession. They also asked a series of additional questions around their anxiety towards COVID-19 and the economy. 

Over ninety per cent of respondents said they were worried about the economy and 82 per cent said they were anxious about coronavirus. 

Struggle isn’t a weakness
Surprisingly, participants’ job satisfaction didn’t change too much. It actually increased for people who had reported “not feeling too bad, just getting by”. 

The results show feelings of struggle or stress don’t always undermine work performance. 

Wellbeing is often thought of as something you have or you don’t, but really it’s an ebb and flow. If you say you’re feeling ‘well’ all the time, that would be worrying.

Interestingly, workers who reported high levels of worry and anxiety about the impact of coronavirus or the economy reported the same performance levels as workers with low levels of worry and anxiety. In contrast, workers who reported medium levels of worry and anxiety about these challenges were significantly more likely to report lower levels of performance. 

Who do you turn to?
In December 2019, when asked who workers turned to when struggling, only three per cent said they’d go to HR. In fact, workers would rather not speak to anyone about their problems than speak to the HR team. 
Overwhelmingly people were more likely to speak to someone outside of work, the person they were least likely to ask was their boss and, even less likely than that, their HR representative.

Interestingly though, people who did go to HR were more likely to see an increase in their wellbeing.

In the March 2020 data collection, there was an increase in the number of people seeking assistance from HR. It still lagged behind speaking to someone outside of work, but overall more people were looking to the people department for clear communication about the actions they should be taking at this distressing time. 

There is an opportunity here for HR to step up and fully support people’s wellbeing which might change that relationship on the other side of this crisis.

How to help
It’s clear this is a time for HR to step up. There is a trust issue with HR and bosses, people think ‘oh I need to keep it to myself, I don’t want them to know I’m struggling’ or it could be ‘I don’t know who in HR to talk to or how to reach HR’. Whatever the reason HR needs to open those doors and encourage communication now more than ever. 

Of course, HR professionals themselves might be struggling. It’s also important for HR to reach out for help when they need it. Speaking to EAP Assist and using all the resources at hand, including those on the EAP Assist website, may be valuable in these difficult times.

To search for self-help and other resources go to: https://eapassist.com.au/faqs/