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  • Writer's pictureSocial Scaffolding


Updated: Aug 6, 2020

What has your organisation learnt about mental health from the COVID19 pandemic?

In June, Social Scaffolding conducted a survey on mental health and the effects of COVID19 in Australian Workplaces, asking the question “What has COVID taught your organisation?”

Our intention was to hear from employees and employers as to what they viewed as good practice and how mental health support eventualised in the workplace, with a purpose to then share these learnings.

The findings were enlightening and timely, now with Victoria back to lock-down v2. Furthermore, with states like NSW also experiencing a surge in Coronavirus cases and watching the pandemic globally, these insights highlight the importance of staff well-being and presents ideas on how to improve your employee mental health strategies.

Social Scaffolding | Mental health impact on employees: COVID19 In Australian workplaces


Did you know that 7 in 10 employees stated that their mental health has been impacted by COVID19?

High level observations included 62% of respondents felt that their mental health has been slightly impacted by the COVID19 pandemic, and that 7% felt their mental health has been significantly impacted.

This indicates that COVID19 has serious implications for the long-term mental health of your employees.

It is important to acknowledge these long term affects now and identify what this means for your organisation.

Managing your employee’s mental health and well-being will be essential in preparing them for not only possible extended periods of working in isolation, but also for when returning to ‘normal conditions’, keeping in mind, many staff will be expected to perform at their optimum productivity as industries return.


While 80% of respondents said measures provided by their employer for their mental health and well-being were effective, results indicate that 20% of organisations did not provide effective support.

The research showed that effective support can start with simple measures that can be provided at low cost. So, the message to organisations not offering support is to ask, “Why not, and why can’t we start immediately?”

Effective mental health and well-being support is what we would come to expect from best practice employers – but COVID19 has tested these expectations. The survey respondents highly valued communication and team engagement, which included “huddles” and “check-ins” as well as non-work focused conversation and enjoyable team activities. The benefits of these methods provided open and honest communication, enabling people to still gain social interaction with peers and workmates despite working from home.

Organisational acceptance of a diverse range of experiences amongst their teams, helped employees validate their own personal experiences and responses. It was clear that this level of personal engagement was valued more than the provision of outsourced tools and outsourced consultation.


Some observations to learn from was commentary regarding feeling isolated as a result of working in silos, and the need for better cross-team communications to combat this.

There was also a strong theme of employers needing to understand and modify expectations based on the ‘challenges of ‘life’ pressures and fitting work in, and that individual staff planning was not catered for (e.g. managing work commitments while simultaneously accommodating home schooling or increased demands of providing care for a family member). One comment that resonated for me, and broadly as to what the work, work-life balance and perhaps societal commitments look like now, was “let go of old expectations”.


Employees are expecting some level of work modifications post COVID19 (flexible hours, work from home etc), so employers will need to commit to providing effective mental health and well-being support. So, what does this look like? Shared learnings from the survey included one employer’s new commitment to ‘staff having well-being and resilience training as part of their induction and ongoing development.’ Other desirable measures include “providing additional access to a trained psychologist to staff at our organisation's expense” AND “pay for specialist mental health sessions with this psychologist for our vulnerable client group” and “having a WH&S person focus on well-being as well as other WH&S aspects.”


The standout learning is that employees want a level of personal and team interaction. This reflection tells me that although online and not face to face, people still highly value communication, team interaction, friendship and check-ins. During this unique climate, this could not be provided (to the same level) by external or outsourced interactions. This demonstrates the importance of employers and organisations to consider 6 questions to ask your business when providing employee mental health support in a crisis in their strategic plans in managing lock-down v2 or similar future events.

My learnings in working with my team was to ask, listen and be present. This is often difficult when you have multiple screens open, deadlines fast approaching and a diverse workforce. I need to constantly remind myself of my mentor’s words of wisdom (the great Jan Owen), it’s the conversation, it’s not the transaction”. At Social Scaffolding, we dedicated a weekly time to talk – not just about work – and to share how we are each responding to our own unique challenges and shared solutions. This helped with fostering a team culture and built support across current projects, whilst boosting motivation during what has been a challenging time for all.


Social Scaffolding | 6 Questions to ask your business when providing employee mental health support in a crisis.

So, for your organisation…can you answer these 6 questions on your staff’s mental health and well-being?

  1. How effective is the support provided to your employees? Did your well-being strategies play out how you thought? Was mental health a primary objective and if not, will it be now?

  2. What enhancements will you provide now, and in the future? We can always do better and learn from others. How can you improve your staff’s mental health outcomes during the possibility of a future pandemic?

  3. In a crisis, will you adjust expectations of work performance? Can you let go of old expectations of work? Can you lead by example and let your staff know that trying times require adjustments?

  4. Will you consider grass-root level support, e.g. personal check-ins? The commercial world is struggling, the sales aren’t coming in, your staff are burnt out. Will you make that regular phone call to check in, to boost their motivation?

  5. Does your plan include team engagement activities (not necessarily work related)? With no more daily chat in the coffee room, how will you maintain a social culture? Your staff may need more social opportunities rather than workshops and projects to be kept engaged.

  6. Are you ready for the next lock down or crisis? If your business had to go into lock down again next week, are you ready? How will your staff cope? What changes can you make to your plan now? How will you promote what supports are available?

I invite you to share your own experiences and challenges dealing with workplace health and well-being in these difficult times.

Andrew Hamilton Director Social Scaffolding


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