How to support your employees with flexibility through times of crisis.
Australia’s ongoing bushfire crisis is proving to be a time of high anxiety for millions of people across the country. Even those who may not have been directly impacted have been left overwhelmed by the unprecedented scale of the fires, the lives lost and the devastating impact this bushfire season continues to have on local communities, our precious wildlife and wider environment in general.
Many people who volunteered, or who live or were holidaying in bushfire affected areas are now returning to work. And many employers are having to acknowledge the mental stress and anxiety such traumatic experiences can cause, and adapt their flexible working policies accordingly to assist employees through the necessary healing process.
According to FlexReady consultant and wellness expert Rebecca Sebastian from Juggle Strategies, the first step for managers is to accept everyone communicates experiences of trauma differently.
“Employers need to check in with employees who might be struggling so they know they are not alone as some individuals will be searching for a real connection with those around them in times like this. It’s therefore important to ask the individual how they want to be supported and communicated with over the coming weeks, months and even years,” Rebecca says.
Flexibility tailored to the individual
Given this crisis is unprecedented, Australia’s response from an HR perspective is also moving into unchartered territory. A number of leading employers have issued updated volunteer and bushfire response policies. And some are even going one step further and implementing general climate emergency flexibility policies in anticipation of further crises to come.
“In general, however, the majority of employers are simply being compassionate. We’re seeing a real push to offer unlimited flexible workplace policies to those who need it. Where an individual’s request for flexibility goes beyond the normal parameters of existing guidelines, there’s an openness to engage with relevant stakeholders, on a case by case basis, to be creative and to make sure the right policy is in place to support mental recovery and wellbeing,” she says.
Essentially, the right flexibility framework will enable the right response for every individual. It is then a case of assessing each individual’s needs and tailoring flexibility around working hours and locations.
“Allow employees who are struggling to take each day as it comes, come in late or leave early or work from home if possible. Give them the time they need to attend counselling sessions. Provide additional paid leave to those who need time to go and assist family in affected areas with clearing and rebuilding over a period of many months. All of these approaches will go a long way to improving mental wellbeing,” she says.
The impact on mental health from experiencing a crisis such as this can be long term with the onset of serious problems such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The national response has been incredible and the focus on the crisis is huge right now. But this will begin to fade.
Individuals who have been directly affected or have volunteered may struggle for a number of years and need to know they have their employer’s support over this time period as well.
Mental health and flexibility: in summary
- Provide flexible working locations and hours for all employees affected by bushfires and also hazardous air quality
- Offer unlimited paid leave for employees and / or with family directly affected
- Increase volunteer leave for any employee volunteering to support the current crisis
- Allow employees to have flexibility for counseling as required
- Provide ongoing acknowledgement and flexible support for the long term
The Department of Human Services is offering free counselling and additional mental health support for individuals, families and emergency services workers affected by the bushfires. Find out how you and your employees can access these services here:
Beyond Blue has also issued a helpful guide to help assess levels of anxiety and trauma experienced during the bushfire crisis:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
- Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800
If you would like to discuss how best to adapt your flexible working framework to the needs of your employees during the current bushfire crisis, please get in touch and we will be happy to assist. You can contact FlexReady consultant Rebecca Sebastian directly.