As we near the 12-month mark of the disruption and change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and look to learn from those subsequent changes and challenges across many workplaces, I had the chance to reflect on and discuss these issues for the public sector as part of a Mandarin webinar this week.
Looking back and looking forward in a period of constant churn and change is difficult… and on reflection it’s the ‘why’ we’ve done things in the workplace, and how we’ve communicated this that really piqued my interest.
It was also the understanding that we need to pace ourselves, and manage expectations going forward by encouraging each other to take the time to plan, think and reflect for the year ahead, especially following the year that has been and the sustained peak for many.
In the public sector, many departments and thousands of public servants, both state and federal, have had to ‘surge’ from March last year to deliver new policies, programs and systems, and have had to maintain that surge for 12 months now.
For those on the frontline of service delivery, be it the many people who administered and processed nearly 40,000 COVID tests in a single day in Melbourne, or those providing home delivery services, or trucking resources around the country and across borders, the stress levels and challenges have been high and constant.
At Mental Health Australia one of the ways we’ve tried to manage the sustained stress and challenges resulting from COVID is to elevate the conversations in the workplace and not assume they are occurring. By this I mean talking about how the changes are working, where they are not working, and identifying team-based opportunities for improvement and reflection.
For those not on the frontline, who have been fortunate to be able to work from home, this has meant missed interpersonal benefits of being present in workplaces, so we’ve had to look for ways to schedule it in. We’ve had to do more than assume, and work together to find the balance of what works for some people, what works for others, and then what works as a team.
The additional challenges of working from home and knowing when to stop, and what is work, and what is home time, has really challenged people, especially in the public sector, and again when workplaces, managers and leaders reflect on this, and the sustained nature of such activity, there will be a lot to learn both positive and challenging.
Personally, and having started in this role during the pandemic, leading Mental Health Australia in this type of environment has been tough, but equally rewarding. And I’m sure that has been the case across many organisations and sectors, particularly the public sector where changes in an office working environment, or post-election changes, or the machinery of government changes, have always thrown up challenges.
In every workplace there has always been the need to respond to critical issues, crises and change and we need to acknowledge that these have only been amplified as a result of COVID.
Ultimately what the pandemic has shown us is that there is no certainty, so managing uncertainty has become part of our day-to-day business. Acknowledging this, and understanding and managing change in an organisation, is about over communicating and involving people to engage both with the problems and with the solutions.
We know that when there IS NOT good communication about the ‘why?’ behind changes people are often left to try and understand it themselves. When the uncertainty and change is constant like we have experienced together through this pandemic, the why, why, why is even more important, especially how it fits with an organisations values and how it is communicated.
Reflecting and learning from the ‘why?’ we did things — why we need to make changes and how we communicated then and now — can only help organisations and individuals move forward in 2021, and that can only benefit workplace mental health.
Mental Health Australia is a proud member of the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance and to find out more, including a number of COVID specific resources available to small, medium and large workplaces, please click here.
Have a good weekend.
The Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention is now calling for submissions by 24th March 2021. The Committee has been established to consider a range of strategic reviews of the current mental health system, and whether the recommendations are fit for purpose to address the fallout from bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic. Mental Health Australia will be developing a submission pointing the Committee to previous policy positions and submissions relevant to their deliberations. Members are welcome to provide input to this process by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org