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The Safe Workplace Principles state, “The COVID-19 pandemic requires a uniquely focused approach to work health and safety (WHS) as it applies to businesses, workers and others in the workplace”.

Where To Start?

Both Federal and State governments have a lot of online resources for businesses – including industry-specific advice on what you need to know. We recommend you begin with the Safe Work Australia Checklist and the My Business COVIDSafe Plan from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

How to Improve Small Business Mental Health

According to Australian based research, our chase for productivity improvements is leading to very unhealthy workplaces – especially when it comes to mental health. For small – medium-sized businesses, the challenge becomes resourcing programs to support the mental health of their teams. Cost-effective ways to improve the mental health of your staff without harming your bottom line:

  • Encourage Holiday Leave

It’s challenging to keep a business operating efficiently when key people are on leave, however their absence could provide other team members with an opportunity to widen their skills. Over time, multi-skilling staff will give you a more robust and efficient business and staff should be encouraged to take regular holidays to recharge their batteries, reduce stress, mitigate burn-out and alleviate illness.

  • Implement A Wellness Program

Mental health is affected by physical health and staff who feel appreciated, valued and accepted are loyal, engaged and productive. Proactive measures to alleviate and de-stigmatise Mental Health Issues such as introducing a company wellness program provides cost-effective dual benefits, such as “Lunch and Learn” sessions from health professionals to introduce your team to better health and well-being behaviours (eg physios, chiropractors, dietitians). Other options for consideration may include:

  • Organising before or after work walking, jogging or sports groups where the power of the group maintains team engagement and promote team building and morale
  • Encourage staff to monitor their daily steps and offer incentives and rewards
  • Consider providing fruit for morning tea to promote healthier eating habits.

Managing Remote Workers – commencing with your wellbeing

Are you as productive as you were the same time last year? Are you differentiating between work and leisure? Experiencing technical issues which are frustrating your efforts?

Before you commence tackling the complexities of managing a remote team, invest time to check your operational efficiencies and work-life balance to lead by example.

Measuring Performance and providing Technological Support

Presenteeism is easier for staff to hide onsite, than when working remotely, because if someone is sitting at their computer, we assume they are working. However remote working enables you can measure staff output, by setting clear key performance indicators and tangible performance expectations. Read Coraggio’s working from home blog for further remote working recommendations.

Ignite Team Culture to Protect Business

With COVID spikes occurring across several states COVID fatigue and complacency are the best friends of a pandemic so it’s time to re-ignite a cohesive team for ensuing productivity.

Build A QuaranTEAM

As the infection numbers roll out, encourage staff to prevent exposure to the disease by:

  • Social distancing and wearing a mask
  • Follow good hand hygiene eg hand sanitisers
  • Sneeze into our elbow
  • Using tissues once and throwing them into the bin.

Respecting the fears and uncertainty of your staff is another way to promote a QuaranTEAM culture in your business. It’s all about leading by example. It begins by identifying any staff who may be showing anxiety or a reluctance to return to onsite working.

Registering as a COVID Safe Business will assist ease any staff anxiety and could become a vital marketing tool. For more information, visit https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/covid-safe-businesses. Registering as a COVID Safe Business is free and begins with developing a COVID-19 Safety Plan. You’ll find information and resources by clicking on the above link.

Protecting The Morale and Operations of your Business

As with anything COVID-related, prevention and mitigation are paramount. Many businesses have already reinvented their operations in a variety of ways, such as segregating staff into smaller teams with some working from home and others working on site. This hybrid approach may challenge your ability to maintain a cohesive team culture.

That’s why building a QuaranTEAM to support each other, and your business is imperative. It’s a way to share the burden and engage the team as they are bought along on the journey navigating through these challenging times as a cohesive working dynamic. People respond when being held accountable and rise when there’s a sense of belonging to be part of a worthy cause which has a purpose aligned to their vested interests and core values.

Resistance to attending work based on the Governments' directive

How to manage reluctant employees

With the threat of ongoing COVID-19 waves and lockdowns it’s more than likely some employees will feel reluctant about returning to work when restrictions are eased.

These situations should be handled on a case-by-case basis, and always with understanding. Steps should include completing a risk assessment and a COVID-Safe plan for the return to work. The plan should be developed on the basis of the current yet ever-changing public health guidelines for workplaces and include details on how you will meet these guidelines, such as staggering work shifts, or relocating workspaces.

To comply with the work health and safety requirements, employers need to ensure they are providing and maintaining a safe working environment.

The plan will need to cover your systems for maintaining effective hygiene, monitoring health and cleaning requirements. Employers will also need to plan for potential COVID-19 cases in the workplace.

Return to work for recovered COVID-19 employees

When COVID-19 positive employees have recovered, you will face questions about your duty of care as an employer of the recovered person and other employees.

As with any other health-related absence from work, employers should make sure they provide support to employees when they return to work. An employee may return to work once they recover from COVID-19. Health Department directions states, “employees can return to work once they have fully recovered and have met the criteria for clearance to return to work”.

The clearance criteria vary by state and territory, as well as for different workplaces and roles. As an employer it is your responsibility to confirm the specific criteria within your business, particularly in high-risk workplaces such as healthcare or aged care.

Employers also need to be aware of any workplace discrimination for returning workers and nip that in the bud.

Other workers in the organisation may feel anxious about working in the same environment as recovered Covid-19 workers. As an employer, it’s vital you listen to their concerns and work through the issues in collaboration with your employees. So, how do you set your employees’ mind at ease regarding the transition back to their workplace, or do they simply continue working from home?

A commitment to COVIDSafe workplaces

To help reduce the anxiety of returning to the workplace, employers can show a serious commitment to a safe workplace. As a first step, ensure you have a clear and well-thought-out COVIDSafe Plan, taking into account relevant recommendations and requirements from your state government and health department.

Some examples of items to consider for your COVIDSafe Plan include:

  • Implementing systems and processes for maintaining better workplace hygiene
  • Conducting health monitoring
  • Ensuring effective and rigorous cleaning
  • Cancelling or postponing all non-essential meetings, training and gatherings while moving as much to video and teleconferencing platforms as possible
  • Implementing flexible working options
  • Preparing for incidences of coronavirus in your workplace
  • Developing a clear disciplinary process that is consistently followed for managing anyone who doesn’t follow COVIDSafe practices.

Implementing flexible working options

Flexible working is a legitimate option for creating a COVIDSafe workplace. Consider introducing:

  • Shifts
  • Staggering start and finish times as well as lunch breaks
  • Allowing employees to continue working from home for some or all of their work week.

Flexible working options will also help employees avoid public transport at peak times

When choosing long-term or permanent work from home practices an employer, should take into account whether the employee:

  • Is productive when working from home
  • Needs to supervise other staff or be supervised
  • Needs to interact with co-workers and other people face-to-face
  • Is in a high-risk health category
  • Or, there are legitimate business grounds for you to refuse the request.

Clear communication

Clear communication with employees around your COVIDSafe Plan is essential. Understanding your commitment to being COVIDSafe and the measures you are taking to ensure your workplace remains hygienic and safe will reduce some anxieties employees may have regarding their return to work.

Lead by example

Employees will scrutinise the actions and behaviours of management regarding COVID-safety. Expect to lead by example if your employees are to believe you are serious about keeping your workplace COVIDSafe.

Working from home challenges

Working from home is the new normal and here to stay. Even with vaccinations available work will never be the same as pre COVID-19. These are important considerations you need to think about when asking employees to work from home.

Keeping in touch

With people being forced to stay home and only go out for essentials, we run the risk of feeling isolated. Humans are social creatures; we need to engage with other people, so it’s important to find ways to:

  • Keep in touch with work colleagues
  • Have access to channels that enable more social work chats
  • Encourage employees to talk to friends and family outside of work sessions.

Balancing motivation and productivity

While work chats can help to dispel feelings of isolation, they can get in the way of people being productive. The novelty of working from home can also wear off, leaving employees feeling unmotivated.

Start the workday with a daily call to help you and your staff maintain work routines and timetables. These calls can also be a forum for employees to share any difficulties they’re encountering with working from home.

Holding video conferences can encourage staff to get dressed for work as they usually would. Task lists, prioritisation of tasks, setting deadlines and reviewing outcomes can help to ensure employees stay on track with their work.

Maintaining health and safety

Ultimately, employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees’ work environment – regardless of whether they work in an office or from home. This includes ensuring they have an ergonomic workstation and looking after their mental and emotional well-being.

Self-check lists could help assess workplace ergonomics, while video tours could verify home safety. If an employee needs additional furniture or equipment, consider loaning them the necessary items (with the proviso they are returned when staff revert to working in the office again or if they leave your employ).Encourage employees to take regular breaks and to have a sign-off ritual to help them switch off at the end of the day. They should also lodge sick-days as per organisational policy, even if they are working from home.

Talk to your teams about how they are managing. Some employees may find they are:

  • Getting cabin fever
  • Feeling guilty about whether they are working enough hours or are maintaining acceptable productivity
  • Becoming so relaxed at home that they see work calls as an intrusion or become less professional in their presentation or behaviour.

Let employees know you are there to support them and implement measures to help them navigate any challenges they may encounter.

Vaccine challenges

To Mandate nor not to Mandate?

The Australian roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine is upon us and raises the question: What can and can’t employers mandate regarding vaccinations?

Essentially, we have entered unchartered waters and currently there is no precedent to follow.

We know employers are obligated to ensure a safe working environment, and that employees are obligated to assist in making that environment safe. But can employers mandate the COVID-19 vaccination for employees. Employers will need to consider whether this is ‘lawful and reasonable’. In particular, you will need to examine:

  • the specific needs of your customers and stakeholders to whom you have a duty of care
  • the needs of your employees and their reasons for refusal
  • the type of work being performed by employees
  • the level of risk involved
  • the advice of government and health departments at the time.

Can the government force businesses to make the tough choice? The simple answer is ‘yes’, they have the power under the Biosecurity Act to mandate the COVID-19 vaccination. Although current actions indicate a reluctance on their part to do so. Err on the side of caution.

With nothing by the way of precedent we urge employers to err on the side of caution. In the absence of government specific direction. We suggest you highly recommend the vaccination, without approaching the legal minefield of mandatory vaccination for all employees.

If you are seeking practical solutions and support to navigate all the complexities of operating a business during COVID, contact the End2End team by calling (02) 8977 4002 or the HR Dept. Lower North Shore by calling (02) 8052 3002.

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