For the last decade workplaces have increased their awareness and support efforts when it comes to the mental health of their people. In addition to this, in Australia over the last five years, workplaces have begun to do the same in relation to family and domestic violence. But as the world adjusts to living with the COVID-19 pandemic almost all workforces are having to shift how they work. For some this will be working remotely, for others it will mean temporarily being stood down, receiving a redundancy or in some cases workers are on the frontline keeping us safe and supported with necessary services. So what are the repercussions to our psychological and social wellbeing? Are our leaders in the workplace equipped to recognise and respond if an employee is struggling? And what support can be offered in place of face-to-face services?

Psychosocial risks

So, if you are a leader or HR professional looking to adjust how you support your workforce, it’s important to firstly identify the key psychosocial risks specific to your team. If your team is working remotely, some of these could be a pre-existing mental health condition for one or more employees, substance abuse, a family and domestic violence situation, social disconnection or having to manage high volume or distressing work situations remotely. If you are managing a team on the frontline, fear and anxiety around staying safe and healthy, managing a high workload, fatigue management as well as dealing with poor behaviour by the public, will likely be their most prominent risks. And if you are having to stand down employees for an unknown duration or in fact make roles redundant, their psychosocial risks will include financial pressure, loss of direction and purpose.

What is your role as a leader and HR professional?

We know that up to 60 percent of an employee’s wellbeing is predicated by the quality of their relationship with their direct manager, so your supportive leadership skills are your best strategy for leading a mentally fit team. This is true for any circumstance your team finds themselves in. Those leaders who already adopt a supportive leadership style will find that this transition will have less of a negative impact on their team’s mental health as these Leaders are already are practicing supportive leadership such as:

  • Regularly checking in with individual team members as it pertains to their wellbeing and their workload and practices
  • Knowing what challenges their team members are facing in their work and personal lives
  • Being transparent in the challenges they face but show strong leadership in communicating a clear plan of action
  • Role modelling positive, calm and confident behaviour
  • Detecting early on any changes in an employee’s wellbeing

What are some of the early warning signs for poor psychological or social health?

When you are now having to detect the early warning signs of poor mental health over video conference or while your workload has tripled because you work on the frontline, our bandwidth to do so is challenged. So without having to remember too many early warning signs to be on the look out for, the best thing is to get to know your team well and try to notice changes in behaviour that are uncharacteristic. These could be things like:

  • Opting for only audio when you are speaking to them via video conference
  • Not joining virtual social events when they were always the life of the party before
  • Not responding to emails or text messages
  • If they are frontline workers, shifts in appetite, extreme fatigue or changes in mood such as being more irritable, tearful or anxious

If you notice a change in someone, reach out and have an R U OK? conversation with them. Don’t brush it under the rug or avoid the conversation because you aren’t sure what to say. Reaching out early can stop little problems from becoming bigger.

And remember if you or your team mates aren’t travelling so well, there are services you can access remotely such as your company’s Employee Assistance Program or if you are in Australia, LifeLine on 13 11 14 or 1800RESPECT.

If you want to learn more about how to address the psychosocial risks COVID-19 is presenting your workplace, join our National Manager of Psychological Services, Debra Brodowski for a complimentary webinar by registering here.


  • Rachel Clements

    Director of Psychological Services

    Centre for Corporate Health

    Rachel is the Director of Psychological Services at the Centre for Corporate Health , which she founded with Tony Bradford, Managing Director, in 1999. As the principal psychologist, Rachel is a sought after conference headliner, requested to speak on all things mental health, resilience and wellbeing. Rachel’s training  programs and keynote’s offer a new lens through which employees and executives alike, can shift their attention inward and sharpen their focus on what they can do to create psychologically safe workplaces. On speed dial for many HR professionals, Rachel is a great support for navigating those difficult employee issues where mental illness, family and domestic violence or other factors are contributing to challenging circumstances in the workplace. Recognised for her expertise in the field of workplace mental health, mental toughness and wellbeing, Rachel has held a position as an expert panellist on the R U OK? Day Conversation Think Tank since 2014.