Employee wellbeing is highly impacted by the quality of the workplace as well as the general state of the business environment within which companies operate. The COVID-19 crisis has had a challenging influence on the work environment that resulted in the adjustment of the workplace set-up for employees whereby most workers were forced to shift from physical workplace to remote and online work set-ups. The COVID-19 has had wide-raging implications on employees’ psychological, social, technical, and physical well-being as they tried to adjust to their new workplace set-ups (Hagos, 2021). Some of the effects of the COVID-19 are caused by family interconnections for employees as they work remotely and close to their families especially those employees with children. Single, older and childless employees are equally affected by the new nature of the workplace. The concern in this paper is to address employee wellbeing, how their performance can be enhanced as well as devising measures to aid or support the workers in their recovery from the crisis.
Queensland Resilience Strategies
The government of Queensland has taken various measures to foresee the recovery of the entire economy and the security of jobs for the employees in the tourism sector. The Wok in Paradise Incentives Program pays about $1500 to those who have started working in the hospitality and tourism sector beginning from 20 May 2020 (Queensland Government, 2021). The government has also initiated assisting those employees who have been affected by retrenchments and massive redundancies across all sectors. The government has also undertaken changes in travel exemptions and temporary visa holder plans to enable the entry of individuals into Australia so that they can work in the most critical industries. Other support programs include financial assistance and paid leave from the disaster payment kitty. There are also plans to support those companies that are employing new employees between the age of 16-35 from 7 October 2020 to the same dates in 2021.
Workforce Impacts of COVID-19 Across 5 Regions in Queensland
Between June 2021 and August 2021 about 15 consultancy meetings were carried out to investigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis in five areas of Queensland; these are Outback Queensland, Southern Queensland Country, Gold Coast, Tropical North Queensland, and Whitsundays (Queensland Tourism Industry Council, 2021). Three categories of stakeholders who were consulted include business owners, representatives of their organizations, and employees in the tourism sector. The results showed five factors that have major impacts on the tourist sector as impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Workforce Impacts of COVID-19 Across 5 Regions
The above graph shows five areas that are highly impacted by COVID-19 and need the establishment and enhancement of workforce resilience. These areas show job performance, job security, wellbeing, financial hardships, and work-life balance as the fields that are highly affected by COVID-19 with job security taking the highest toll across all 5 regions. The work-life balance has the biggest effect on the employees, especially those struggling with child-care. Financial hardship is mostly experienced by the owners or operators of the businesses due to business shut-downs. The recovery plan for financial hardship is heavily dependent on government subsidies.
According to Mitchell (2021), the tourism sector in Queensland is struggling to find workers. This calls for the establishment of a recovery plan and the development of crisis resilience with the support of the government. The reason why the tourism sector is struggling to get workers is because of uncertainties of international and domestic border closures. Queensland had suffered double effects of the loss of labor market and the international market for tourists. The labor shortage is highlighted as a new crisis facing the tourism sector (Mitchell, 2021). Even following the recovery of the tourism sector, the country still experienced a shortage of specialized workers hence the need to build workforce resilience by equipping workers with specialized skills for the sector.
Employee wellbeing can be defined as the overall quality of a worker’s experience that is measured from a variety of dimensions such as social wellbeing, mental health, physical health, and happiness (Hagos, 2021). In highlighting the indicators for employee wellbeing, Hagos (2021) cites (Kowalski & Loreto, 2017) who point to employee satisfaction and level of engagement at the workplace as the key indicators of employee wellbeing. These main indicators are influenced by the level of independence to utilize one’s ability and skills, job-related stress, type of work, opportunities for promotion, amount of pay as well as the nature of the relationship with fellow employees and supervisors. Employee wellbeing is important for enhancing worker productivity, employee health, and the general performance of the companies they work for.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported a growing trend of mental health problems across Europe. This implies that the fight against COVID-19 is a marathon that does not end with the discovery of vaccines but includes measures to restore the mental health of employees in the post-COVID-19 era (Benify, 2021). This is evidence that the mental implications of the pandemic as caused by economic strife, loss of family and friends, changes in work routines, feelings of loneliness, and isolation will be experienced in the future even after the distribution of vaccines.
The complexity of the COVID-19 demands requires employers to focus on the wellbeing of their workers. The human resource department (HRD) is a function of the organization that should focus on the wellbeing of the workforce in terms of maintaining their good health both physically and mentally during the pandemic (Hagos, 2021). several factors such as job satisfaction, productivity, work-life balance, stress, and employee turnover are determined by employee wellbeing.
Mental health in the COVID-19 pandemic encompasses depression, phobias, anxiety, bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorders. The pandemic causes for these mental problems include restrictions on movements, social distancing, COVID-19 symptoms, fear of contacting coronavirus, anxious concern about family and friends wellbeing, bereavements, job security, financial worries, and use of public transport (Chattered Institute of Personnel Development, CIPD, 2021). Other influences include working long or irregular hours and combining work and family responsibilities for those who work remotely from home.
Employee Recovery from COVID-19 Effects
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted heavily on the well-being of employees. Many workers have faced overwhelming challenges, emotional anxiety, and stress due to unexpected changes in the workplace that have created unprecedented uncertainties among workers hence impacting their wellbeing (Hagos, 2021). During the post-COVID-19 crisis, companies should invest in the wellbeing of their employees especially in aiding them to recover from the effects of the pandemic.
Strategies to Enhance Employee Wellbeing in Crisis Recovery
Most of the impacts of COVID-19 on the well-being of employees have been exacerbated by government regulations that require people to keep social distance, remote working, and keep safe space among employees in the workplace. Despite the importance of these regulations, they make employees feel lonely, isolated, stressed, and anxious as they impact employees’ social wellbeing. The transition to remote working is disrupting the employees’ daily routines hence adding on their anxieties, strain, and stress (Hagos, 2021). Distance working has resulted in counterproductive behavioral habits that affect social wellbeing and social interactions such as the quality of employee relations with their supervisors.
In helping employees recover from the impacts of COVID-19, organizations should review hey mental health programs to accommodate the needs of the employees by supporting their mental recovery in the post-pandemic era. A survey carried out in Europe shows that out of 9000 human resource workers surveyed, about 64% indicated that they had made adjustments in their strategic work plans to prevent mental illnesses and help employees recover effectively from COVID-19 impacts (Benify, 2021).
Measures to Help Employees Recover from the Crisis
As reiterated by the WHO, health is concerned with not only the biological diseases but also with the integral mental, social and physical wellbeing hence in helping employees recover, organizations should focus their efforts and strategies on all these areas of concern. Some of the measures that organizations can create online team activities, physical meetings, and digital tea breaks for the opportunity to let employees interact and share their experiences or feelings. Other strategies include digital work-out programs such as yoga or even giving employees enough benefits to buying home gym equipment (Benify, 2021).
For mental wellbeing, organizations can offer counseling, meditation and mindfulness programs, cognitive behavioral therapy programs, and online therapies through videos. In terms of work-life balance, companies should give their employees flexible working options such as working from different locations and working at different hours to let them maximize their mental wellbeing (Benify, 2021). In a study carried out by Benify (2021), 77% of human resource professionals have stated that they intend to let their employees continue working from distant locations to help them recover from the impacts of COVID-19 in its aftermath.
According to CIPD (2021), many employees don’t like speaking up about their mental health hence it is up to employers to find out a range of strategies to support those employees who show signs of poor mental health in the post-COVID era. They should encompass both short-term and long-term measures. The measures should help employees address their fears and attain a work-life balance. The organizations should help employees understand how they are feeling through consultation with the company in general as well as with the first line managers or heads of departments (HODs).
Employers must protect the welfare, safety, and health of their employees (CIPD, 2021). The mental health of the employees might be having a mental health condition might be considered disabled or incapacitated hence they should be protected from discriminatory practices by their employers. As employees are required by the law to make reasonable adjustments for the mentally incapacitated workers, they should consider those employees who are overwhelmed or impacted by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other measures that employees should consider include offering support to those employees who continue to work from the workplace as well as those who shift to work from their own homes. Another element of deliberations is those employees who are at the risk of redundancy, those who are retained, and the HR personnel who manage the retrenchment process.
Why Employers Participate in Fostering the Mental Wellbeing of Their Employees
The deterioration of employees’ mental health has implications on the companies that the victims work. Employers should be alert to identify the signs and symptoms of deteriorating mental health for their employees to take early intervention before the situation escalates. Some of the implications of poor mental health in the workplace include withdrawal, indecisiveness, distraction, aggression, anger, irritability, poor performance, over-reaction to issues, anti-social or distractive behavior, increased absenteeism or lateness, increased working hours without breaks, and mood changes. These implications can adversely affect the performance of the company as well as lead to poor customer service (CIPD, 2021).
The requirement for employers to consider the needs of their employees in the pandemic era reflects part of organizational corporate social responsibility (CSR). According to the concept of CSR, employers are required to take initiatives that impact positively society and promote the well-being of their employees (Juchnowicz and Kinowska, 2021). In response to their CSR obligation in the COVID-19 era, companies are integrating various learning programs in employee training on how to take care of their health in the pandemic era (Juchnowicz and Kinowska, 2021). Some of the measures include digitization of work and telecommuting.
Measures for Developing Workforce Resilience
Several measures have been established by both the government and employers to ensure employees’ resilience to the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the resilience measures include building organizational support systems, building job security, encouragement, training, and developing communication systems for employees to express their feelings within the organizations. These measures are duplicated across several groups that need to build resilience such as business owners, operators, and employees (Queensland Tourism Industry Council, 2021). A study that was carried out by the University of Queensland, shows measures that the employees have highlighted as critical for building post-pandemic resilience. These include flexible working conditions, communication, and team-building exercises. Operators indicated consistent communication in advising stakeholders, strong leadership for safeguarding employees’ future, calmness, confidence, and emotional support. Stakeholders on the other hand highlighted support, connection, and leadership as the key elements of building workforce resilience (Queensland Tourism Industry Council, 2021).
By Hessah Alajlan
- Benify (2021) Employee Wellbeing: Impacts of COVID-19 and Strategies to Protect it. https://www.blog.benify.com/employee-wellbeing-impacts-of-covid-19-and-strategies-to-protect-it
- Juchnowicz, M. and Kinowska, H. (2021) Employee Well-Being and Digital Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI). https://doi.org/10.3390/info12080293
- Chattered Institute of Personnel Development, CIPD, (2021) Corona-virus (COVID-19): Mental Health Support for Employees. CIPD https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/culture/well-being/supporting-mental-health-workplace-return#gref
- Hagos, A. (2021) The Impact of COVID-19 on Employees Wellbeing and the Role of Human Resource Management. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/350087940_The_Impact-of_COVID-19_onEmployees_Wellbeing_and_the_Role_of_Human_Resources_Management
- Mitchell, J. (2021) The New Challenge Facing the COVID-hit Tourism Industry. My business. https://www.mybusiness.com.au/human-resources/8391-the-new-challenge-facing-the-covid-hit-tourism-industry
- Queensland Government (2021) Support for Workers Affected by Corona-virus (COVID-19). https://www.qld.gov.au/jobs/support-workers-coronavirus
- Queensland Tourism Industry Council (2021) Queensland Tourism Workforce Crisis Resilience & Recovery Project. The University of Queensland. https://www.espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:31a1d9e/QTIC_Tourism_Report_Final.pdf