Reach out to your workers and ask R U OK?

Isolation and working remotely during COVID-19 has led to many workers feeling lonely and depressed which makes R U OK? Day on September 10 so vital in 2020.

R U OK? is a suicide prevention movement founded in Australia which aims to inspire people to ask that simple question and start the conversation with friends, family and co-workers to help assist with mental health issues.

Many people battle depression, anxiety and other mental health issues in silence and asking them the simple question R U OK? can help them open up about their battles and begin their journey towards seeking help.

A 2017 report conducted by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions found that 41 per cent of remote employees reported higher levels of stress than traditional workers and more people are suffering from work-related depression because of COVID-19 than ever before.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has caused a spike in mental health issues

There are four tiers of concern when it comes to the coronavirus outbreak and all of the associated restrictions. History has shown that those on the front line of previous pandemics, including doctors, nurses and all other health care workers and professionals are likely to experience higher levels of anxiety. These anxieties are likely to be higher in areas with higher outbreaks like Victoria is currently experiencing in Australia.

The second group is those that have been placed in quarantine or in a work from home (WFH) environment. According to the Black Dog Institute being isolated in quarantine or a WFH environment could bring on psychological effects ranging from confusion, anger, boredom and loneliness all the way up to depression and PTSD symptoms. A recent review showed that 25 per cent of all quarantined people would experience trauma-related mental health problems – some that could be long term.

The third group are those that have lost their jobs because of COVID-19 or have been stripped of fulltime hours and are struggling to get by working a casual position. This includes those that have lost their businesses, some including families that have dedicated their lives to building them only to see their doors close because of pandemic restrictions.

And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, those with pre-existing anxiety disorders and mental health problems can find them exacerbated because of the COVID-19 restrictions and associated stress and anxiety caused.

How to ask R U OK? 


Asking the question of your fellow colleagues, especially those that have been placed in quarantine, moved to WFH arrangements or have unfortunately lost their position or have been demoted to casual positions is the first step. But it is imperative that you are prepared for their response and what to do if they say that they are not OK and that their mental health is struggling.

R U OK suggests finding the right time to ask the question when you are in a good headspace and have the time and capacity to properly listen to your friend, family member or co-worker’s concerns. 

Don’t walk into the conversation thinking that this is your responsibility to ‘fix’ any problems they may be having. This is the process of showing them that people care and starting their journey towards seeking help. They may not want to talk to you, it is entirely possible they could get upset or even lash out. 

Be ready to listen with an open mind to their concerns and encourage them to take actions that could alleviate their pain. Be prepared with a range of resources and contact numbers that they can use. And don’t regard this conversation as a one-off, be sure to check in regularly.

How to create a healthy, inspiring and productive workspace at home

Just because a worker is now operating from home because of COVID does not mean an employer’s duty of care has vanished. It is your responsibility to ensure that each worker has a safe and happy workspace to operate in and that the same risk assessment protocols are used to assess their space as you would use in an office environment.

Let’s talk safety first. All of the same risk assessment questions need to be asked here and you need to ensure the home workspace has proper lighting, that cords are properly managed and there is no risk of injury to the employer.

When it comes to making the space happier, here are some tips. Firstly, try and get the WFH staff to position their station near a window. Natural light is directly tied to your health and well-being, can improve workplace productivity and also impacts sleep patterns.

Keeping a plant on or near the work station is a good idea as well as it can increase productivity by 15 per cent, will help keep the air fresh and increase satisfaction which can all help combat depression and anxiety. Some recommended options include peppermint, chamomile, lavender, jasmine, aloe vera, chrysanthemum and gerbera depending on your location and the season.

Introduce colour to the workspace as well. Your brain and body react differently to different colours and each one can inspire and influence productivity, creativity, stress levels, focus and emotions.

A clean and tidy desk is always helpful as well because a cluttered desk often reflects a cluttered mind. Proper organisation leads to more organised thinking which can drive down stress levels as well.

And finally, make sure workers are properly disconnecting from their work duties in a home environment. When the office is positioned in the middle of a living space or kitchen area it can be hard to stop thinking about work, so encourage staff to create dedicated break times and locations where they can completely separate their downtime from their work.

Look for assistance to help manage your new remote workforce during COVID-19?

SPR was developed by Queensland company IONYX to assist businesses to remain open and operational at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It features a simple health check survey for workers and contractors to ensure any potential risk does not enter your job site and infect the rest of your staff.

This easy to use app also includes built-in risk assessment and a daily mental health check for all of your staff who are in quarantine or working remotely so you are checking up on their wellbeing on a regular basis. So this September 10, asked your workers, R U OK? And then consider SPR so that you can continue to ask them the same question every day and show them that you care.