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How to tell if your work wife isn’t coping with the hell that is COVID

Many employees are starting to falter under the strain of COVID and extended restrictions. There are some key red flags to look out for, according to psychologist and work place mental health expert Dr Frank Chow. 

Coronaphobia is a real thing, unfortunately. And while you might have already identified your own levels of COVID-related stress (hey, who hasn’t?), but what about how it’s manifesting in the mental health of those we spend most of our days with – our work colleagues?

The pandemic has affected our working lives as much, if not more, than any other area of our day-to-day; many offices are now operating almost entirely remotely, vast numbers of Australians have lost their jobs or have been made redundant, and those who are left may have new reporting lines and extra responsibilities. All in all, it adds up to a lot more insecurity and a lot less face-to-face support. Cue major mental stress.

The best way – as either a caring colleague or a responsible employer – to help prevent the mental impact of COVID in the workplace is to know how to identify the red flags that something isn’t right. Because early intervention – as with many health issues – is key to a faster and more full recovery.

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We asked Dr. Frank Chow, psychologist and workplace mental health expert at 2OP Health, to share how we can identify if someone we work with is struggling.

He stated that there are two categories of alarming behaviours to keep an eye out for, performance-related and behavioural.

4 performance red flags to look out for at work

When it comes to KPIs, or even the smaller things like what time colleagues or employees are clocking on for the work day, Dr Chow recommends that these are the changes to performance at work that you should keep your eyes peeled for:

#1. Being repeatedly late – increasing issues with punctuality

#2. An increasing amount of work errors, and general carelessness with the quality of one’s work

#3. Deteriorated customer service, leading to complaints from customers

#4. Absences, poor concentration and forgetfulness

2 behavioural red flags to look out for at work

According to Dr Chow, there are two major signs to be aware of when it comes to negative changes in behaviour among your colleagues, or employees, in the workplace. They are:

#1. Behaving out of their usual character including increased interpersonal hypersensitivity, defensiveness, irritability, sarcasm, making of inappropriate jokes, escalated bullying and harassment behaviours, or an increase in interpersonal conflicts with other staffers.

#2. In cases that are more severe, it can lead to violence and self-harming tendencies, including verbal and physical aggression, intoxication and substance abuse, as well as impulsive and poor judgment.

What to do?

Dr Chow states that there are a number of safe and appropriate measures that can be taken to help the employee in question. They include:

  • Wellbeing check-up and providing a safe space for discussion
  • Encourage them to consider looking for a career mentor or life coach, who are not direct supervisors
  • Have phone calls instead of Zoom/video meetings to avoid fatigue (it’s a thing)
  • For employees working from home or remotely, be sure to take a break from the screen to avoid screen fatigue
  • Remind each other to break away from the desk every once in a while. Stand up and stretch. Don’t forget to exercise and maintain your physical health.
  • As an employer, offer support such as temporary time off or replacement. Have that conversation early on, and encourage your workers to seek outside help, too – like a EAP (employee assistance plan), a GP or psychologist
  • Communicate with each other on a regular basis and offer support
  • For concerns of redundancies and restructuring: evaluate life situation and make a backup plan. Encourage your colleague to seek financial advice and be prepared by looking at available options.
  • For new reporting lines: Sometimes it takes time to learn how to work with each other, be sure to learn their new management style and expectation, maintain network within and outside the organisation
  • If their ability to do their job is in doubt for mental health reasons encourage them to obtain medical clearance from their treating doctor, or consider organising a ‘fitness of duty’ assessment by an external/independent psychiatrist

Dr. Frank Chow is a psychologist and workplace mental health expert at 2OP Health