Even before COVID-19 hit our shores, research showed that work-related stress has been increasing each year, resulting in increasing numbers of lost working days and lost revenue due to absence. 

In 2018, a survey of New Zealand employees showed work-related anxiety, stress and depression to be the third most common source of absenteeism after minor illnesses and physical pain.  More than 22% of respondents cited work-related anxiety, stress and depression as a cause for absenteeism, an increase of 15.8% from 2016, while non work-related anxiety, stress and depression jumped by 12.6%.[1]

Now, after two New Zealand lockdowns and a global death toll surpassing 1 million, businesses are grappling with multiple virus side-effects, ranging from the growing nationwide impact on the economy to the human repercussions on staff and our wider communities.

Faced with these challenges, Lifeline’s Enterprise Consultant, Megan Barclay, poses the question, ‘How could your business actually gain by offering comprehensive support for staff wellbeing?’ Read on to hear how COVID-19 has affected Lifeline’s services, and how it can help you turn a pandemic into an opportunity for growth.

How has COVID-19 impacted people in our communities?

Lifeline has experienced a 25% increase in contact from New Zealand’s communities since April 2020. Callers are looking for support with regard to financial concerns, job security, relationships, mental health challenges, and the global impact of the pandemic. They’re feeling increasingly lonely and isolated, and concerned about their future.

More and more companies are seeking our advice around how to help their employees during this time. For example, we’ve been working with banks experiencing an increase in calls from anxious customers concerned about their finances, or the general state of their businesses. We understand how this is a difficult time for employers – they’re facing their own challenges, as well as doing their best to support staff.

And what are the most important things an employer can do to support their employees?

Here are five key things to start doing and to aim for.

  1. Create space and time to check in regularly with your team.
  2. Prioritise your self-care so you can be there for others.
  3. Ensure your culture actively encourages and acknowledges staff for seeking support.
  4. Provide support and guidance to help managers know how to spot signs of distress in others, and themselves, and what to do next.
  5. Normalise that it’s okay for people to feel anxious and distressed when so much of our lives is uncertain at the moment.

Can you tell us more about the workplace services you offer that may be of benefit to Cooperative Business New Zealand members?

Absolutely and first I’ll put this into context. As you mentioned, most business owners know how distress impacts their teams: poor performance, absenteeism, breakdowns in communication, lost revenue. However, they’re less likely to know how to have the right conversations early and create environments in which staff feel safe enough to reach out for support. Lifeline is offering wellbeing consultancy, workshops and ongoing assistance to reignite business performance and create accepting, compassionate cultures. This is Lifeline Connect for Business, and as a result, these cultures are contributing to more successful, resilient workplaces and communities across New Zealand.

With all that’s happening with the pandemic, business owners are contending with increasing levels of uncertainty, which is translating into anxiety. This can happen so much that distress ends up being more in control than the leadership team.

Lifeline Connect for Business is helping you regain control and succeed by investing in staff wellbeing now. Because not only can this result in more connected, productive teams and individuals, better decision-making and increased profitability, it could also mean increased self-awareness, compassion, social cohesion, and ultimately more resilient communities. That has to be the sort of world we all want to live in.

Don’t many businesses already have wellbeing programmes in place?

That’s correct, and many of these include access to an employee assistance programme. However, these programmes often have some stigma attached for staff, and during times of high need there can be long waiting lists for access to extended services.

Lifeline Connect for Business can provide immediate staff support. So, for employees that want help responding to staff members in imminent danger, a referral to Lifeline in addition to their employee assistance programme, covers immediate and long-term support needs. 

Our support services have benefitted many organisations like 2 Degrees, and include:

  • A series of workshops that develop resilience in and across teams, and upskill people leaders and support staff to respond effectively to customers or a colleague in distress.
  • A wrap-around service that includes ongoing Supervision and Coaching which reinforces learning and develops deeper interpersonal skills over time.
  • A Debrief service to support trained individuals with a sounding board that allows them to decompress after complex conversations, or just to bounce ideas around with one of Lifeline’s Counsellors.
  • Commissioning Lifeline’s Counsellors in Outbound Pastoral Care calls to staff and/or customers who are experiencing significant life events or to support ongoing wellbeing.

Lifeline’s programmes can be scaled for any size business, from those with thousands of employees to SMEs. All aspects can be delivered remotely, in-person or a mixture of both.

What qualifies Lifeline to assist our members with these challenges?

Lifeline has ensured that New Zealanders have someone to turn to for 56 years – someone who will listen and empower them to get through times of distress and get back on track. These are people, like you and me, with one foot in a workplace and the other in local communities. We understand how frustrating it is, especially for business owners, to stand by and see their high-performing staff struggle. We also know how hard it can be to encourage staff to participate in wellness programmes and for leaders to role model different communication styles. Lifeline’s experienced trainers and counsellors are well versed in knowing how to engage, validate and inspire people to harness their strengths and activate their problem-solving skills.

What’s the process for getting in touch with Lifeline about the services you have mentioned today?

We first ask people to complete a Needs Assessment and Report Back form. Then it’s a case of together choosing the right business support and community wellbeing programmes, plus ongoing support options to consolidate that learning and offer those immediate responses.

Change takes time and really hinges on leadership modelling these behaviours from the outset but the reward is priceless. Imagine walking into your offices six months from now and noticing the difference in the energy around you. Staff are genuinely interested in each others’ lives. When someone reaches out for help, they’re celebrated not judged. Teams are performing at the top of their games consistently, and even more, you have complete confidence that your organisation will get through anything. This is all possible when successful businesses invest in staff wellbeing.

Lastly, how can our members help their teams and communities right now?

There are lots of ways to  help increase wellbeing, build resilience and prevent mental health issues from becoming worse later on. A few suggestions are:

1. Help your organisation succeed by registering with Lifeline Connect for Business and find out more about the NZCOOP member package.

2. Activate your local community with a Lifeline Community Wellbeing Programme. This link to take you through to the details.

For more information, please visit Lifeline Connect for Business, call 0508 CONNECT (0508 266 328) or email MeganB@lifeline.org.nz

[1] Southern Cross Health Society-BusinessNZ, Workplace Wellness Report snapshot, August 2019.