Harnessing your people’s strengths

Managing through uncertainty and crisis requires leaders to invest their time and energy in building and maintaining our people’s and our team’s resilience. We’re faced with new twists and challenges to leading in the new normal. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to demand flexibility and adaptability by all of us. How can we help equip our people with new ways of thinking and responding in their work lives?

We think it’s important to call it out – we need to develop our ability to engage with constant change and uncertainty and turn this into a strength. Adaptability is one of the elements which underpin resilience. Helping our people learn how to cope with challenges is important. Once this platform is solid, we can help turn these coping mechanisms into coping skills, and help our people use their strengths. One of the things leaders are expected to provide in today’s working environment is creating a psychologically safe environment. What does psychological safety in the workspace, given new blended work models, look like? How can we ensure that we are helping to provide feelings of safety and stability to our people?

This week we’re turning our spotlight on helping our leaders and our people lean into their strengths. In times of crisis, we can help ourselves and those around to ‘lift our eyes to the horizon’. Normal human reactions in any crisis is to focus the attention to what’s immediately in front of us and respond to perceived threats. While this is an incredibly useful evolutionary response, we can build additional ways for our people to adopt different perspectives and behaviours by identifying their strengths and know how to lean into these.

This week we have leaned into the strengths of our wellbeing skills, to bring to the forefront our blend of clinical and positive psychology tools to assist your leaders and your people. Find our wide range of Leader Tools and Personal Tools including this week's Harnessing Strengths tools in the Employer and Employee Login Areas of our website. 

As always, our people are here to help support you and your people be their best in life and work. Contact AccessEAP on 1800 818 728.

Reinvest in your resilience

There’s an almost palpable sense of rising negative feelings about the resurgence of COVID-19 again this week. Our collective optimism that we crushed the first wave has been eroded as talk increasingly turns to the likelihood of an impending second wave and whether this is already upon us. We’re being challenged by events – how can we maintain our positive outlook on life? How are those of us who need to work really hard at being resilient coping with these constant challenges? Our data suggests that the personal impacts of living through the pandemic is increasingly challenging individual’s capacity to cope. How can we support our people to be their best in life and work?

Our resilience as Australians has been tested for over six months. Leaders need to maintain, build or reinvest in our own resilience. This can help us build the resilience of our people and teams. Some of the traits that comprise resilience are things that we can help our people learn and live in their day to day lives. As leaders, emotional intelligence and agility are two areas we have leaned into heavily through the pandemic. For our people, coping may require different sets of skills or traits.

As leaders, how can we better equip our people with the necessary skills and traits that help them cope better? How can we help them find perspective and keep as even a keel as is possible?

This week we’re turning our spotlight on resilience and particularly helping our people find ways to feel in control of their lives. COVID-19 is something that has happened to all of us. As Australians, we’ve chosen to come together to collectively try and flatten the curve. We’ve also chosen to, as much as possible, follow advice and implement new ways of living such as physical distancing. We’re making a choice to come together and do what’s necessary to try and prevent a broader second wave. Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves and each other that we’ve all been a part in making these choices.

Find our wide range of Leader Tools and our new Personal Tool - Finding and maintaining your sense of personal control in the Employer and Employee Login Areas of our website. 

Building resilience during these times can be challenging but it is something we can work on together. As always, as your EAP we are here to support your people whatever the nature of their concerns, please contact AccessEAP on 1800 818 728.

Supporting your people through changing physical distancing restrictions

We wanted to start the conversation this week by addressing the question that is probably sitting somewhere in the minds of a lot of people – is this the start of the dreaded 'Second Wave'? Just as we were enjoying the reprieve offered from the restrictions of physical distancing, the Victorian government's response has been the reintroduction of Stage 3 restrictions for Melbourne. I'm sure our thoughts are with those who have been impacted directly or had friends and loved ones affected.

Last week we talked about the importance of language, and I must admit it is disheartening to be bombarded by media messages about the 'Ring of Steel' surrounding Melbourne. Already government messages are preparing other states such as NSW for the inevitability of heightened restrictions. It's hard in times like these to avoid feeling that we're under siege, and a constant defensive mentality is not a great way to achieve mental health and wellbeing.

This week we're putting the spotlight on supporting one another and the importance of getting the language right. As a result, we've also adopted a different approach to your support tools this week. We wanted to take the opportunity to have one of our senior clinical team members, Kate McPhee (Psychologist & Clinical Associate Coordinator) from our Melbourne office create the Personal Tool. We wanted to acknowledge the experience of those in Victoria and use their lived experience to help us better understand how to support others. Kate described some of the impacts of well-intentioned messages from friends and loved ones over the past few days as:

“We’ve had well-meaning interstate friends, family and colleagues say ‘you poor people in Melbourne having to increase physical distancing restrictions AGAIN’. Try to imagine how this makes us feel? For those of us in Melbourne remember they are intending to be supportive and its hard for them to understand, don’t take it personally and reach out to your family and friends in Victoria who do understand. In Melbourne there is a sense we understand why it has to happen, we’ve done it before and we are just trying to get on with doing our part.”

Access via our Employer Login Area - COVID-19 Supporting your people:

We are here to support you through these changes. Wherever you are located, we're in this together. As always, as your EAP we are here to support your people whatever the nature of their concerns, please contact AccessEAP on 1800 818 728.

Looking out for educator wellbeing

Published in Education Today 30th June 2020

More needs to be done to ensure teachers wellbeing is championed to aid the trickle-down effect from teacher to student.

“It is undeniable that the educational workplace environment can be high pressured and demanding,” says Sally Kirkright, CEO of employer assistance program provider, AccessEAP.

Many teachers and principals face a variety of stressors in their day-to-day work, such as low pay, long hours, poor work-life balance and a lack of support, this can increase the risk of experiencing mental health issues as a result. As resilience is continuously tested, teachers can burnout, quit their jobs and cycle out of the education sector.

“Schools should be considered workplaces first, classrooms second,” Kirkright continues.  “If these problems aren’t solved, they may slowly lead to a crisis of mental ill-health, stress, frustration, overall attrition and increased student disillusionment with education,” she adds.

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Leading your people in the new normal

This past week the new normal lived up to its reputation that the only constant is change. It's important to recognise and call out the level of complexity the new normal demands of us. We are expected to safely navigate our people and organisations through an ever-changing and unclear environment where strategies can be turned on their head overnight.

The experience of those in 'lockdown' suburbs in Victoria, with more restrictions announced along with the border closure, highlights this. Our thoughts go out to those impacted with the return to or imposition of new restrictions. We'd also like to help reframe this language as use of the term lockdown is compelling, but not necessarily the most helpful. While it helps the government manage the risk of minimising or eliminating the chance of a second wave, what is the impact on people right now? We need to think about this, as there is a probability that this may happen in other cities or states and directly impact our people or their loved ones.

Media coverage of police conducting roadside testing on the borders of impacted suburbs is a very confronting situation. There is heightened fear and anxiety for those affected, more broadly in Victoria and for many of us. A few weeks ago, we spoke about the emotional wave. How can you prepare your leaders to manage the emotional waves and navigate your people, teams and organisation and help build confidence and equilibrium?

This week has highlighted the nature and challenge of ongoing risks facing our organisations and our people in the new normal. When we look back at these times once we have safely navigated through COVID-19, as we inevitably will, what will we see? What will be the standouts? How will we have grown our people and our organisations? How will we have grown as leaders?

This week we turn our spotlight on how to create some practical, sensible ways we can lead our people in the new normal.

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Young workers at the COVID-19 frontlines

Published in Safety Solutions 26th June 2020

"Working with young employees presents a number of challenges, especially for those in the retail sector. The coronavirus pandemic has compounded the challenges employers face, especially with regard to safeguarding the mental wellbeing of their young workers.

Marcela Slepica, Director Clinical Services AccessEAP, offers some focus points for retail employers and managers to help them maintain the wellbeing of their young workforce as the sector faces perhaps its greatest challenge in living memory."

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Businesses told not to ignore men’s mental health

Published in MyBusiness 8th June 2020

Businesses have an important role to play in helping Australians face the mental health impact of COVID-19. Many will face heightened anxiety, social isolation and stress as a result of the unprecedented crisis.

"Some men who suffer with mental health problems feel societal stigma which is often what prevents them from opening up." Marcela Slepica, Director Clinical Services at AccessEAP.

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Harnessing EAP for risk management

It’s been a sobering week, with news of rising cases in Victoria and discussion of restrictions on travel between states. It seems that our growing sense of positivity and a sense that we were getting through this has had a reality check. On top of this, there have been some high-level media coverage surrounding jobs losses, redundancies and ongoing stand down impacting many Australians. In a recent AFR article, the IMF stated the global pandemic recession is deeper than feared, and that Australia will be impacted with a likely 4.5% contraction. The good news? Australia is the only advanced economy to have its outlook upgraded, and expected to contract less than the April forecast, which predicted a 6.7% contraction.

With this in mind, we turn our spotlight on how your EAP can help assist you to manage risk and support your people and organisation through challenging times.

Together we potentially face the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. We know from our conversations with many of you the issues that are dominating your thinking and current people strategies are around managing through the new normal, navigating through COVID-19 recession and being able to come out the other side. We are also positive that we will get through this together. The success of our economy is built upon the success of business and organisations. We’re here to help you successfully navigate the business and people challenges you currently face.

We’ve previously spoken about financial security, and this is an ongoing stress for many of us. We want to highlight how your EAP strategy and support can help you manage your business and people risks. We have created additional support tools. Our Manager Tool discusses some specific elements to help proactively identify and manage risks. Our Personal Tool offers your people some suggestions on how they can be in control of managing some of their personal risks.

Access via our Employer Login Area - COVID-19 Supporting your people:

Through conversations with your dedicated Relationship Manager, we can help you plan and implement a combination of proactive strategies to proactively identify, manage and minimise your people risks and the interventions and support required for those with specific needs. Reach out to your Relationship Manager to start the conversation with our Clinical and Organisational Development teams. Our people are here to help you and your people.

The importance of clarity in uncertain times

Reflecting on the lessons learned in the last few months, our reflection inevitably turned to two things – clear communication and decision making as leaders. One of the things that stood out was how we had changed our communication style. Our language evolves in response to the physical and psychological needs of our people, and where we have been as a team on the various stages of the COVID-19 journey.

This week our spotlight is on evolving our communication to continue to meet the needs of our people as we grow increasingly accustomed to the new normal.

At AccessEAP, we’re already in a blended workplace and continue to shape the blended workspace as we get better at actually doing it. We’ve openly shared with our people that we expect this to continue for some time and are actively looking for ways to support our people so they can better support your people. 

The phrase “clear is kind, unclear is unkind” (Brene Brown) is one that we often find ourselves challenging each other with. Looking back at how we have evolved our communication and messages over the past few months, something stands out. We’ve always sought to make a clear distinction between providing clarity and providing certainty. With so many unknowns to grapple with over the past few months, and more yet to come, we openly share when there are things we are uncertain about. Our people have been included as we’ve gone on this journey together. We’ve also made sure to clearly state that there is a difference between being uncertain and not knowing.

The power in the difference between the phrase “We’re not certain but let’s find out” and “we don’t know” is one that can have a direct impact on your people’s mental health and wellbeing. Uncertainty implies that you have some ideas on what’s required and that more thinking is needed to make the right decision. This can instil confidence in your people that you are being open, transparent and honest but have several alternative options that require a decision. Everyone has a part to play, and this approach encourages individual responsibility and ownership as we engage in creating potential solutions.

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Best practice for leading through crisis and change

Communicate, communicate, communicate. It's best practice for leading through crisis and change – both of which we've had plenty of over the past few months. It's time to take a moment; pause and reflect on what's happened and how we have led our people through COVID-19.

In the moment of reflection, it can become apparent just how much we have done and achieved over the past few months. It's also become apparent that information overload has taken on a whole new meaning throughout COVID-19. One of the contributors to exhaustion and stress is information overload. We've been bombarded by messaging across all platforms for some time. It's also important to recognise that communication through an extended period of crisis and change must evolve to continue to be meaningful, impactful and internalised.

This week we turn a spotlight on evolving communication for our people.

Knowing that our people may be feeling exhausted, experiencing information overload and sorting through information which has at times been unclear or uncertain, we can identify ways that we can adapt our communication approach to their needs. Now, more than ever, clear, concise and bite-sized chunks of messages are required. It's also helpful for consistency. It might help your people to think about how you can curate information or what's communicated to help this land better. There is a substantial amount of information that has been made available to your people from lots of different sources, including the state and federal governments.

Overall, trending presenting issues and requests for support confirm the effects of overload. 

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Stronger together: Mental Health Awareness during COVID-19

As we prepare for a return to work or physical workspaces with physical distancing requirements being eased, the impacts on our mental health will continue for some time. It is vital to be aware that many employees, colleagues and peers may be struggling. One of the troubling impacts of the COVID-19 epidemic on mental health is the increased risk of suicide. Raising mental health awareness is one of the tools we can each use and includes understanding the risks factors for poor mental health as well as knowing the signs.

We know the factors which protect our mental health are:

  • social support and connection
  • meaningful activity
  • maintaining a healthy lifestyle
  • rest and relaxation
  • a reliable source of income
  • and problem-solving skills.

Risk factors that can contribute to poor mental health:

  • an increase in drug and alcohol use
  • family history of mental illness
  • history of trauma
  • chronic or ongoing stress
  • loss of long-term relationship or person
  • social isolation not just physical isolation
  • financial stress
  • and poor physical health.

Signs that someone may be struggling:

  • dramatic changes in behaviour, mood or attitude
  • increased feelings of anxiety or depression
  • expressing thoughts of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness.

Many people find it difficult to talk about mental health with someone they are concerned about – and this is normal. It is natural for people to fear saying the wrong thing or making things worse. However, ignoring mental health issues won't make them go away. Having a conversation and expressing concern is vital.

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Managing your financial stress during COVID-19

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has had a wide-ranging impact on all of us. It is perfectly normal to worry about our financial situation, even in the best of times, as we try and provide a good life for ourselves and our loved ones. With so much uncertainty across several industries and employers, financially related stress may become overwhelming.

Financial worry is normal. Financial security, job security and a steady income are important basic things we require to provide for our loved ones, to feel safe and secure. Financial security supports our wellbeing, such as leisure time and activities. The loss of that security creates uncertainty and anxiety. If we are not careful to manage our thoughts and emotions, financial stress can dominate our thoughts 24/7 and impact on our health and wellbeing. The way we view our financial situation can shape our thoughts and feelings and harm relationships.

Some signs that financial stress is affecting your health and relationships include:

  • arguing with your partner or family about money
  • difficulty sleeping or relaxing
  • feeling angry or fearful
  • mood swings
  • tiredness
  • muscle pain
  • loss of appetite
  • withdrawing from interaction with others.

Financial stress can affect your health in many ways:

  • poor physical health
  • delaying accessing healthcare
  • poor mental health 
  • unhealthy coping behaviours.

Seeking help to fully understand your financial position and the options available to you is the first step in getting back in control of your finances and improving your mental and physical health. AccessEAP offers specialist Financial Coaching in addition to EAP counselling. For more information, Manager and Personal Tools can be accessed here or call 1800 818 728 to book an appointment.

How has COVID-19 impacted men's mental health?

Published in Human Resources Director 5th June 2020
 

Men are often stereotyped in pop culture into unrealistic images of masculinity that discourage them from getting help for their mental health, according to Marcela Slepica, Clinical Services Director, AccessEAP.

“This can be very detrimental and workplaces should help debunk these myths by talking about mental health and acknowledging that it is normal to have feelings of sadness or anxiety especially during these times of uncertainty,” added Slepica.

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What’s Next, COVID-19 Transition Planning

It is a promising sign when many of our conversations turned to “what’s next” this week. Recent media coverage has spoken about the return to work and the transition to the ‘new normal’. This language doesn’t recognise that many of us continued to work either in our workplaces or from our homes.

What we do know is that we are all caught up in planning the process of the return to the ‘new normal’. It’s time to talk about the impacts on your people, the workplace and the effect of the easing of physical distancing restrictions. While we recognise and have been talking about managing thoughts and emotions through COVID-19, our thinking is now shifting from crisis management in-the-moment to forward planning. The biggest lesson we’d like to talk about from these conversations is the unexpected outcomes people and teams who have already returned to the workplace have shared with us.

As we start a new phase of the COVID-19 journey, are we looking at a more hopeful stage as we can begin to move around more? Are we looking forward to the opportunity to interact with more people and physically connect in person? What will this look and feel like? How will our people react?

What we know is that there is no one size fits all solution. That’s why we have released a Transition Planning Guide, designed to help you think, plan and be able to implement a range of solutions to help your people, teams and organisation move through the transition to the ‘new normal’ as smoothly as possible. Find it in our Employer Login COVID-19 Toolkit. 

 

You may feel isolated, but you’re not alone

It has been just over two years since AccessEAP started working with Support Act to recognise the needs of a group of workers who were previously “left out” of traditional Employee Assistance Program support. Back then, due to the incredible fundraising efforts of Support Act and it’s founders, mental health services were made readily available to the music industry. That was a great achievement but Support Act saw the needs of so many others, in creative industries, being left unmet. Next came theatre industries and now all artists and art workers across Australia.

The twelve-month expansion of this essential service has been made possible thanks to the Australian Government, through the Office of the Arts. Clive Miller, CEO, says he is thrilled that Support Act can extend access to the Helpline to the wider arts community during this challenging time.

It is with immense pride that AccessEAP assists Support Act along this journey. The Helpline is delivered in partnership with AccessEAP and is a free, confidential service available 24/7, staffed by professional clinicians familiar with issues faced by people working in music and the arts.

There are many other groups of people who provide incredible value but work outside of regular employment conditions. Volunteers, carers and association members would not usually be covered by EAPs however, in many cases, they are groups with significant needs. AccessEAP recognises that the one size fits all approach isn’t appropriate when mental health and wellbeing are in the balance. AccessEAP provides a range of other assistance programs to cater to the specific needs of these groups and just like Support Act we are always looking to expand our programs to ensure the best wellbeing outcomes for people at life and work.

The Support Act Wellbeing Helpline is now available to all arts workers and can be accessed by calling 1800 959 500 within Australia, or via email. Zoom video calls are also available. “You may feel isolated, but you’re not alone”. This short video is a great way to promote this service to those in the creative arts.

Support for teens going back to school after isolation

While many lives have been put on hold due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, some argue that certain groups have been affected by the loss of physical contact more than others. Teenage years are characterised by rapid learning, risk-taking, building relationships and establishing a sense of self. Having to spend more time than usual in the family home can cause added tension with fewer outlets for release. With many high schools around the country returning to the classroom, there is some sense of normality being restored; however, for tertiary education students, the path back to campus is still unclear. 

As parents, it is important than ever to keep the lines of communication open; We are witnessing an exponential increase in mental health issues among teens. So how can we support teens to proactively manage stress through these tumultuous times?

Good sleep

Poor sleep often accompanies stressful times. Teenagers experiencing stress might lie awake worrying at night and be too tired to function well the next day. This can set up a poor sleep pattern. The Sleep Health Foundation recommends these tips to help your child establish healthy sleeping patterns: avoid screen time an hour before bed and encourage reading or listening to relaxing music instead to help wind down; support your teen to establish and stick to a routine around bed and wake-up times; encourage them to get around 7.5 hours of sleep per night, which is the optimum amount of time for teenagers. Read more here.

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How to build resilience through COVID-19

Published in Human Resources Director 7th May 2020

Marcela Slepica, Clinical Services Director, AccessEAP, said in the current climate, it’s important to manage the demands of COVID-19, such as social isolation, caring for our families and home-schooling children while juggling work.

“It’s vital to remember that we are not born resilient. We can develop coping strategies, including practised traits and learned behaviours that will help us remain positive and deal with new challenges,” she said.

Workplaces play a part in maintaining a semblance of normality, by providing employees with structure, some social connection and purpose.

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COVID-19: AccessEAP Healthcare Hotline

The public health challenges of COVID-19 may no longer be in the news several times a day, but our healthcare workers continue to be on the frontline of this crisis and under immense pressure. Healthcare workers need easy access to support as early as possible to ensure the best mental health outcomes. Launched last week, the AccessEAP Healthcare Hotline responds to the specific needs of our healthcare customers during the pandemic. 

How does AccessEAP's Healthcare Hotline work?

  • The dedicated, 24/7/365, toll-free Healthcare Hotline number will be recognised and answered by our client services team. 
  • Healthcare clients will be offered same day counselling appointments via telephone or video. 
  • Healthcare clients will have access to AccessEAP's most senior clinicians and psychologists with expertise in working in the healthcare sector and/or a hospital environment.

Visit the Primary Healthcare Toolkit within the Employer login area for more information or to discuss how AccessEAP can further support your organisation, please reach out to your dedicated Relationship Manager.

COVID-19 Major working from home struggle facing employees during the pandemic

Published in Yahoo Lifestyle 2nd April 2020

With many people all around the country now working from home due to the outbreak of COVID-19, Marcela Slepica AccessEAP Director Clinical Services, believes there’s definitely an increased risk of workplace exhaustion.

“For example, working parents who have young children at home, have to to juggle teaching, supervising and keeping children busy while also trying to work and meet deadlines. In addition to this, there are fears of not wanting to risk losing their job, which means they may be working late at night and doing overtime,” Marcela said.

“The pressures and demands can be significant. Those working alone who are isolated may struggle with loneliness, motivation, and feel disconnected from their colleagues. This may impact their feelings of anxiety, may affect sleep, and could also cause them to work longer hours as they fear losing their jobs.”

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COVID-19 Supporting each other in a time of crisis

Published in mybusiness 1st April 2020

Communicate often, according to Marcela Slepica, AccessEAP Director, Clinical Services.

It’s important for employers to check in with their team members. Regular check-ins help people to feel connected, and managers should try to provide structure for employees. The situation is constantly changing and evolving, so reassuring people we are in this together is vital. 

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