Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of every worker is essential. There are many things that can affect mental health, including work as it plays a significant role in our everyday life. Over time there has been a stigma around mental health illness and no more so than in the construction industry.

Now with the increased awareness, education and support services available and organisations, big and small in the industry making it a priority, this stigma is slowly being removed and more and more workers know it’s okay now to ask for help and are reaching out for the help they need.

The awareness and promotion of mental health illness needs to continue in the industry and organisations have a vital role in this. The continuation of the uncertainty in the world from the pandemic and other social and environmental factors makes mental health awareness an even greater priority.

If you are leading a team of people, in the office, remotely or on a building site, there are ways you can support and promote mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Here are some tips for you to take action:

Providing awareness, training and support

Communicating and providing awareness to your workers on why we need to discuss mental health, the problems it can cause people and warning signs to look out for if someone they know is struggling is important. Workers need to know that it’s okay to talk about mental health and seek support if they need it, who in the organisation they can go to if they need someone to talk to or how they can access the organisation’s support programs such as an employee assistance program (EAP).

Training certain individuals to be a person someone can turn to if they are in need of help is critical but also shows to all workers how serious the organisation is in supporting mental health and wellbeing. There are a number of organisations who run training sessions for people/workers who volunteer to be support person such as Mates in Construction and Beyond Blue.

Clear and consistent communication of your mental health and wellness support programs and resources and the people involved is crucial, especially on large worksites, so people know what is available to them. Promoting programs and resources through your organisation’s website or staff portal/hub, in breakout/tea rooms, email signatures, social media, when onboarding new workers, participating in charitable mental health events such as RU Ok? day, bringing in someone that is willing to share their personal experience with mental health, setting up information and training sessions and allowing workers time to attend them will create awareness of your mental health and wellness support programs.

What is an Employee Assistance program?

According to the Employee Assistance Professional Association of Australaisa (EAPAA), an EAP ‘is a work-based intervention program designed to enhance the emotional, mental and general psychological wellbeing of all employees and includes services for immediate family members.’ Having an EAP can help with early prevention and interventions of any issues related to work or personal that might be affecting a person’s ability to perform/reach their full potential at work and life in general.

Some large organisations may provide their EAP programs in-house but generally these are outsourced to a provider who have experienced counsellors, referral partners for different services that might be needed, and they understand the compliance and reporting required.

If your organisation has not created an EAP then it might be a good time to start. It’s critical with all the uncertainty around the pandemic and the effects of snap shutdowns in Victoria, reduced numbers on construction sites and increases in COVID-19 cases, workers of all ages need to be supported.

There are some critical elements that need to be considered when putting together an EAP such as the goals and needs of the EAP, if it will be outsourced, training staff, how the EAP will be communicated and tracked, development of policies, procedures and guidelines and compliance/legal and confidentiality requirements. An experienced Human Resources consultant like, Catie Paterson HR Business Consulting can help you and your team put together an EAP that is the right fit for your organisation and your onsite workers.

Not only are EAP’s there to help your workers, they can also help an organisation with less employee absenteeism reducing costs, increases in engagement and retention, to mitigate risks and health and safety concerns and improve productivity levels.

Learn to be a good listener and attuned to how your workers are really feeling

A strong leader is able to engage their people to maximise their people’s potential to be better, communicate effectively, regularly solicit feedback and new ideas and have the ability to problem solve and react quickly to the changing environment.

Whether you are managing one worksite or multiple sites or a small business owner with apprentices, being a good listener and building that human connection that develops trust and loyalty with your workers is essential for a good working relationship and for them to feel they can be open with you. It can also help you, as a leader, to gain knowledge and even new ideas.

To further encourage open communication, it’s important to consistently make time and space for each of your workers to be able to speak with you and for you to check in with them. This will help you get to know and understand their individual circumstances from both a personal and work point of view. The check ins are not only important for collecting feedback from your worker but allow for uninterrupted time to discuss any problems they might be experiencing, work in progress, professional development and performance. Having conversations like these will also help you align the needs of the team with the business.

With immense time pressures on building sites and trades, finding the time to meet with each worker during the week can be difficult. It’s important that these check ins are not rushed or continuously rescheduled.

To make the most of your one-to-one check ins:

  1. Set re-occurring check ins at a frequency that suits you, your workers and the business and limit the time to 30 minutes.
  2. Keep them as formal or casual as you like or what suits your business. However, it can be useful to structure them or have an agenda in mind to ensure what needs to be discussed is and to keep to time.
  3. Take some time before the meeting to collect your thoughts and remove any distractions so you are fully present.
  4. To encourage a flow of conversation and to ‘break the ice’, start with a non-work-related simple question to relieve any tension and to start off positive i.e. How was your weekend? If you know of an activity they like or involved in, ‘Did you play football this weekend?’ You could also start off with something around well-being ‘How are you feeling this week?’
  5. Ask questions with intent and really show you are listening and interested with what they have to say.

It is especially important leaders are communicating and checking in on their workers. At the same time, leaders also need to be checked on, as they are working extra hard to protect the wellbeing and safety of their workers and steer their business through economic uncertainty. As such, there needs to be a process or system in place to make sure leaders and the business owners are also being checked on regularly. This could be a colleague or someone outside the organisation.

The role of a leader is significant in creating a safe work environment and inspiring others to do so. Not only enforcing the legal obligations of safe work but having a workplace where their people are able to effectively do their work to their full potential. During these times of uncertainty, it’s essential to keep people well-informed of current situations and how they might be affected. This can alleviate some stress and anxiety.

If you or someone you know is suffering with their mental health, contact Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636. 

If you’re currently experiencing an increase in difficult, sensitive and overwhelming issues with your workers and need help finding an engaging approach for you or your leaders, please don’t hesitate to contact Catie Paterson HR Business Consulting today on 0409 545 634 or catie@catiepaterson.com.au.

Recently, Catie had the privilege of being invited to appear on an episode of Small Business Matters with The Better Business for Good (BB4G) TV. Co-founder Brenda Thomson and Catie discuss the IF, WHEN and HOW of effectively managing redundancies, in particular:

– Why would you consider redundancy?

– Can you make any role redundant?

– What are the legal implications?

– Do you have to follow a process?

– What are the alternatives to redundancy?

Catch up on Catie’s episode now on the Better Business for Good Company website. Click the link below to watch the full episode.

https://bit.ly/3oFiKWJ

If you are needing guidance on how to effectively manage redundancies, get in touch with me today.

Businesses are always having to adapt to changes from the economic and social environment, technological advancements and their customer’s needs. Many of these changes can be planned for and implemented when the business is ready. The pandemic changed a lot of these plans and some businesses were forced to pivot their operations and priorities or even temporarily close, no more so then in the building industry.

Significant events like COVID-19, have impacts on employee roles, responsibilities and conditions, however, at the same time, it hasn’t changed employer obligations no matter the severity of business issues.

In a recent case, a client in the building industry had an employee file an unfair dismissal claim citing constructive dismissal and redundancy. Due to the complexity of the dispute and changes to the business as a result of COVID-19 at that point in time, Catie Paterson HR Business Consulting was brought in to manage the unfair dismissal case to help the employer and employee resolve the dispute that was both fair and reasonable for both parties.

The lead up to the dispute

The employer owns and operates two business entities in the building industry. Before taking twelve months maternity leave the employee was engaged in a role, working three days per week and no weekends. When the employee was due to return to work from maternity leave, COVID-19 restrictions meant some of the builder’s operations were closed. There was a decline in sales which resulted in the employee not being able to return to their previous role.

The employer offered the employee an alternate role in their other ‘business entity’ for a period of four to six months until sales increased. The role offered was similar in status and the pay remained that same as the previous role with the other business entity. The hours of work would this time include working one weekend day.

The employee did not agree that the alternate role was of similar status and requested a further six-month extension of maternity leave in order to return to the original role. The employer did not agree to the maternity leave extension but agreed to the employee working three days per week and no weekends. The employee did not accept this and resigned from her role and filed an unfair dismissal citing constructive dismissal and redundancy.

The approach to the Unfair Dismissal Conciliation

According to Fair Work, a constructive dismissal is a forced resignation, meaning an employee has no real choice but to resign. A genuine redundancy is when an “employer no longer required the person’s job to be performed by anyone because of changes in the operational requirements of the employer’s enterprise.”

Catie Paterson HR Business Consulting approached the dispute by first reviewing and understanding the facts of the case by utilising prior knowledge and experience from other similar disputes, to determine if it was constructive dismissal and a genuine redundancy. With this concise process of review and consultation, Catie Paterson HR Business Consulting were able to gather the necessary documentation to justify the decisions that were made and that procedures were followed in compliance with Fair Work. This meant the client was well prepared for the unfair dismissal conciliation with the Fair Work Commission (FWC) and an agreed settlement could be reached, avoiding a full FWC hearing or conference.

The Result

During the conciliation it was found the situation was not constructive dismissal as the employee resigned on their own accord as a result of not wanting to accept/work in the alternate role offered with the other business entity. It was deemed that the employer did offer flexibility with changing the roster to working three days per week and no weekends.  Also, the original role was not made redundant as the employer required someone in the role for the future and within six months.

The importance of Human Resources (HR) policies, procedures and documentation

FWC conciliations and hearings can be very stressful for all parties involved and can be a very long, drawn out process if procedures, documentation and consultation requirements are not followed or complied with. As this case demonstrates it’s important to have workplace policies and procedures in place to help manage legal risk, provide that support framework for when decisions need to be made and required documentation.

It also shows how the complexity of the pandemic can affect a business and their employee’s roles, responsibilities and conditions but employer obligations still remain the same as before the pandemic.

Businesses going through significant changes should seek guidance from a Human Resources Consultant on any decisions that need to be made around their workforce to hopefully avoid FWC conciliations and hearings.

Here’s why a small business had to pay a redundancy based on full time hours and not part time hours which resulted in a difference of tens of thousands of dollars.

The impacts of the pandemic can be felt across many industries far and wide. One of the biggest industries that has really been hit hard is the events industry. Due to heavy Government restrictions of gatherings, all events where no longer able to go ahead which forced many small event businesses to temporary close or completely close with no longer being able to sustain the extended restrictions of Melbourne’s lockdown.

A small event-based business, who had been decimated by the pandemic and no longer in operation had to make redundancies. As a result of one employee not having an Employment Agreement and the process not being followed the business had to pay a redundancy based on full time hours and not part time hours which resulted in a significant difference of more than tens of thousands of dollars for the pay-out.

The lesson for other businesses is to make sure all your employees have written documentation, that it’s up to date with their current position and employment and signed by the employee.

Background

The employee was originally employed by the event-based business on a full-time basis and also received a significant salary increase over the past twelve months. During this time, the employee went on maternity leave and returned on a part-time basis.

Throughout their employment there was no signed Employment Agreement in place for either their full time or part time employment and no regular hours were discussed and confirmed in writing. The only form of documentation was a letter provided to the employee regarding their increase in salary.

With the unfortunate closure of the business, the business had to make redundancies which the relevant consultation requirements set out by the Fair Work Ombudsman were also not followed correctly.

The result

As there was no signed Employment Agreement in place, the administrative processes not correctly followed internally and the relevant consultation requirements set out by the Fair Work Ombudsman not followed, the business were required to pay the employee’s redundancy based on full time hours and not part time hours. This resulted in a significant pay-out to the employee at a substantial difference of more than tens of thousands of dollars.

Tips to prevent this happening to your business

  • No matter how big or small the business, it’s critical to have a good and solid administrative procedure that makes sure Employment Agreements are followed up on and signed. A signed Employment Agreement needs to be in place regardless of your relationship or if they are a ‘nice person.’
  • Any updates to the Employment Agreement should be made in writing and confirmed by employee by counter-signing the Employee Agreement.
  • The signed Employee Agreement must also be for your employee’s current employment and position.
  • It’s important to follow the Fair Work Ombudsman employment processes, procedures, policies and the law.
  • Seek professional advice if you are unsure about the redundancy process or need help to set up administrative processes and procedures for managing Employee Agreements.

 

These minor administrative tasks of signed Employment Agreements can seem insignificant and can be put to the side and sometimes forgotten about. As this case shows not following up and updating Employment Agreements when current employment and positions have changed can have significant consequences down the track. This case also emphasised the importance of understanding your obligations to consult with your employees when there have been substantial business changes.