How business leaders and managers can support staff affected by bushfires

With the recent bushfires and devastation that we’ve all witnessed or experienced, it’s normal to feel and experience feelings of confusion and uncertainty about the future.

As people start returning to work after the holidays, business owners, leaders and managers will need to be aware that their employees may have been affected by Australia’s bushfire crisis.

Health experts say it’s a normal reaction to feel fearful, anxious or overwhelmed after a traumatic event and we need to acknowledge and be mindful of how different people respond and cope with trauma.

Here is some advice on how business leaders and managers can support staff affected by bushfires:

  1. Acknowledge what has and still is currently happening ie:
    – loss of lives, property, infrastructure, and wildlife
    – state of alerts, emergencies and disasters in ACT, NSW, Victoria and SA
    – strenuous efforts from volunteer fire firefighters over a prolonged period time, now supported by the ADF and reservists
  2. Ask your HR department if any bushfire specific support is available
  3. Support your staff to access leave if they or their families have been impacted – refer to Fair Work Ombudsman
  4. Think about alternatives to standing people down (take annual leave, work at sites not affected by fires) refer to Fair Work Ombudsman
  5. Create a safe and neutral space for your staff with active listening ie:
    – pay attention to what they’re saying
    – show that you’re listening and engaged and be comfortable with silences and pauses
    – defer judgment, comparisons and personal anecdotes 
    – resist the temptation to tell them what to do or what you would do if you were them
    – respond appropriately and with kindness 
  6. Encourage access to counselling available through the employee assistance program (if your company, organisation or department has one)
  7. Encourage access to Lifeline via telephone 13 11 14 or online Crisis Chat service.

Here are some other useful resources and links:
Beyond Blue
ACT Health

Image: Nick Moir, SMH

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