What does workplace wellbeing look like in the middle of a COVID-19 Delta strain lockdown?

August 24, 20210 CommentUncategorized

The middle of 2021 brought a new wave of Covid-19 to Australian shores, and New South Wales is dealing with the brunt of it, counting hundreds of new cases every day. To say that the state has never seen such an unprecedented wellbeing crisis before would be an understatement, and yet, the show must go on for folks forced to transition to work from home situations. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all jobs. With lockdown keeping residents house-bound, retail and hospitality workers are forced into time off, causing strife among teams and causing staff to deal with displacement from their regular day-to-day. Considering this situation, workplace wellbeing is more critical than ever.

Blacktown is at the epicentre of the Delta strain chaos, with one apartment block even experiencing lockdown under police guard. The Blacktown Workers Club Group operates at the heart of West Sydney, running three venues, and like many, has had to shut its doors during the latest virus wave. 

The group has always emphasised community, and since 1955 the main club has acted as a hub for Blacktown residents and, more broadly, western Sydney locals. The group employs more than 200 people and operates for more than 50,000 club members. “It’s like having our own little village – they are truly community people,” says Alison Brown, Marketing Manager for the BWC group. “People that live in the community work with us; we’ve had grandparents, parents, children all come through over the years. It’s a real family atmosphere in the club.” So what happens when a community can’t access their community hub – how can we stay connected? 

Executive Manager of People and Culture Shelley Fletcher has worked at the club for 25 years, starting as an events waitress and witnessing the evolution of the venues as community cornerstones over the years. “Everything from pouring the beers to making the chips, I’ve worked on,” she reflects. “I can’t see me leaving the club any time soon – you’ll have to wheel me out of there! A lot of our employees are in the same position, with some even being with us for 40-odd years now.” This strong bond and connection staff have with BWC is a stark reminder that being unable to work displaces us not only financially but socially as well. We often rely on our ‘work family‘ to support us and help us feel like we belong to something greater than ourselves. Particularly with hospitality venues, the sharp about-face to isolation for staff who are used to seeing the same people every day (for sometimes decades on end) can be heartbreaking.

“Being in NSW and having gone through the most recent two lockdowns, the first one was slow, and then this one just hit so suddenly. I think it’s taking a toll in a different way,” says Alison. “We feel for all our staff that are home and having to deal with [isolation], and not having that day-to-day of being connected to each other.”

Given the dire nature of the situation, it was only natural that the Blacktown Workers Club Group found alignment with the Active & Thriving program. As the program operates primarily through a social media-style app, staff can stay connected and monitor their wellbeing progress despite not physically seeing one another. “Part of the motivation for seeking it out now is that we are in lockdown, and a lot of our staff are currently stood down, so it’s a way to keep in contact with them,” Alison explains. “It will maybe give them some tools to be able to overcome some of those things they might be struggling with – whether it be keeping physical exercise going or learning some life skills that may be valuable at a time like this.”

Shelley agrees, noting the one silver lining of the pandemic; staff across all age groups are now better acquainted with technology and how to connect with others. Staff already had an existing Facebook group where they regularly shared messages of encouragement, recipes for nutritious meals, and photos from scenic walks with the dog. It makes the transition to using an app like Active & Thriving that much easier and more intuitive, as it features all of the familiar functions of interactivity and engagement alongside tailored wellbeing content and resources. “They’re very willing to share with each other and engage with each other and stuff like that, so I think this is a way to kind of give it some framework,” continues Alison. “It will allow them to do that with some structure around it as well, which they really take on board.”

When discussing the partnership between Blacktown Workers Club Group and Active & Thriving, it’s clear that the holistic nature of the offering is what resonated strongly with Shelley when deciding to jump on board. Problems commonly cited with employee wellbeing programs surround their exclusion of certain areas of wellbeing and primary focus on just one or two areas. With Active & Thriving, the program counts physical, mental, social and even financial wellbeing under its wide-reaching umbrella. Particularly with the isolation and tragedy many have experienced since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, mental health and wellbeing has never been more important. “One of the key things for me when looking at programs was ensuring we were going to be very focused on mental wellbeing as well [as physical wellbeing]. We currently have 4 employees trained in Mental Health First Aid, we’re trying to break down the barriers and have conversations collectively and I think using this system will really help. There’s no shame in mental health and actually breaking it down.” Shelley also refers to the hands-on approach A&T provides, championing strong lines of communication, so businesses have clarity and confidence in embracing the program. “If I can have that relationship and understanding with the provider, I know that we’re going to be able to offer a good system and good service to our employees with the system as well.”

While employee wellbeing programs are both more present and more important than ever in the Australian workplace, it’s the impact they have on employee happiness makes a huge difference. Employers should be paying attention, too – because it’s in the best interest of their bottom line. One study found that happy employees are up to 20% more productive than their unhappy counterparts. Investing in your staff means investing in the longevity of your business, and more and more businesses are beginning to regard their employees as their most valuable asset. Shelley notes having seen this attitude grow more in surrounding local businesses, where companies are beginning to understand what she refers to as “the ‘people’ side of their business”.

“I think they finally realise that without people that actually come into the venue, without the people being there, you can’t replace that in-customer service. 

“The wellbeing of our people, and obviously good mental health and physical health, links directly into customer service. How the employee feels when giving that service is important because then the recipient, in this case our members, feels that same energy. It all connects.”

It’s clear that the BWC knows their community and understands the heart that beats at the centre of it – the people’s welfare, comfort, and contentment is what keeps community ties strong even in the darkest of times.

 “If our people are happy, our members are happy. It’s just that you feel it in the energy when you walk into the venue, you know – I think it’s key.”