How business leaders can support employees during and after Australia’s bushfire crisis

Returning to work after a Christmas break spent with family and loved ones is usually an exciting time filled with anticipation of what the new year will bring.

Unfortunately, the majority of those in Australia starting their new year are returning to work in sad circumstances, as our country is gripped by a bushfire crisis.

Precious lives lost, many lives ruined, towns and communities shattered. The true cost of these events will only continue to unfold over time, our horrified eyes glued to the media coverage.

It is easy to feel helpless as we watch our firefighters (and those from overseas) fight these raging fires.

As leaders and businesses, what can we do to support our workers and team members during a time of helplessness?

Acknowledging the tragic and dire situation is key. Giving your employees time and space to be sad is also vital.

Here are a few other tips on how you can support your teams through a national disaster.

1. Provide access to counselling services

There will be many Australians who will experience trauma due to these recent events. As an employer, you have a duty of care for your team, and frankly, it results in a better bottom line.

Unfortunately, mental health stigma is still a very real thing. Make sure you share your employee assistance program details with your employees as a reminder that there is confidential professional counselling and resources for them. Remember to keep this front of mind even after the immediate threat passes.

2. Offering greater flexibility in leave entitlements

Giving your employees leave if they or their families have been adversely impacted by the fires will be enormous support and help. The last thing someone in this position should worry about is the security of their job.

You will often have to offer this proactively as employees who have just had a break may not feel comfortable asking for more time off.

3. Build a culture of community and trust

Give your employees space and psychological safety to feel sad and talk freely about the current situation, their personal situation. Every piece of support they can get will be of help.

To help combat the feeling of helplessness, consider how you can contribute to community initiatives as a team. Whether that’s raising money, volunteering time or simply increasing awareness.

4. Reach out to and support partners

It is easy to turn our attention inwards at these times. It’s human nature. However, I implore you to reach out to your business network of partners or associates who might be affected by this crisis. Offer what support you can.

Many Australian businesses have a long road of healing and rebuilding ahead and our community must rally together to support them.

This article was first published on LinkedIn and has been republished with permission.

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