Over 18.5 million hectares have burnt across the country, with almost 2,000 homes destroyed, and an estimated 480 million animals have been killed by the fires. But the impact on Australians is not only mental, with the economic damage set to exceed the record $4.4 billion set by the Black Saturday fires in 2009, with at least 1.8 million work days lost as a result.
Marcela Slepica, clinical director at AccessEAP, has warned that the impact of the bushfires will have a long-term effect.
“The feeling of loss can overwhelm people, and while those who are unaffected resume their daily lives, those who are still recovering have to start adapting to a new normal while grieving their loss and trying to rebuild their lives,” Ms Slepica said.
“Returning to work is a major step for those who have been constantly trying to protect their homes and families, and while it can be a daunting experience, it can provide a sense of purpose and connection which is essential to recovery.”
As such, Ms Slepica is appealing to workplaces to provide a sense of community to employees who have suffered as a result of the fires. According to her, business owners and managers should be sensitive with how they deal with staff members who have been affected and are returning to work.
Acknowledge that the road to recovery will be long
Before welcoming staff back into the workplace, Ms Slepica noted that it’s important to know that the grieving process is long and hard and recovery often comes in stages.
Managers are encouraged to think about the levels and types of required support that will be needed at different times. She explained that managers should prepare for delayed grief or PTSD and be equipped to tackle these reactions.
Adopt a flexible approach to hours for those affected
While it’s hard to tell when shock and grief will hit the hardest, Ms Slepica said that by adopting flexible working hours, affected staff can rest assured that they won’t be overwhelmed once they return back to the workplace and the work can be drip-fed.
Establish an open-door policy
Where possible and appropriate, she opined it would be better to encourage people to communicate their needs, rather than to assume you know what their needs may be.
She suggested managers should let their staff know that they always have time to listen to them and help them when they are in need.
Advise those suffering to speak with their confidential EAP service
Recognising that managers can only do so much to support people, Ms Slepica advised business owners to make sure their business has other support networks in place, too.
An EAP can offer help in person or over the phone, offering coping strategies and counselling for any problems without judgement.