Communicating Health Advice
Guidance and support for team leaders and managers
Tena koutou katoa colleagues
The world is watching on as the COVID-19 virus (novel Coronavirus) spreads beyond the borders of China, and its site of origin in Wuhan.
While New Zealand has had its first imported case, the risk of a widespread outbreak is considered to be low. Positive case tracing is ongoing and advice and updates will be provided by the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Best available advice is if someone feels unwell that they should contact Healthline (0800 611 116) or if visiting their GP that they should call ahead first.
The virus is most likely to spread from person to person through:
- direct contact with a person while they are infectious
- contact with droplets when a person with a confirmed infection coughs or sneezes
- touching objects or surfaces that were contaminated by droplets (like those from a cough or sneeze) from a person with a confirmed infection and then touching your mouth or face.
The MOH campaign asks people to protect themselves and limit the spread of disease. Practising good hand hygiene and sneeze/cough hygiene is the best defence against most viruses. You should:
- wash your hands (for at least 20 seconds) frequently with soap and water and dry them well, before and after eating and after going to the toilet
- avoid contact with others (touching, kissing, hugging and other intimate contact)
- cover coughs and sneezes with clean tissues or your elbow and dispose of tissues then wash your hands as soon as possible
- use alcohol-based hand sanitiser if you aren’t able to wash and dry your hands.
Staff will be experiencing the news of the spread of the disease in varying ways depending on the quality of the information being heard and discussed, past experiences and personalities. It important to ensure that the facts are being used when communications are being presented so as not to heighten alarm.
The Role of the Manager
An initial response from the workplace in delivering messages is an important and necessary process for any impacted employee(s). However, how your organisation responds to potential risk and threat will affect the way your employees will gauge their own work safety and their personal options should the virus spread in New Zealand. Ignoring potential risk will not comfort staff.
Asking how staff are doing is helpful and sending clear messages about it being ok to seek help will make a difference.
Your key role or job as a manager is to create an environment where work can safely progress as your employees consider the practicalities of the plans that you have signalled would be put in place.
Your warmth, support and professionalism can set an example that will last long after the threat is passed and is one of the most conducive elements to supporting the wellbeing of your team.
Tips for managers at the worksite
- Keep yourself informed through the MOH website – the site is being updated on a regular basis https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-novel-coronavirus-health-advice-general-public and keep the Healthline number available for staff – 0800 611 116.
- Be visible in the workplace – where appropriate. Let your presence be known and seen. Talk with the staff. One of the biggest factors to helping a workplace prepare for possible risk is to demonstrate that they understand the employees may be affected and the implications if this is so. Acknowledgment and expression of this awareness along with a well thought-through plan significantly reduces the chance of further distress over time. It matters that “the company cares” about the employee as a person.
- Let your staff know that you know their work may temporarily be affected. Ask what they need.
- Be tolerant of a wide range of individual responses among the employees.
- Be family/whanau focussed in your approach with your team. Many with young children or with elderly parents they support will be concerned about how they might manage possible isolation and whether they have sufficient affordable supplies should this be required.
- Access Vitae’s Manager helpline service - Ring and talk to us if you have concerns and want some guidance – you do not have to work out scenarios/situations in isolation and we are available 24/7 just ring in and ask for the manager/duty manager
- Keep a staff contact list with you with different means of communication - Ensure that you can contact your people
Sharing information with your team / employees
Employees will have many questions and they need answers. As more information develops about the spread of the disease and its likely impact, you will be able to refine your thinking. it is important to continue to provide updates of information to the workforce. Best practice is to communicate that you will provide updated information and include how and when. Your usual methods of communication may need to be reviewed should circumstances change – plan for this too
- Take care of your own people first within your organisation.
- Send clear messages backed up by reliable information to alleviate unnecessary panic, as well as your possible contingency plans
- Modify office rules and procedures to ensure adaptability if needed
- Give staff information about how you might approach working remotely where possible, what might happen if people feel unwell and have the need to self-isolate or when a return to work if possible, and give information about pay/wages/ financial support for those who may not be at work
- Take steps to maintain a workplace with healthy hygiene habits
- Support staff with children and significant others to have contingency plans in place
- Make it clear that this is a difficult period, and it’s okay to share feelings of anxiety or frustration when we don’t know all the information.
- Acknowledge the value of accessing support services including professional counselling, and encourage your employees to get whatever help they need.
- Provide opportunities for employees to talk about their concerns.
- Take steps to reduce unnecessary stress. Provide information on how your team can access support by ringing in themselves to us at Vitae on 0508 664 981 24/7 or Healthline on 0800 611 116 if they have concern about their physical well being.
- Don’t underestimate the impact of stress on yourself as an individual. Take care of yourself and your family too
- Contact Vitae for further material such as wallet cards and pamphlets
- Update your intranet with information on how to access support