The coronavirus pandemic continues to stretch through 2020, and human beings are not designed to live with stress for such a long time.
While there are expectations more restrictions will be eased from Sunday night, the uncertainty is causing many business owners, and employees, to reach breaking point.
Workplace psychologist Andrew Marty, from SACS Consulting, is an expert in the field.
The effects of the pandemic are far reaching - from accommodation, tourism, and hospitality businesses brought to the brink of closure or shutting down entirely, to office workers who haven't seen colleagues in months, to the added responsibilities required to keep industry operating without accidentally exposing someone to infection.
"When this whole thing started, there was a novelty about it, but in the last two or three months, I'm getting more clients reporting their staff are doing things they didn't used to do, because they're facing more stress," Mr Marty said.
"The signs are often changes in behaviour - staff go missing, they avoid contact, or they do the opposite, where they're calling you all the time, they've declined in confidence and they're trying to reassure themselves.
"Stress gets to a certain level and then it becomes a problem, and with Australia now in recession, recession always causes a high level of stress in people.
"We're seeing increasing evidence of worse communication, more arguments, more stress at home."
For managers and business owners, the key is improving communication, he said, and re-empowering employees.
"I take out the example of RUOK Day, it's a really good thing to say to your employees and colleagues 'are you okay?'," he said
"But some won't tell you the truth because they feel vulnerable, or their answer could endanger their jobs, so I also encourage "feed forward" - feedback is asking about the past, so feed forward is asking about the future.
"Asking 'is there anything I can do to help', or 'can I make this work better for you?', because research evidence suggests people can answer things about the future more honestly than they do about the past.
"We're encouraging people to ask are you okay, and if you feel you're not getting a complete answer, maybe a couple of days later ask 'is there something I can do to help or make things work more smoothly?'."
Not being able to work side-by-side means non-verbal cues get lost - Mr Marty said more phone calls, or even video calls, can help.
"The challenge when people are working remotely is going out of your way to plan to contact people, and give the best opportunity to understand what they're like," he said.
"(On a video call) you can at least see the person's face.
"At the moment, a lot of people have lost that (face-to-face) contact, and they're reporting they're feeling less confident or more isolated, so leaders need to turn that around by contacting them in a way where they can see them."
Structuring the week in a predictable way is another way to help deal with pressure, even remotely - a regular online meeting, or setting up an online way to blow off steam like a weekly trivia night is useful.
"Human beings like a sense of certainty, and a lot of people have just gone off and they're working in their spare room, then they come out on Friday afternoon and they've been alone all the time," Mr Marty said.
Another strategy is encouraging more team members to participate in discussions, and provide a sense of ownership on decisions.
"Empowering people makes them more engaged, which is more enthusiastic and energised about what they're doing in their work," Mr Marty said.
"Say if I'm the boss of a team of five, option number one is having a conversation with them all and saying we are all going to do this, or option two is giving some options and saying you decide what you'd like to do, take their advice and implement it."
Taking these mental health support strategies is even more important in regional areas, Mr Marty said, because even though more restrictions have eased in cities like Ballarat, the situation in some ways is more precarious than in Melbourne.
"Everyone's businesses have been massively hard hit, and a lot of businesses in regional and rural areas are more crucial to the community than a business in Collins Street," he said.
"If one goes broke there (in Melbourne), there's more options about what you can do, but rural and regional employees are much more dependent on their employer because there aren't as many options."
Mr Marty spoke at an online forum for Commerce Ballarat on Thursday, and will speak at two more in the coming weeks.
Commerce Ballarat chief executive Jodie Gillett said the sessions will be available online for free for all business owners and managers.
"It's never been so important to keep an eye on employees, and employees keep an eye on your boss or business owner, it's taking its toll," she said.
"It's critical that people reach out for support where they need it, and people offer support to their employees.
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"That pressure, continual, week after week - we have to be aware of our language and what we're saying when we're talking to and about our businesses.
"It's very difficult, if you're a business owner and you're fighting to save your businesses and the people working with you, sometimes their resources are just so stretched, they need to attempt to care for their employees, and it's tough when business owners are working really long hours just to stay afloat.
"Reach out and visit the Commerce Ballarat website, there's lots of resources and links available, and development, it's all free and open to every business."
If you or someone you know is in need of crisis support, phone Lifeline 13 11 14.
Help is also available, but not limited, via the following organisations. The key message is you are not alone.
- Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au
- Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467
- Mensline: 1300 789 978 or mensline.org.au
- Survivors of Suicide: 0449 913 535
- Relationships Australia: 1800 050 321
- headspace Ballarat (for 12-25s and parent support): 5304 4777
- Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
- Soldier On: 1300 620 380
- Ballarat Community Health: 5338 4500
- QLife: 1800 184 527 (Support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people)
- Family violence: 1800 RESPECT
- Veterans support: Open Arms on 1800 011 046 or openarms.gov.au
- Ballarat Mental Health Services: 5320 4100 or after hours on 1300 247 647
- For Aboriginal crisis support: Yarning SafeNStrong, 1800 959 563 (noon to 10pm)
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