Faculty and Staff

Human Resources supports employees’ holistic health during COVID-19

August 14, 2020

By Natalie Lim

The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed action to support employee mental health. 

“COVID-19 and the shift to remote working have affected everyone uniquely,” says Sandi de Domenico, associate vice-president, human resources. “This has been a difficult time for the community, which is why we’ve focused our efforts on supporting employees’ well-being and mental health through the pandemic.”

Alongside providing advice to university leaders and working with departments and faculties to support flexible work arrangements, the human resources (HR) team developed COVID-19-specific guidelines and processes around sick leave. These updated policies ensure that all SFU employees, including those without sick-leave entitlements, will continue being paid if they are unable to work due to COVID-19 or flu-related symptoms.

Additionally, the HR team prioritized supporting employees’ mental health and well-being. SFU’s Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP), which allows employees to access short-term counselling services, is normally unavailable to temporary employees. In March, HR extended the program to all temporary employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Opening up EFAP was the right thing to do,” says Saira Virji, director, wellness and recovery, human resources. “Everyone has been impacted by COVID-19, so we want to make sure everyone can access mental health support if they need it—regardless of their employment status at SFU.”

The pandemic has also triggered the HR team to expedite work on a long-term project: creating a comprehensive workplace mental health strategy for the university.

“While mental health was an important issue before COVID-19, we know this pandemic will have a significant short- and long-term impact on the mental health of many employees,” says Virji.

The mental health strategy will focus on the role individuals, leaders and the organization all play in creating supportive, psychologically healthy workplace settings. As part of this initiative, HR hosted a virtual session for SFU leaders called “Psychological Health & Well-being in the Era of COVID-19,” featuring Dr. Joti Samra, an expert in the field. The session provided leaders with ways to support employees’ mental health and well-being.

As remote working continues into the fall semester, HR staff will continue answering questions, reviewing policies and helping employees across the university to navigate their evolving work landscape.

“Our job is to ensure that employees can access the services they need to support their resilience and well-being, and that managers are equipped to create healthy work environments for their teams,” says Virji.

“Taking care of ourselves and taking care of each other has never been more important. We’ll continue building those values into everything we do as a team, and into our decisions moving forward as we navigate this pandemic.”

Access mental health resources

  • You can explore a wide variety of webinars, video clips, tools, resources and professional services available to support mental health during COVID-19 on the Human Resources website.
  • A recording of “Psychological Health & Well-being in the Era of COVID-19” is available here.