The Black Dog Institute's Helen Christensen and Macquarie's Sean West

As a board member of the Black Dog Institute and as a person who – like many of us – has seen people around him experience their own mental health struggles, Macquarie executive director Sean West has made a range of accommodations for staff during the pandemic.

Some are pragmatic, some are more personal. A lot of the changes, he says, were about learning on the go.

West spoke on a panel with director and chief scientist of the Black Dog Institute, Helen Christensen, at the Professional Planner Best Practice Forum Digital webinar earlier this week about how Macquarie was supporting its staff during the pandemic and what they’ve learnt along the way.

“One of the early lessons for us was to just take the pressure out of the situation, because it’s not normal,” West revealed. “It’s not normal, everyone working permanently from home with parenting and caring responsibilities.”

While acknowledging that everyone’s home situation was different, West said the leadership team made a conscious decision “to not expect everyone to be as effective as they might have been in a normal situation”.

The director said he also noticed early on that people were struggling to set boundaries between work and home.

“There was a propensity for people to work longer, which would often lead to greater fatigue or anxiety,” West said, adding that the responsibility fell to the leadership team to help create those boundaries.

Mandating goals and objectives for staff during the lockdown, however, has been a nuanced task, West explained.

“We thought we would ease off on KPIs and things like that but actually it was the opposite, people wanted to focus on goals and objectives,” he said. “It was a mindset thing.”

West said the team “simplified” the team’s objectives format by having only three goals, plus one “wellness objective”.

“Mine was to continue my work with Blackdog and Helen,” he said. “The second one was to keep my daily exercise going.”

‘The drinking’s a bit of a problem’

According to the Black Dog Institute’s Christenson, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of people suffering from psychological distress during the pandemic – but that’s to be expected.

“Psychological distress is just a normal reaction to a stressor such as a pandemic or a bushfire or another event like that,” she explained, adding that we shouldn’t “make it pathological”.