Is this safe? What if my co-workers don’t follow the rules? What if I get sick? What if I’m a carrier and I spread the disease to someone else? Will I lose my job? How long will this last? What if the COVID-19 pandemic gets worse from here?
As people across the United States return to work—the physical, brick-and-mortar, masks- and pants-mandatory kind of work—the dominant mood is one of anxiety. We’re all stressed out and on edge, bubbling over with fear and dread.
It’s a rational response to a chaotic, unpredictable time. Organizations are moving at different paces, following uneven and constantly-changing guidelines. New information and uncertainties about COVID-19 arise daily: What does immunity look like? When is a vaccine coming, and how effective would it be? Is the virus mutating? How will this ultimately impact the economy?
So many questions, so few answers. As much as workers want their bosses to instill some sense of confidence, no one can say for sure what will happen next or guarantee 100% safety.
But that doesn’t mean you have to resort to responding to concerned employees with shrugs or upside-down smiley face emojis. ???
As an employer, it’s your responsibility to help your team members cope and manage their anxiety. A stressed-out workforce is an unproductive workforce.
Right now, the worst possible thing you can do to your employees is pile on more work, more worry, more uncertainty. Instead, you need to focus on their physical, mental, and emotional health.
Here are a few recommendations from Sarah Clayton and Anthea Hoyle of United Minds on helping employees manage their re-entry anxiety:
1. Make employees’ well-being your top priority.
2. Share accurate, timely, and transparent information.
3. Take swift action to implement recommended public health measures.
4. Train leaders, managers, and colleagues on how to support employees.
5. Offer flexibility.
Keep in mind that there’s a direct link between anxiety and safety. High levels of stress correlate with higher-than-average rates of workplace accidents.
Here are 4 more employee anxiety management tips, via the National Safety Council (PDF):
1. Be respectful of employees’ emotions and different responses—“recognize that this is a very unsettling time.”
2. Educate employees. The NSC writes that “reliable information about COVID-19 and mental health can go a long way to alleviating fears and anxieties.”
3. Prepare your supervisors to take the lead. Consider the fact that supervisors “may be the first to notice someone is feeling anxious or fearful by recognizing behaviors.”
4. Align your policies and procedures with your renewed focus on mental health. According to the NSC: “It would be wise to review organizational policies and procedures for supporting employees who experience stress as well as ensuring mental health benefits are adequate.”
Remember, dear reader: you’re human, too. Take breaks, be kind to yourself, eat well, stay hydrated, and get enough sleep. Relax, take it easy.