Worrying About Employee Well-Being During a Pandemic

The pandemic has touched all of our lives. We have all had to change how we live, work, socialize, and change is hard. COVID-19 has created a paradigm shift in the world, causing radical changes for all human beings. People are usually not wired for change because change is unpredictable. We go through processes, that take time to adapt, yet we are having to process not just one change, but several changes at a time because of the pandemic. Even though coping with stress and change has been a fundamental issue for human survival and transition, the key is, in the past, the process has been an evolution over years, not months.

The most difficult changes to understand and adjust to are the unexpected and out of our control type events that the pandemic has created at work and in our daily lives. Employees are having to deal with the loss of loved ones or knowing someone who is ill. Others may be anxious about returning to work and finding daycare that is safe for their children, with the pandemic continuing to spread. There may be employees that are ready to come back to work with no worries about the virus. Both types of employees have their own unique problems to manage that are extreme in both spectrums, from overly worried about the virus to denial about the dangers of the pandemic.

Employers should be aware of the signs of the emotional impact the virus is having on employees over the coming months. Some of the symptoms to be aware of are changes in work performance and productivity. Specifically, increased absenteeism, missing deadlines, sadness, impulsive behavior, irritability, anger, difficulty concentrating, decreased socializing, and difficulty with changes to work routines. Because these behaviors will be more evident with some employees, supervisors need to be trained in how to cope with the behaviors.

Taking Care of Mental Health

Managers need to check-in with their employees more frequently and ask what adjustments would help their productivity and mental health. According to Johns Hopkins University, 20% of the population struggles with anxiety disorders. Encourage employees to take advantage of the company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and other organization-sponsored mental health resources. Offer financial wellness coaching, company discounts on essential items, and training for healthy lifestyles that are taught remotely. Provide a list of local mental health resources like therapists, psychiatrists, suicide hotlines, or meditation and yoga classes, as well as resources for food assistance programs and domestic violence hotlines.

Also, encouraging support among colleagues can help the employee deal with the emotional impact of the pandemic. Leaders should share their experiences and emotions with employees to demonstrate they, too, have vulnerabilities during these uncertain times. Sharing emotions will provide ways to deepen trust and commitment with employees. Showing vulnerability is one of the most courageous acts a leader can reveal.

How management reacts and navigates the glitches during the crises will have a lasting effect on employee morale long after the crisis has ended. During these uncertain times of the “new normal,” innovative opportunities will be revealed. The new opportunities will ensure stability for employees and enhance greater organizational success once the pandemic is over.

Employers Council can help. Please call us with your questions.