Dealing with employee anxiety in times of crisis
The crisis inflicted by COVID-19 has been like no other, given its speed and that no one is immune from its impact.
Despite the widespread disruption, it’s just the start of a changing environment that will see employees continue to work from home, some return to the office and for essential workers, the prospect of continuing changes in working conditions.
If these stresses are left unattended, they can impact employees personally and professionally.
The future is uncertain - and uncertainty always generates a level of anxiety. If these stresses are left unattended, they can impact employees personally and professionally.
While there’s only so much your business can do to mitigate the fallout from a crisis the magnitude of COVID-19, there are ways to help anxious employees deal with the changes that will occur.
Sabrina Mailloux is a human resource management specialist with Soluflex, a Quebec-based human resources optimization consulting company specializing in small and medium-sized businesses. She says even though individuals react differently to a crisis, there are broad-based solutions that a company can offer to help their employees through turbulent times.
1. Constant and clear communication
“Employees tend to be more stressed if they live in uncertainty. Not being informed leaves room for imagination and sometimes the most twisted speculation,” Mailloux points out, adding that communication means transparency and transparency is essential for good teamwork.
Communications must be constant, and they must be clear about any changes or impacts on the employee’s work or organization. Managers have an important role in guiding employees, she says, and formal meetings and one-on-one sessions, where employees can ask questions, are essential.
She adds that it’s also essential to keep in touch with employees in less formal ways. There are various options such as coffee chats using zoom or other platforms or having a virtual event to make sure everyone is kept in the loop. Allowing tablets in the lunchroom for employees to use on breaks for messaging and online tasks are easily organized, and all these types of arrangements are much appreciated by employees.
Mailloux cautioned, however, to keep a balance in communications and not to bombard employees with information. “The right amount of the right info at the right time,” she emphasizes.
2. Stay positive
Having a positive outlook is also important, says Mailloux. “If you seize opportunities for improvement and let go of the things you can’t control, they will tend to follow your lead and trust you.”
She notes that managers' attitude and behaviour become a reference point for the rest of the team, so she warns not to be overly optimistic as this can also cause insecurity in employees when what they are experiencing doesn't align with what they are being told. As with communications, it's all about balance.
3. Involve employees in the process
Supporting employees with tools and getting them involved in their development and application can reduce stress.
Mailloux says to optimize the functionality of the team as this reassures employees that things are under control. She cites things such as preparing separate policies for working from home, following up on the management of priorities, providing technical support and even setting up connections for mentoring to help employees get through changes at work imposed by the crisis.
“Tools like these will reduce your employees' stress regarding their performance in a post-crisis context,” she says, adding that the same applies to employees who can’t work remotely or have to return to work in the plant or office - help them feel a sense of security.
When possible, she says, get employees involved, whether that be to solve a current issue, help to work through changes in the continually evolving operating environment or, most importantly, become involved in planning for the next time.
“This will allow them to visualize in a concrete way the current situation and the challenges that need to be addressed in the future,” Mailloux says, suggesting that an organizational survey is an effective way for employees to assess their perception of crisis management. It’s also an opportunity to check the employees’ pulse as different changes come onboard and a segue to getting them involved in developing a plan for improvements.
She notes that this type of approach also helps to alleviate the stress on managers since they’re not left taking on these formidable tasks all by themselves, and fosters team involvement in coming up with better solutions.
Since everyone reacts differently to a crisis, it can be difficult for a manager in situations such as COVID-19. But, by communicating well, staying positive and being supportive, you can reduce workplace anxiety for employees - and managers - who have a lot on their plates with family, parents and finances.
For more mental health information to support you and your employees check out:
Article by: Hugh Maynard