Tips for leaders: How to respond to staff anxiety about COVID-19

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, fear and anxiety are on the rise. Many of us are experiencing uncertainty, worry and stress about our health and safety and that of our loved ones, and about how this pandemic may affect our work and personal lives.

While as an organisation we’re preparing to safeguard our business operations and protect the physical health of our employees during this crisis, it’s important to consider and support their psychological health and safety, too. 

Here are some guidelines for line managers when responding to employee concerns:

Communicate and share. Worry and fear grows in the absence of clear, up-to-date information. Let your employees know that they can expect regular updates. Communicate even if the situation remains unchanged.

Keep your door open. Ensure all channels of communication are open and that there are no barriers preventing employees from reaching you. Block out ‘consultation hours’ in your schedule for them to connect with you.

Empathise. Let employees know you’re aware that it’s a stressful and worrying time and acknowledge that it’s okay to be anxious. Remind them of the resources available for those experiencing stress.

Understand. Be able to identify and be aware when stress has become unmanageable for an individual. Encourage employees to practise self-care activities on the job and remind them that it’s okay to help manage stress with techniques such as mindfulness relaxation, exercise, or regular breaks.

Acknowledge it’s not ‘business as usual’. Reassure employees that expectations and priorities will shift accordingly. We’ll all have to get used to a degree of uncertainty and ambiguity, and that’s okay. We will get through this!