So many employees across the world are feeling anxiety due to the coronavirus. Employers can take steps to promote mental health among their workers and keep spirits high.
There’s a divide in today’s workforce:
- Those who have white collar jobs and can work from home with a computer and internet connection
- Those in the retail and service sectors who are either at home without a paycheck, or working in midst of a pandemic
There is a lot of uncertainty and fear surrounding the coronavirus, and your employees may be feeling the mental pain. What can you, as an employer, do to promote mental health and well-being during these difficult times?
Allow people to work from home, if possible
If your business does any type of work that employees can take care of remotely, allow your staff to work from home. Every public health official in the world, including the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and others, are saying that the best way to stay safe from this virus is to stay home.
Your employees are likely worried about getting sick or passing the virus along to loved ones. If you can give them this option of reducing their risk, you will help them feel more secure.
Open and honest communication is key
Information reduces uncertainty and anxiety. Sharing the facts about what you are doing to protect your business and your workers can make the situation less stressful.
This is especially true for employers in the retail, service, and healthcare sectors, or any industry that requires non-remote work. Your employees are probably worried about losing their jobs or coming to work and getting sick. If you are taking steps to avoid those outcomes, you must share that information with your staff.
Facts minimize fear, but they have to be true, so only look to authoritative sources like WHO, CDC, and your state and local departments of health for information.
Even if you, yourself, fear that you might go out of business, research what options you have to avoid closing down completely, and tell your employees what you still have left to try. Let them know that you understand their fears, and you are doing your best to stay afloat.
You might want to also share factual information, from a reputable source, about the virus itself. Facts minimize fear, but they have to be true, so only look to authoritative sources like WHO, CDC, and your state and local departments of health for information.
Do not share information from unscientific sources, like personal blogs and websites. According to the CDC, sharing the facts about COVID-19 and understanding the actual risk to yourself and the people around you can help ease stress.
Stay connected, even if you’re working from home
For most people, good mental health depends on connection to people. Be sure to check in with your staff every day via email, text, phone, or video conferencing. Of course you need to communicate about your efforts to stay afloat through the shutdowns. But be sure to ask them how they’re doing too. Find out how your employees are taking care of their own mental health, and share how you are taking care of yours.
For most people, good mental health depends on connection to people.
You might want to try something fun, too, like hosting a virtual happy hour. Have your employees put together their own stockpiled snacks and drinks, then connect to a video conference or conference call just to chat and hang out for a bit.
Support your retail workers
Some businesses, like grocery stores and other retail outlets, can’t shut down. These businesses are staying open to help the community stay stocked up on food and other supplies that everyone needs at home. What’s more — the COVID-19 outbreak has caused unprecedented demand for certain items, like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and shelf-stable food. Stores are running out, and customers are frustrated.
Anyone who has ever worked retail can tell you that dealing with cranky customers is a part of the job. But when those cranky customers are also panicked because they’ve visited 3 stores and none of them had a single roll of toilet paper left on their shelves, that’s a recipe for disaster. We’d like to think that most people are doing their best to remain civil to their cashiers and service workers, but we know that some customers are taking it out on these employees.
Not to mention, these staffers are likely worried about getting the virus themselves, as it’s nearly impossible to stay 6 feet away from every customer and wash your hands every few minutes when the store is swamped.
Customer service workers often perform a lot of “emotional labor.” They must smile at rude people and control their own emotions, even when the situation around them is frantic and unnerving. Many studies have found that this can lead to mental health problems, including depression.
Ways to ease stress
You may not be able to ensure that every customer is kind to your staff, but there are some things you can do to ease the stress:
- Immediately put up signs throughout the store when you are completely out of a particular high-demand item. This may stop some people from confronting your workers for this information
- Put up signs near the entrance letting customers know exactly which high-demand items you have in stock, and where they can find them
- Step in to help if you see a customer treating one of your employees rudely
- Allow employees to take breaks as frequently as your staffing allows
- Put hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes at all registers and in the break room, so that employees can practice good personal hygiene
- Give as much sick leave and extra PTO as you can afford
- The federal government has recently passed legislation that provides sick leave to some workers. Your state government might have something similar. Be sure you understand the legislation and how it applies to your staff
Share professional recommendations for minimizing anxiety
There are people across the world feeling coronavirus anxiety, and mental health experts have issued recommendations for dealing with it on an individual level. You can share this information with your staff to let them know that you care about their mental health.
Make time to relax. Try to do something you enjoy every day.
Some things individuals can do to reduce their own anxiety:
- Take breaks from news stories related to the virus, including social media posts. It can be stressful to hear about the pandemic repeatedly
- A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. Simple calming techniques like deep breathing, stretching, and meditating can help a lot. So can regular exercise, good nutrition, and plenty of sleep
- Avoid alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes. This will be very difficult for some people, especially since many addiction treatment tools, like Alcoholics Anonymous and outpatient treatment centers, may be closed right now. Check out resources for online video AA meetings and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline
- Make time to relax. Try to do something you enjoy every day
- Connect with others. Talking with people you love and trust helps ease anxiety symptoms
There is a lot of uncertainty and fear among people all over the world. While you can’t fix everything, there are steps you can take to promote mental health and well-being for your employees. We hope these tips help.