There’s absolutely no doubt that this is a tremendously stressful time for everyone.  The COVID-19 virus has unleashed social and economic turmoil on society, and the stress and anxiety is compounded by social media and the 24-hour news cycle.  Add to that grocery store shortages (like toilet paper), personal concerns about the contagion, financial challenges, social distancing, and being cooped up at home.  It can be a little overwhelming for all of us.

From a business perspective, we’ve got large groups of people that are being forced to work from home for the very first time, often with spouses under foot and kids homeschooling at the same time.  For some of us, it’s a whole new way to operate a business – and that’s only if we’re in an industry that’s been fortunate enough to be deemed critical infrastructure to the Nation.  Many of us have also been dealing with all of these challenges, along with work force reductions, furlough situations, travel restrictions, and supply chain complications.

It’s no surprise that we’re all stressed.

In the current climate, it’s important for employers to ease employee stress as much as possible.  It’s not only good for employees, but it’s also good for business.

The #1 Thing Employers Can Do – Communication

The most meaningful thing you can do to manage employee stress and anxiety is to keep the lines of communication open.  Having clear communication about your business and their employment goes a long way toward lowering the stress and anxiety of employees.  It offers them a little bit of stability when so much of the rest of their lives are temporarily unstable.

Make it a habit to have frequent communications to let them know what’s going on in the business, what they should expect during the disruption or crisis, and what they should be doing to manage their own corner of the business.  It’s also really important to make sure employees know who to contact with their question, what kind of special policies have been put in place to manage the crisis, and any additional programs your company is offering to assist them.mployees during a time of crisis or disruption:

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When communicating with employees, either formally or one-on-one, it’s important to avoid saying anything that will play into their fears.  Keep things upbeat, positive, and solution focused and avoid speculation as much as possible.  Uncertainty builds anxiety, so try to keep as much uncertainty out of your communications as possible.  Let your employees know that you have a plan and that you’ve considered all the worst-case scenarios to build your company plan.  Demonstrate that your company has done what it takes to survive the crisis.

Lastly, it’s important how you frame all of your communications with employees.  Talking about the crisis as if it’s a challenge that you will all overcome together can go a long way toward reducing stress.  Managers and company leaders should help employees see the current crisis as an opportunity to grow, develop, and help others.  Help them see their work as part of the greater good and encourage the idea of service to their fellow employees and others in their own communities.  In other words, make them part of the TEAM and help them to develop pride in being part of that team.  It’s critical for employees to see how their work connects to the big picture and the company’s mission.

There are a lot of different ways that companies can communicate with their employees during a time of crisis or disruption:

  • Mass email to employees

  • Company newsletters
  • Employee meetings

  • Teleconference meetings (when working remotely)

  • Employee webpages

  • Group communication apps

Even a safety meeting at the beginning of a manufacturing shift can serve as an appropriate platform to communicate essential information to employees.  There really is no wrong answer when it comes to communicating with your employees, as long as you’re communicating good information with them and doing it often.

Offer Resources for Inexperienced Remote Workers

Under normal conditions, there can be a lot of benefits to working remotely, such as increased productivity, better work/life balance, and improved morale.  Unfortunately, these are not normal circumstances for most employees.  There are a lot of people who are working from home right for the first time ever, and that can create a lot of anxiety.  Transitioning to a remote work doesn’t mean that you’re simply calling into meetings, it means a completely new way of working.

And that anxiety and stress increases tremendously when spouses, partners, roommates, and children are also learning a new way to do their work.

Again, it comes down to communication.  Offering newly remote employees tips for making the adjustment and best practices for remote working can go a long way to reducing stress.  Not only does it give employees resources to help them, but it also lets them know that your company recognizes the challenge.  It’s also a great time to reinforce a team culture with your employees with regular check-in and engagement.

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Additional Support for On-Site Workers

Working from home for the first time is certainly stressful, but not nearly as stressful as continuing to work on-site during something as serious as a pandemic.  Here at Conner, for example, many in our corporate office are working remotely, but all of our plant employees are required to continue working on-site to produce industrial wood and packaging products for our customers.  That means that all of our plant employees are facing the risk of exposure, no matter how much we try to protect them as a company.

This kind of situation can create a lot of additional anxiety for employees.  That makes it important to take extra measures to not only protect the health of your employees as much as possible, but to also create open communications with them so that they can voice their concerns.  One of the best ways that we’ve found to do this is through group messaging apps with employees and their immediate supervisors.

In addition, you must make those on-site employees aware of additional safety and cleaning protocols, company guidelines, and special programs available to them.  Your employees may be feeling a little bit helpless, so it’s important to focus on the things that can be done to help protect on-site workers, rather than engaging in speculation and on what “could” happen.

Remind Employees of Mindfulness

As part of their health and well-being programs, many companies introduced the mindfulness concept to their employees long before the current COVID-19 crisis began.  It’s definitely not a cure for all the anxiety we’re feeling right now, but it helps.

In a nutshell, mindfulness trains people to put a wider space between outside stimulus and their response to that stimulus through self-awareness.  It’s not a magical cure for stress, but it can help employees become more resilient in their day-to-day lives, as well as during a crisis.

If you’re company already has a mindfulness program in use, it wouldn’t hurt to remind employees about the benefits.  If you don’t currently practice any type of mindfulness in your organization, you can offer those resources to your employees now.  Mindfulness can go a long way toward reducing all kinds of stress.

The Last Word

When there’s any type of widespread disruption, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, business have to work a little harder to take care of their employees.  Situations like this create a lot of stress and anxiety for all of us on a personal level, and companies have a real opportunity to provide a little bit of stability in an uncertain world.

Taking a little extra care now to communicate more, provide solutions, and offer comfort is not only good for business, it’s also what’s best for your employees.

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